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United against hate

Last modified: 9/25/2011 12:00:00 AM
A crowd of hundreds, ranging in age from 4 to 96, gathered yesterday at the West Street Playground to declare their support for refugee families in Concord, and their condemnation of racist graffiti that was written on three homes one week ago.

"But we are not here today because of that hateful act," said organizer Lyn Betz.

"We are here to show our neighbors who are frightened that we will not stand by. . . . You are not refugees anymore. You are home," she said, to some of the loudest applause of the day.

Drummers tapped out beats as the group mingled for about two hours. South End residents, members of the various churches that sponsored the event and residents from towns across the region attended to support the refugee community.

The graffiti messages - which the police have labeled a hate crime - declare with slurs that the city was better before refugees resettled here: "Your subhuman culture has already brought many crimes linked to your mud people," one of the messages reads. Another says "the church is destroying our towns just to save a few doomed Africans. This is a bad joke on us."

Eliane Kidd of Northfield wore a bright yellow sandwich board with the word "welcome" translated into at least two dozen different languages.

"I'm from Puerto Rico," she said, "and my experience in New Hampshire has been a very good one. People were very loving and supportive and welcoming. Everyone deserves that same welcome."

Kidd, who works for the Lutheran Social Services program that supports resettled refugees as they become American citizens, brought her granddaughter Janaea - who donned a pink princess gown and yellow crown - to show their solidarity against a message of hate, she said.

Kidd pointed to where Janaea was running around the playground in her fluffy tulle princess skirt, surrounded by fair-skinned, blond children in Concord youth soccer shirts, and a boy in a colorful African print shirt.

"I wanted something positive to come out of this, but loving your neighbor and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you are pretty heavy concepts, (and) she's only 4," Kidd said. "I told her there were some people who did some naughty things, and the people who have love in their hearts have to rise up together and spill their love over for the people who were hurt. She said she just had to wear her princess dress for that.

"The kingdom of hatred is a whole other world to her."

Dot Soule, a 96-year-old Concord resident, sat in the front row for the entire event yesterday, and said afterward that she cannot understand such hatred, either.

"I just had to come," she said. "I felt so terrible. I was just shocked that it was happening. I hoped this would make the refugees understand that the people who did those dreadful things were a small minority, and the larger community welcomes them."

Zitoni Murenzi, who resettled in Concord in 2001 after leaving war-torn Rwanda, said despite the graffiti, she never doubted the welcoming spirit of the community.

"Thank you," Murenzi said over and over during the open mic portion of the rally. "Thank you especially to the churches, you have done so much, showed so much love. You taught us English, helped our children who were behind in school and even gave us furniture.

"Thank you even to the people coming to shovel for us, teaching us how to live in New Hampshire," she said.

Murenzi said she wasn't angry with whoever wrote the hateful graffiti: "Even Jesus had his Judas. That man gave us to opportunity to be together to tell you people from Concord you are the best people in America . . . the best people in the world."

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com.)


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