Photo by Damian Sebouhian

Reprinted from the August 16, 2017 edition of the Dunkirk Observer

The Chautauqua County Women’s Action Group (CCWAG) organized an anti-hate rally Tuesday evening at Washington Park, in Dunkirk. The rally was held in response to last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in one death and 34 injuries, forcing the country to recognize that despite all the gains in civil rights mounted over the decades, there remain groups willing to commit acts of terror in order to get their message heard.

More than 200 people attended the Dunkirk rally, including a number of government officials and representatives

“This event is intended to promote feelings of community, love, justice and equality,” said Tina Rausa, co-chair of CCWAG and primary organizer of the event.

Speakers included two local reverends, Frank Torain and Early Waller; Mayor Willie Rosas; State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell; County Executive Vince Horrigan; First Ward City Councilman Don Williams; a representative for Senator Cathy Young; Judge John Kuzdale; Dunkirk City Attorney Richard Morrisroe; and others.

“Here in the city of Dunkirk, we have a very diverse population,” said Mayor Rosas. “Our community is very unique and it actually resembles New York state as a whole. We have plenty of minorities in our community. The word racism is not an easy word to use but it comes to mind here tonight. As mayor, I think it’s important for me to stand up and let everyone know in light of the actions that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend, I think it’s important as a leader in our community to let you know that racism is not something that I will tolerate. I don’t think anyone in the city of Dunkirk needs to tolerate it.”

Reverend Frank Torain, borrowing from the good samaritan story in the Bible, challenged those in attendance to ask the questions “Who is my neighbor? Do I have the means, the will, the know how, and is it in my heart to help someone even if they’re not like me?”

Reverend Early Waller spoke about his own life as a foster parent who has been raising children that “happen to be of the Caucasian race.”

Waller preached the importance of love and unity.

“When we have love, it’s love that speaks for us. In unity, there is strength.”

Assemblyman Goodell spoke of his father and uncles who fought in World War II to end the concept that one race of people is superior than any other.

“Let’s spread the message: we’re about inclusion, teamwork, positive change, and we’re not going back,” Goodell exclaimed.

County Executive Vince Horrigan talked about his 28-years of service in the US Air Force and visiting Auschwitz.

“I saw first-hand what hate can do,” Horrigan said. “The events of last weekend were disturbing, disgusting and they made me angry of how some groups could go back to that hate. The good news is it’s a very small group of people. Love will conquer all.”

Perhaps the most challenging and crucial message of the evening came from Dunkirk City Attorney Richard Morrisroe, who identified himself as the son of an Irish father and Puerto Rican mother.

After illustrating the struggles of his father, who was immersed in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, Morrisroe argued the importance of communicating with the “other side.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like for the folks who are marching on the other side,” said Morrisroe. “The folks that are marching under whatever flag — Nazi, Alt Right, white supremacist. It’s hard for me to understand their perspective. I want to understand. Only in understanding will we understand where that hate comes from. Only if we engage with the other side will we come together as a country.”

Morrisroe stressed the significance of recognizing that “we’re not all equal. That’s not the point of diversity. We’re all different. And that’s OK. We’re brothers and sisters and we respect each other and we engage in those differences. That’s what makes America such a wonderful place.

“You can have pierogi and pasta in the same dish,” continued Morrisroe. “You can enjoy spaghetti and rice and beans in the same dish. You can learn to dance salsa and the polka at the same place.”

That’s if we embrace diversity.

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