Community Solidarity Day in Elkhart, Indiana

By Hilary Scarsella

Saturday, September 13, 2008 marked Elkhart’s first ever Community Solidarity Day. Put together by several Elkhart residents and a group called Unity Being United , the plan was for community members to gather in the parking lot of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary at 1:00 pm. Those gathered would then walk to the Civic Plaza to participate in a program focused on community solidarity. There weren’t many at first, but the momentum started to build as the time to walk drew nearer. People of all ages, colors and communities joined the gathering, and when the walk began we were an impressive sight to behold.

We began walking, and the energy was high. Standing in the middle of the crowd, we were large enough that one could not see those either at the front or back of the line. Together, we sang songs in English and Spanish for peace, equality, and hope for a better future. We talked with one another and learned the names of our neighbors. We met each other’s children. Cars driving by honked their horns to support our call for community solidarity, and we cheered as they passed.

Upon arrival at the Civic Plaza, the walkers were met with music, entertainment, and several powerful messages of love, unity, peace, and solidarity. The love expressed was the kind that cuts through hate. The unity called for was the kind that caused strangers to embrace. The peace desired was genuine, and the sense of solidarity and common purpose created was profound.

Nine year old Tylar Roberson and ten year old Diana Martinez publically addressed the entire crowd to remind Elkhart that the youth are the future of this community. They called adults to accountability, asserting that the youth will learn the patterns of dealing with conflict that they see used day to day by adults. In order for solidarity, peace and unity to be long standing values in Elkhart, Roberson and Martinez reminded us that we must teach our children these principles through our own actions. “Help us rebuild the web of relationships,” they asked, “by accepting others for who they are.”

Ideas for developing community solidarity did not stop there. Adam and Maggie Williams, the couple that suffered from a cross burning on their front lawn last may and provided the impetus for this march, presented a further challenge. To the people of Elkhart, Adam said, “I challenge you to offer an act of kindness to a complete stranger every day.” Fathers were called to say the words “I love you” to their children, every day. Families were challenged to gather together just to talk and show love to one another, every day. Police were challenged to stop as they drove to offer words of encouragement to disadvantaged children, every day. And, neighbors were encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones in order to introduce themselves to one another.

All of these challenges were set forth so that communities in Elkhart may begin to develop a sense of comfort, and safety. Though there were several additional individuals who each delivered unique and powerful messages, they all converged on a common point: When we open ourselves to building relationships with those around us, we begin the necessary work of breaking down the walls of fear that stand between us. And, it is only at this point of openness that we can build a foundation for lasting peace and solidarity in our communities.

Community Solidarity Day is the first of its kind in Elkhart. But, this day only marked the beginning, and all are invited to go forward and continue the work of building peace, unity, and community solidarity.

Summer Snow is an organizer with ‘Unity Being United’. This organization holds community events in places where hate crimes have taken place. Her message of love, peace and harmony was translated by Gabriela Tovar. In the background Nelson Kraybill, AMBS Director.