UNION, NJ — Union for Unity, Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo, and the Union township committee are teaming up for what many believe will be an epic show of unity.
The Ultimate Unity Block Party, being held Sept. 18 at Rabkin Park, is the brainchild of a few Union residents who want to show the rest of the state just how it’s done in Union.
Holly Schneider, a Union resident and the woman behind the idea, told LocalSource that the climate of violence, killings and racial tension during the last few months in this country started many conversations among Union residents which eventually led to the idea of the block party. “I had been talking a lot to my boyfriend and my son and his friends regarding the shape of our country and how it has me numb with concern and sadness,” Schneider told LocalSource in an email. “To me, too much was hitting home. Children killing their own parents, several situations in different states which have African American males ending up dead after many different types of interactions with law enforcement without any given explanation, hate crimes such as the Orlando club shooting, and then, of course, the retaliation-type situation of the shooting in Dallas which left several cops dead.”
Schneider said that the seemingly relentless violence spurred her to action. “There is too much death and not enough love and kindness, which is leaving so many loved ones grieving,” said Schneider. “We must, as the people of this nation, do something to bring back, ‘do unto others as you want them to do to you.’ Most in this country walk with their heads down, avoiding interaction or even eye contact, or hiding behind their computers and phones at home complaining about the world we live in and hoping something will change. We cannot just sit back and hope — we must stand together and enrich our communities, wake up and lead our youth, and be the examples to all worldwide.”
Schneider asserts that it dawned on her that change could start with her, and an idea was born. “I said to myself, a good ol’ simple cookout — everyone loves those,” said Schneider. “So on Sept. 18, we will be gathering all Unionites — every age, ethnicity, religion political party and more, to be one. Doesn’t matter where you came from, what you believe in, who you believe in or if you even vote. It is a day where basic rules apply — meeting your neighbors, sharing laughs, good food, music and celebrating our town’s diversity and enriching our community. All efforts great and small will get us there and help us show this country what Union, New Jersey, is all about. When so many in our country are separating and turning their backs on each other, we as Union will unite as one.”
According to Figueiredo, the time is now to join together for an event such as this. “Union for Unity came as a result of the series of senseless tragedies, rooted in discrimination and hate that took place earlier this summer and rocked our nation to its core,” Figueiredo told LocalSource in an email. “In times like these I have always believed that government should take the lead, not only in assuring their residents that we are taking every precaution to keep them safe, but also in giving them a forum and place to come together as a community to grieve and show support to one another in desperate times. Likewise, we know that the beliefs and choices of a few do not reflect the whole. And as such, we felt compelled to remind people that, although we may feel consumed by negativity, there is still more good and positive people, places and things that we should recognize and hold on to.”
Figueiredo said that the positive message behind the event will set a powerful example. “Billy Graham once said, ‘courage is contagious — when a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.’ I believe the same should be said about positivity. And so that has slowly become the goal of Union for Unity — especially considering Union’s being named as one of the most diverse towns in the state. We are extremely fortunate that Holly Schneider, a local resident and parent, asked us for our support for the Ultimate Unity Block Party. There is nothing more powerful and impactful than when government and residents come together in such an organic way.”
Jason Krychiw, a Union resident, independent candidate running for a seat on Union’s township committee this year, and administrator of the Union Residents Forum, on Facebook, told LocalSource that escalating tensions in the aftermath of many months of violence inspired him to try and make some changes on the local level. “After yet another senseless shooting that was the latest in a long line of them, there was a lot of tension between people and strong opinions on all sides,” said Krychiw in an email. “People were posting some pretty harsh things on the Union forum about it and so I made the decision to delete them all and issue a general statement about how in times like these, we need to come together as local communities to set the examples for national ones.”
Krychiw’s July 8 post was something of a wake-up call for many Union residents. “I just deleted all of the posts about the recent tragedies that have occurred around the country the past few days,” wrote Krychiw in his post. “As I’ve said before, debating and discussing is welcome, but insulting and attacking — which was what most of those threads were — are not. What is the name of the town we live in? What is the name on the banner of this forum, across the fronts of our schools, and in front of town hall? ‘Union.’ Issues like this all start at the local level and are about unity. That is our town’s namesake. Look around at the racial and cultural diversity here. Go to Union Center and you can eat Italian, Filipino, Portuguese and more all within a block of each other.”
In his post, Krychiw lauded his hometown. “Look at all the programs the police put on that help our residents and continue to do so,” wrote Krychiw. “Union is what the rest of America aspires to be like. There is no easy solution to national issues like these, but to even begin to solve them, communities like ours have to come together and be the example. It is on us to carry the torch for change and progress.”
According to Krychiw, there was talk about a protest or rally in Union — until Schneider, also a member of the forum, posted the very next day. “Attention Unionites,” Schneider had written. “There have been some threads and sidebar conversations I have had with many, so I wanted to get it all on one thread and open invite to anyone. Instead of the protest or rally route, we as a town would like to host a unity day picnic. Many of us are so proud of the diverse, welcoming and strong community town we call home, so let’s make this a day for our residents, our businesses, and especially our law enforcement to appreciate and strengthen our relationships throughout.”
According to Schneider, the response to her post was overwhelming. “In a few hours we had over a thousand likes and shares,” Schneider said. “We had businesses and residents coming together and volunteering their time and services and making commitments to donate food, beverages and other items.”
Soon Schneider and Krychiw joined forces, and the event has evolved into a block party and picnic that will include live music, a variety of entertainment, performances by the step team, the Union High School band and other youth groups, recreational events such as volleyball games, that will include matches with local firefighters and police officers, and a barbecue. In addition, food donations from local restaurants have been pouring in, and there will be an area for businesses to set up their own tables at the event.
Inspirational speakers will also be addressing issues of race and divisiveness around the country, according to Krychiw. “The whole idea of this event is to bring residents, businesses and local fire, police, and EMS together to celebrate our diversity and simply get to know one another to start building the personal relationships that will make these tough, divisive issues easier to confront and solve,” said Krychiw. “Union is one of the most diverse places in the state, and likely the country. It is up to us to take these first steps and set the example. By confronting these issues and having open conversations about them in a constructive way, we can start taking the steps necessary to ensure these tragedies are no more — where we come together as one voice and say ‘enough is enough.’”
Krychiw said that he is proud of the fact that the idea for the event came straight from the residents of Union. “The thing I am proudest of is that this event was born purely out of residents coming together to plan this,” he said. “I didn’t know Holly or most of the other people on the steering committee two months ago, and now we are planning a huge townwide community day with no ulterior motive other than to bring people together, celebrate our diversity and have the tough conversations that need to be had in order to bring our community even closer together than it already is. People want to be talked with, not at, and that is what we hope to accomplish with this event.”
Sgt. Michael Boll of the Union Police Department told LocalSource in an email that the UPD is anticipating the event with much enthusiasm. “All the members of the Union Police Department are so excited about attending the Unity Day Picnic,” said Boll. “For years, our department has been extremely lucky to have such a great working relationship with the residents. The relationship is not with just police work, it’s about coming together and working on community events for our children. This is what makes Union the best town ever.”
The Union for Unity campaign was implemented following the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in the hopes of giving residents a means of coming together in support and unity. Campaign events have included a vigil for the victim of Orlando, a gathering at town hall in the aftermath of the Dallas police shootings, and the annual National Night Out Against Crime event hosted by Union Police Department.
The Ultimate Unity Block Party will be taking place on Sunday, Sept. 18, from 2 to 7 p.m. at Rabkin Park on Swanstrom Place, in Union.
For more information, contact Natalie Pineiro, public information officer for Union, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 908-415-8662. Pre-registration for this event is required at unionunityblockparty.eventbrite.com.
If you would like to donate food items, charcoal, or supplies for the activities, contact Holly Schneider at email@example.com.