Students organize “United Through” rally to respond to hate


Reina Makimura

Many students and community members of the Scotch Plains and Fanwood area were horrified when someone drew obscenities and bigoted words and graphics on the wall of SPFHS. This included racist slurs and a swastika.
“What we saw here is not an isolated incident,” Melanie Robbins, Deputy Director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York/New Jersey, explained.
This is only one incident among a prominent problem in the United States. In the wake of the SPF incident, however, senior class president Michael Dieu and other class representatives organized a “United Through…” rally to discuss the event and provide direction for the future. The Tuesday, Oct. 16 rally was attended by SPFHS students, families, and members of the community.
“Has silence given space to such thoughts that would cause someone to defame our high school?” Wayne Mallette, Supervisor of Fine/Performing Arts in SPF, wondered.
But no one truly has an answer as to why this happened.
Robbins explained that the impact of the incident is more important than the motive. Whether the incident was meant to lash out at minority communities in SPF, or was meant as a joke, the way it has affected the SPF community is real.
So rather than answering why, the rally marked the moment where SPF, as a community, begins to move on and make sure that similar incidents don’t happen again. The mayors of both Scotch Plains and Fanwood have committed to making sustainable change in the area.
“Tonight should be the beginning of deeper conversation,” Mallette said.
In addition to moving on from the incident, and coming together as a community, speakers expressed how important it is to acknowledge the incident, rather than forgetting about it. Hate cannot be defeated if it is ignored. Even if a person is not directly affected by the incident, everyone has a role to play in working against it.
Rabbi Joel Abraham was one such speaker who recognized this, by alluding to the Torah.
“I will not stand idly by while my neighbor bleeds,” he said.
Speakers acknowledged how hard these conversations can be. However, they are worth it.
“I’ve always admired the diversity in our town,” Dieu said in his opening remarks. “Although discussions about race can be uncomfortable, they are necessary.”
Arthur Worrell, President of the Black Student Union, expressed a similar sentiment. Discussions on race are important especially in that they help educate people, and raise awareness as to the problems minorities face in SPF.
“We have to acknowledge that hate…comes from ignorance,” Worrell said.
Abraham also spoke about the importance of starting an educational conversation. Start a conversation, he said, but, “you need to listen as well.” In order to grow as a community, it is important to talk about bigotry, but also to listen to other people talk, and to learn, even if one believes that they know enough.
Ignoring the hate will do nothing to solve the problem. Whether or not a person was directly affected by the incident, it is important to work against it. Every person has the ability to work against hate.
“You have power, just by using [your] voice,” Robbins said.
Overall, the rally was an inspiring gathering of SPF community members. Speakers covered important points, and helped members of the community feel safe and comforted after the incident. Attendees went home with the understanding that the community will not “sit idly by while their neighbors bleed.”
“This isn’t going to be what defines us, but we have to do something about it,” Robbins said.