Residents stand together at Summit unity rally

SUMMIT, NJ — On Sunday, Dec. 11, residents of Summit were invited to stand together for social justice and equality at the Summit Stands Together Unity Rally. At 4 p.m. residents met at the promenade before marching to Village Green. At 4:30 p.m. the program and candlelight rally began. The event was an affirmation of Summit’s commitment to mutual respect and a community free of discrimination or persecution based upon gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or immigration status. Everyone was welcome to join.

“We thought this was an appropriate time to celebrate unity because of the negativity that many people are feeling pre- and post-election,” event organizer Susan Hairston told LocalSource over the phone. “Summit is not buying into the national rhetoric that is happening. It’s urgent to have this now because, unless residents belong to an organization or house of worship to debrief, they’re left with a bad feeling.”

Speakers included Rabbi Avi Friedman, Reverend Denison Harrield and Mayor’s Forum for Diversity Co-chair Patricia Fontan. Students from Summit read poems and passages from inspirational writers such as Maya Angelou. There was also singing and the candle-lighting ceremony.

“The event was organized by the Forum for Diversity,” Hairston told LocalSource. “I was the Co-Chair of the Forum for Diversity under the previous mayor. I’m currently the spokesperson for the planning committee. The Forum for Diversity is a group of people from various organizations to meet to discuss issues. We don’t want this to be about political parties and we want everyone to feel welcome in our city. The Mayor’s Forum for Diversity is an organization of structure that’s for everyone.”

The Forum for Diversity has had international dinners, and it’s known for diversity. They’ve had speakers and activities in the past and are just starting to become active again.

“The Interfaith Council is interested in having a coalition of organizations to talk but want more time to plan,” Hairston told LocalSource. “We hope this event will start a good conversation. This coming together is in hopes of achieving understanding, the opposite of the national divide. We want people to attend, not in protest, but to show unity.”

Mayor Nora Radest also said a few words about Summit and embraced the community as one of unity and nondiscrimination.

“Summit is a community with strong ethics,” Radest told LocalSource over the phone. “We want to reaffirm that and we know that we’re united, strong and respectful. We try not to discriminate. We are a united, great community and want to affirm that in a public way. The Forum for Diversity was created by former Mayor Walter Long and is a loosely structured organization which has been around for decades. We’ve met three times since

I’ve been the mayor to open up the dialogue and get to know one another. We can’t understand each other unless we get to know one another. We also want everyone to feel comfortable to reach out to others if they need help during a crisis. The goal of the organization is to bring people together regardless of race, religion or gender.”