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Valuing Diversity and Each Other—in Chatham

by Carolyn Dempsey and Jocelyn Mathiasen, Candidates for Chatham Borough Council

During our campaign outreach and day-to-day interactions around Chatham, we have been lucky enough to meet many wonderful residents, representing different ages, political affiliations, races, religions and backgrounds. The vast majority want Chatham to embrace the values of diversity and acceptance, to live the slogan that we are a welcoming community.

But, we have also heard troubling stories of intolerance towards some of our own because of their race or ethnicity. Most worrisome are the recent stories of racially-motivated bullying in our schools, especially Chatham Middle School. As a result, some of the residents we have spoken to are questioning whether this is the right place to raise children to have open minds and hearts. We need to do better for them, and we can.

All communities, including Chatham, benefit from diversity. Diversity creates richer experiences for us all, deeper learning and a greater understanding of the world. Schools, companies and towns are more likely to thrive and prosper when they seek out and embrace members who represent a wide swath of backgrounds. Most importantly, by living, learning and growing with people who are different from us we learn to recognize and value every person’s basic humanity and individuality.

Prejudice and bigotry come in many forms, but invariably stem from fear and ignorance, sometimes stoked by leaders who manipulate this fear for their own benefit. The best way to counter fear and ignorance is through learning, and the best learning comes from exposure. Our children will be better prepared for adulthood if they are exposed to people who are different from them and can teach them that society is complex—not everyone experiences it the same way.

Chatham offers a number of wonderful ways to do this, many of which Carolyn has been involved with through her church, local organizations and through other Chatham residents who have organized events:

• The Abraham luncheon hosted annually at the Chatham United Methodist Church brings together faith leaders and people of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

• Gloria Dei Lutheran Church hosts an Interfaith Youth dinner which brings together students of a wide variety of faith traditions.

• Jessica Romeo of Chatham Township has hosted a popular International Potluck dinner at Stanley Congregational Church which she plans to host again, as well as the family Martin Luther King, Jr. Day luminaria program at the Library of the Chathams, which she will also be organizing in January.

• Also at the library, Borough resident Minati O’Connell spearheaded the “Trip Around the World” program with support from Chatham Moms for Change and Chatham High School students. The program showcased 13 different countries throughout the 2017-18 school year. Not only did this program allow children to see the similarities across the world, they participated in fun activities and food sampling form each country.

• Minati O’Connell also launched the Cultural Committee of the Chathams, which includes members of Chatham Moms for Change and plans to host events in the coming year, such as an International Food Truck Festival.

There is a deeply worrying rise in bigotry in this country, cloaked in patriotism and fed by rejection of historical facts and human experiences. We in Chatham need to be a force for good and fully embrace every citizen. We will all be better off for it.

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