MERIDEN — Local faith and civic leaders are hoping city residents will join them in a gathering they’re calling “We are Meriden - Unity Rally,” to be held this Saturday afternoon on the Meriden Green.
The event will run from 2 to 4 p.m. It has been co-organized by the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden and the Meriden Racial Justice Initiative, which have planned the rally as an inter-faith event to celebrate the city’s diversity and foster togetherness.
“We don’t want this to be a political event,” said Kim Fisher, president of the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP. “We want this to be about the issues in Meriden. It doesn’t matter what your color is, what your race is — just be together and talk. How can we make things better?”
Organizers were inspired after the discovery on July 4th of racist recruitment flyers in Meriden and Berlin that appeared to be distributed by the New England Nationalist Social Club, a group that according to the Anti-Defamation League, “espouses racism, antisemitism and intolerance via the Internet, propaganda distributions and the use of graffiti.”
“Certainly that was the impetus for getting this going,” said Nancy Burton, a member of the church who is active with its social justice programming. “But we don’t want to focus and give them center stage. What we really want to focus on, center stage, is that we are a diverse community.”
The event will include speakers and musical performances by the Unitarian Universalist Church choir.
Burton, like Fisher, described the event as a non-political rally.
“We have invited people who are in politics to come and participate. But this is not meant to be a political event,” she said.
Fisher described the work combating racism and hatred toward other groups as something that is ongoing. Combating hatred requires dialogue, she explained.
“You’ve got to talk about it. Communicate. Get it out in the community. You can’t ignore it. You have to do something to always get that word out,” Fisher said. “That type of hate is not needed or welcome in the community.”
Nickimmy Hayes, who serves as NAACP second vice president and chair of its education committee, said the city is a diverse community that works well together. “Overall, that is one of the reasons why I chose to settle here in Meriden. This is not a community that we’re looking for those types of hate groups to come into.”
In addition to deterring such groups, Hayes described a need to make sure that local youth are supported as well. Hayes referenced an incident earlier this year at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, in which members of the Platt High School girls basketball team were subjected to profanity and racial slurs. The incident spurred the Region 10 School District superintendent to issue an apology to Platt’s athletes.
For Hayes, the incident impressed upon her the need to make sure that students are safe.
“We have to shield them from different things like that that could hurt them,” Hayes said.
Burton recalled an incident in 2015 during which a mosque in South Meriden was struck by multiple rounds of gunfire. It was in the middle of the night, so the mosque was not occupied at the time.
But what started out as a horrific event yielded a positive outcome, Burton said.
“The community really bonded around the mosque. A lot of interfaith stuff that happened,” Burton said.
The mosque’s leaders reached out to the perpetrator responsible for the gunshots and helped him turn his life around, Burton said. “It ended up being a positive thing that made me very proud of Meriden.”
Board of Education President Robert Kosienski Jr. expressed support for the message the event’s organizers seek to convey, along with disappointment over the fact that flyers with hate-filled messages had been distributed in the city.
“You always want to answer that kind of racism and that kind of ignorance with peace and with common sense and with a positive message. It doesn’t matter whether it’s being racist against religion, against the color of their skin, it’s wrong. Meriden is better than that,” Kosienski said.