(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 14, 2017)
Ferndale, MI – Over 500 people packed the First United Methodist Church of Ferndale and the lawn in front overlooking Woodward Ave. Sunday evening to share a message of love and justice following violence in Charlottesville, VA connected to a rally by white supremacists over the re-naming of Lee Park to Emancipation Park.
Thirty-five-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville lost her life when she and other counter-protestors were run down by a man who drove into the crowd. Nineteen others were injured in the crash, and countless others were injured in fights with those who were protesting the removal of Confederate icons through the South.
Rallies in support of equality have been held across the county, including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. Inside the Ferndale church, the microphone was passed to people sitting in the pews.
“I want to honor those people who put their lives on the line and stood up against the Nazis and the [Klu Klux] Klan,” said one man. “My father lied about his age in 1944 so he could go and fight the Nazis. We’re still fighting, Dad.”
Among the messages of solidarity were thoughts of how to do more than just hold signs and opine on social media.
“We need to look at how our actions are racist,” said one attendee. “Not just stand up and say a Nazi in the south is wrong, but what can we do to be less racist?” He encouraged those in the room to be advocates for funding education in places like Detroit.
Several teachers in the room called for better educational resources, both in minority communities but also in the way predominantly Caucasian populations are taught. “I’d love to see teachers and principals get together and teach more beyond a Euro-centric culture,” said Ferndale resident Jodi Berger. “White supremacy starts with being taught that white culture is the standard.”
Angie Smith, a trustee with Farmington Schools, spoke about how cuts in funding mean that classes that deal with cultures and religions from around the world are no longer available to give students an appreciation for diversity. “I was elected for 2017, so I came after the cuts,” she said. “I don’t agree with them.”
Another educator said “I hear people say why do we keep talking about slavery? Why do we keep talking about the Holocaust?” she said. “So we don’t forget. So we can prevent this kind of thing from happening.”
Robert Cooper of the Association for Youth Improvement invited folks to get involved with the Bridging 8 Mile program which seeks to connect the city and the suburbs. “There’s an opportunity to bring closure, to bring healing,” he said.
Another person suggested that the suburbs stop sending their garbage to the city to be burned, and instead build an incinerator in the area to “deal with it in our neighborhood instead of pushing it on the Detroit neighborhood.”
Discussion took place about how to have the hard conversations about race.
“Listen when people tell us they are being hurt or marginalized,” said one attendee.
“People of color do not need us to speak for them,” said another. “But we can create safe spaces and we can listen.”
Another woman suggested that people practice what they will say if someone says racist things to them or in their presence. “I have heard horrible things, and I’ve been surprised at myself that I did not say anything,” she said. “But if you practice what you’re going to say it makes it easier.”
The crowd also heard from local clergy, and among the crowd were people demonstrating affinity for faiths including Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews. They all joined together to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before gathering in front of the church to demonstrate on Woodward Avenue where they were met by constant string of supportive horn-honks.
A banner signed by many at the event will be on rotating display at several places of worship in the coming weeks. The banner says “Love is Bigger.”
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter urged those in the crowed to carry on and do more. “Make sure tonight is a ripple in the pond that spreads from Ferndale, to Michigan, to the world.”