Dozens of people gathered Thursday night on the grounds of Catonsville’s Immanuel United Church of Christ for a rally and prayer vigil to denounce hate groups and white supremacy.
The candle-lit gathering, “No Room for Hate in 21228,” featured 16 speakers – including a congressman, state lawmakers and pastors – who carried messages of love and faith.
“It’s not the namby-pamby, feel-good love,” said state Del. Terri Hill, a Democrat representing District 12, who talked about combating racism in the United States. “This is the love of scripture. This is love that says ‘I love you the way you are, America. But I love you too much to let you stay this way.’”
Organizer Susan Radke said she felt compelled to hold the rally after seeing the re-emergence of white supremacist groups. The far-right’s profile has risen in recent weeks after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., a violent protest in which neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klan members marched through the streets.
Radke, of the Catonsville chapter of the Indivisible progressive movement, said that though she had not heard about recent hate crimes in Catonsville, she hoped the rally would help prevent such crimes.
The Rev. Beverly Lewis said that when Radke approached her about holding the rally at her church, it was a “no-brainer.”
Just over a year ago, Lewis said, Immanuel UCC was damaged by vandals who broke in, covering the inside of the church with hateful words and human waste. Lewis said she believes the church was a target because the church flies the rainbow flag, signifying its openness to the LGBTQ community.
“This was just our way to say thank you to Catonsville for being there for us,” Lewis said. “And now we have the opportunity to express solidarity with those who are anti-hate and anti-violence.”
Lewis, who is from southeastern Texas, led the crowd in a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white or any color of the spectrum,” she said. “When it comes to human crises, we are all in the same boat.”
U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Dist. 3, made an unscheduled appearance, taking the podium to declare: “There is no place for white supremacy in civilized society. Period.”
The rally, said state Del. Clarence Lam, “presents an opportunity to reach out to minority communities in the area, to show that there are folks who do support them and recognize the value they bring to our community.” Lam is a Democrat representing District 12, which includes Catonsville.
Between sets of speakers, musician Sahffi Lynne picked up a guitar and encouraged the crowd to sing along to songs such as “This Land is Your Land,” “We Shall Overcome” and original songs about peace. “Shanti, Shalom, Amani, Ankon’ke, Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” the crowd sang.
The crowd reached across the church’s front lawn and when the sound system briefly went out, those in the back could not hear the speakers.
Some of the estimated 150 to 200 people had “Black Lives Matter” signs and rainbow-covered shirts. An elderly man sat holding a cane between his knees; beside him, a child rolled in the grass, tucking her knees into her mother’s oversized sweatshirt inscribed with “Nasty Woman.” A woman in a hijab sat near a woman in a shirt with Hebrew written on it.
Linwood Jackson drove 40 minutes from Dundalk to be at the Catonsville rally.
“It’s important because I’m a Vietnam veteran and I know how important unity is,” Jackson, who is African-American, said. “I know how important it is for someone to come and save me. And it wasn’t about the race.”
Kara Ferguson said she brought her 9-year-old son, Matthew, who is biracial, to the rally so he could see that Catonsville is “an accepting community.” She said that the racism she has seen emerging in the country makes her fear for her son’s safety.
Children were at the forefront of many of the speeches. Danette Zaghari-Mask told the crowd about the day her daughter Salma, 10, came home from school crying.
“She told me: ‘My really good friend from school said she can’t be friends with me anymore, because her mom said she can’t be friends with Muslim people,’” Zaghari-Mask said. “My heart broke.”
She said bringing her daughter to the rally made her feel “proud and grateful” to be in Catonsville, where she said people “don’t see difference as a barrier; they see it as a journey.”
“I wasn’t surprised by what happened in Charlottesville,” Zaghari-Mask said. She gestured to the crowd of Catonsville residents spread across the grass and said: “But I’m also not surprised by this.”