By Jan Worth-Nelson
While hundreds of motorcyclists revved just a few hundred yards away in downtown Flint Saturday, about 50 people came together for a much quieter cause: a call for kindness. They rallied in bright sun with a sign offering “Hugs for Unity” under the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Willson Park.
The rally was sponsored by Neighborhoods Without Borders, an organization which focuses on dismantling systemic and institutional racism in the Flint area. It was joined by WOW Outreach, a Flint-based organization working to reduce violence in Flint. The Community Action Network of organizations addressing inequities across Flint and Genesee County also participated.
Organizer Donna Ullrich said the rally was a response to reports by Michigan Radio that Michigan posted the most hate crimes in the first 10 days after presidential election and a report by the Detroit Free Press that Michigan’s alleged hate incidents experiences a “huge spike” in the weeks after the election. That story was picked up by the Independent in the U.K.
Ullrich told East Village Magazine that the rally aimed to communicate that Michigan is “not a state that hates — a message that we want to send to our state and beyond.”
Kindness begins with love for oneself, Bishop Bernadel Jefferson of the Faith Deliverance Center Church suggested.
Together, guided by Jefferson, the group chanted, “I know me, I love me, I forgive me, I accept me, and a higher power lives in me.”
“If we don’t love ourselves, it’s impossible to love others,” Jefferson advised. “What is love — a feeling of deep affection. But God said, ‘I am love’ and that has to be unconditional love.”
Ullrich said she hopes those kinds of voices will become “a Michigan voice, not just a Flint voice,” adding, “Flint is just one portion of the story. Fear and hate is a state wide issue.”
Leaders within Neighborhoods Without Borders say their goal is to encourage conversations among differing cultures in Flint and beyond in a safe environment. Another effort of the group is the monthly Tendaji Talks offered at the Flint Public Library.
After all, “All Americans are not white,” Ullrich said.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.