By Gloria Partida
“Each generation must claim its community.”
This was a phrase that reverberated throughout the two days spent in Billings, Montana, for a national leadership gathering organized by Not In Our Town. The gathering brought together community organizations and individuals dedicated to fighting intolerance and building safe and inclusive communities.
Unfortunately, like Davis, most communities were there as a response to a hate crime, or a series of escalating incidents of violence and intolerance that compelled community members to take action. Motivated with the hope of obtaining tools we could use to make tangible differences in the city of Davis, members of the Davis Phoenix Coalition in attendance were Rachel Quinn, Vivian Partida, Alexandra Lee-Jobe and me.
We expected that the content would be gut-wrenching, challenging and discouraging. It was all of this, but it was also much more. Although many communities had experienced devastating tragedies, they also had learned to heal and grow stronger.
We listened to heartbreaking stories from Milwaukee to California of what happens to communities when the seeds of hate, often initially dismissed as harmless pranks, reach their full monstrous height: children driven to terminal escape, the infliction of pain turned into sport and the dehumanization of anyone who is different. These results are the legacy of fear, anger and institutionalized inequity.
Still, in the face of these horrors, as Maya Angelou said of the young women and men of Freedom Summer, they found “the courage to go to the lion’s den and try to scrub the lion’s teeth.” Others whose lives had been touched, and risen, from the mauling of hate were working to radiate what one participant from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, had described as Chardi Kala.
Chardi Kala was explained by gathering participant Pardeep Kaleka as a concept in Sikhism that refers to a mental state of relentless optimism. He explained that in times of great adversity, the pursuit of this positive state of mind exemplifies one’s contentment with the will of God.
Kaleka was one of several guest presenters speaking about the 2012 Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, where Kaleka’s father, the president of the Sikh temple, was gunned down. The panel also included a police officer who could speak only in a whisper because he had been shot in the throat, yet spoke because “others’ voices had been permanently taken from them.”
Surely, it is this relentless optimism that propels us forward in the face of seemingly endless tides of hate. But is there any way to stem those tides, to build sea walls against destructive forces of intolerance?
We learned that the answer is conditional. In a room filled with passionate, expectant people wanting to know how to make their communities understand the dangers of complacency and superficiality, one thing surfaced: the idea that communities must be claimed over and over again by each new generation.
How many of us have falsely assumed that our values and beliefs are passed down to our children along with our eye color? How many of us have sent our children out the door never giving a thought to how the experiences they encounter while out of our watch can undo our best intentions, or how innate propensities may lean away from our family’s shared ideals? The sad reality is that the people who truly understand this and passionately pass along their values are the intolerant.
I am grateful beyond words to members of the Davis Phoenix Coalition who put in the effort to attend this emotionally charged gathering, and that help in the work of trying to preach beyond the choir.
Alex has been a lifelong advocate for social justice and was moved to tears and deeply inspired by the experience. Rachel — who relentlessly works to keep us on track, on schedule and on topic — was inspired by groups across the country working to promote safe and inclusive communities for everyone. She was especially moved by Marshalltown, Iowa, which became a Not In Our Town community as a pro-active measure, before any tragedies occurred.
Vivian brings her experience in community organizing and public health work along with the passion inherent in those areas. I would also like to thank the coalition members who attend our meetings on a regular basis and encourage us forward. .
We would like to thank members of the broader Davis community who have supported the many Davis Phoenix Coalition’s fundraising efforts to make attendance at the Not In Our Town gathering a possibility, ensuring that ongoing efforts by the coalition to create a safe and inclusive community for everyone in Davis will continue.
We also would like to thank members of Not In Our Town in Oakland, who travel to Davis to support our local efforts. From Billings, Montana, to Bloomington, Indiana, Not In Our Town members have been there to help cities heal and share with others, through making documentary films.
We also felt honored that the folks at Not In Our Town thought highly enough of us to invite us to be a part of this gathering. We have an opportunity for Davis to become a Not In Our Town “Gold Star City,” which is a certification and distinction given to cities meeting and sustaining criteria for safe communities.
We are confident that Davis can qualify to be a Gold Star City by making sure residents are educated about different cultures and lifestyles, starting in the schools with the youngest members of our community. We feel strongly that more must be done in this school district to stem the tide of bullying and intolerance. Let’s work toward bridging the gap between the campus and the rest of Davis, ensuring that we can, in the future, be pro-active instead of reactive to hate crimes.
In just over a year, the Davis Phoenix Coalition has been a strong and vibrant group working to create a pro-social climate in the city of Davis, which could not have been done without the support and encouragement from the broader Davis community. We have much work to do to make Davis a safe city for everyone.
We would like to invite the community to join us in this important work at our monthly meetings, at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month in the conference room at the Davis Food Co-op, 620 G St. We would be especially grateful for help with our campaign this fall in which we hope to engage all sectors of our community.
In order to make Davis a safe, welcoming place for everyone, all community members must take responsibility for the climate of our town. If we join together, we can “claim our community,” and make it truly welcoming and safe.
— Gloria Partida is a Davis resident. Her 33-year-old son, Mikey, survived a savage hate-crime beating in downtown Davis in March 2013.