Communities Send a Visible Message Against Hate and Promoting Diversity and Inclusion
By Brian Lau, NIOT.org
The welcome signs surrounding a city can be important markers signifying much more than its population or city seal. Oftentimes, these signs are used to communicate the beliefs and ideals a community holds and shares. Many communities in the Not In Our Town movement have used welcome signs as a way to more visibly express their values.
Bloomington, Illinois, one of the earliest and most proactive communities in the Not In Our Town movement, fully embraced the Not In Our Town message. Even though Bloomington had not seen hate crimes hit inside city limits, residents took up the charge of keeping hate out. In addition to holding rallies and community forums, the people of Bloomington put up signs at the entrances of the town saying, “No Racism, Not In Our Town!”
In 2004, the small community of Anderson, California, was shocked to find a burning cross on the lawn of an African American family’s home. Local city officials and civic leaders were determined to organize against the hate crime, and within a week, over 600 community members joined the mayor, police chief, and the Shasta County Citizens Against Racism in a march. But the people of Anderson were not finished. Six months later, the city put up eight new city limit signs proclaiming, “No Room for Racism, Hate or Violence,” an effort that the neighboring city of Redding, California, started almost a decade before.
We’ve found other great examples of communities using signs to show their values:
In the county of Kitsap, Washington, the Kitsap Human Rights Network has created a program called “Hate Free Communities Project.” Relying on the power of neighborhood connections, the grassroots project starts with a resident making the pledge that their home will be a “Hate Free Home.” They then hang up on their windows a sign identifying that pledge. When 50 percent of the homes in a neighborhood are “Hate Free Homes,” the county designates and puts up signs marking it as a “Hate Free Neighborhood.” Then when 50 percent of the neighborhoods in a community or city are Hate Free Neighborhoods, signs go up showing the community is a “Hate Free Community.”
The National League of Cities’ Inclusive Communities Partnership is another example of a strong national network of cities making the pledge for inclusion – 178 cities and towns in 40 states have become Inclusive Communities Partners, affirming their dedication to fostering acceptance and inclusion. Many cities have put up signs stating, “Welcome. We are building an inclusive community.” The Northern California city of Newark, California, part of the Not In Our Town network, decided in 2007 to make the pledge, and put up signs and banners throughout the community with this message. Five years earlier, Newark was home to the brutal murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo. Since the tragic death, the city has been engaged in ongoing prevention work with the school district and community groups, like PFLAG and Not In Newark. Newark saw The Inclusive Community Partnership as the next logical step in its efforts to build a more inclusive community.