This week, we experienced the longest night of the year on the winter solstice. Local religious groups picked the date to hold a conversation about lifting people in Milwaukee out of darkness. Jewish groups helped organize the event, while the host was the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield. The standing-room-only crowd called for an end to racism, hate crimes and intolerance.
Shana Harvey is with the group Jewish Voice for Peace Milwaukee. She helped kick off the get-together with song. Others walked across a stage holding placards, with messages such as "we fight anti-Muslim profiling and racial profiling in all its forms." There were eight signs in all, meant to represent the eight days of Hanukkah.
The organization Milwaukee Turners helped sponsor the event. Art Heitzer spoke for the group, saying it's been concerned about the lack of tolerance in our society.
"Exactly one year ago, our board unanimously called on the United States to welcome refugees from Syria and elsewhere, and to reject fear and isolation. We noted the sharp rise then in attacks on Muslims in the United States. Today, we restate our opposition to all forms of racism, islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In fact, right now we are in the process of mounting large banners outside of Turner Hall, stating that immigrants and refugees are welcome," Heitzer said.
Most speakers shared similar worries about racism and injustice directed at certain groups. Yet many focused on the strength that like-minded people can offer each other, and the support they can provide for those who face discrimination. Luscely Flores is an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. as a small child. She spoke on behalf of the Young People's Resistance Committee. Flores celebrated the diversity and unity in the crowd.
"Even though our identities are completely different, we're still united in some way, shape or form. And us being here, our energies are radiating and the light is lighting between each other. All of our auras are different colors; therefore, there's a huge rainbow here right now, and it's a huge rainbow of light that we should be proud of," Flores said.
Another person who picked up on the theme of light, during the darkest week of the year, was the Rev. Jon Jacobs of Ascension Lutheran Church.
"Different cultures and different religions take that light image and make it a part of their hope...and that light is a light that shines on inclusive thinking, the multicultural understanding of a world that is beautiful in all of its reflections and arrays, and how it is that together in that light we work for justice, when there is that brokenness that we see every day," Jacobs said.
One speaker told the audience that those talking at the event may be "preaching to the choir" with their message of fighting intolerance. But he says that's OK -- because the choir keeps getting bigger.