Area groups offered positive alternatives to rallyWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
From cleanups to cookoffs, mural dedications to music, art to activism, groups across the city made sure Toledoans had diversions April 18.
That’s the day a National Socialist Movement (NSM) group held a rally Downtown, drawing about 150 observers and counter-demonstrators. The event prompted heated verbal exchanges from both sides, but only one arrest and no other incidents, Toledo Police spokesman Lt. Joe Heffernan said.
That’s a marked difference from 10 years ago, when rioting in the wake of the last NSM rally led to 100 arrests, a burned business and national media coverage.
“It went as best as could be expected,” Heffernan said. “There were very minimal, minor incidents. There was a low turnout, both with NSM and the public, which is exactly what we wanted. We appreciate the citizens of Toledo for doing what we suggested and staying away.”
A heavy police presence — which a city spokeswoman said will cost taxpayers nearly $76,000 — was part of the reason. But another reason was the concerted effort of Toledoans like Willys Park block watch leader Tina Scott.
Community Peace Day
Scott was one of the first to suggest alternate programming after the NSM rally was announced last month.
“Community Peace Day was set up to be proactive, to reach out to all the organizations out there to host an event in their neighborhood to deter people from going Downtown [for the rally],” Scott said. “The whole idea was to show we have pride in our neighborhoods and in ourselves, to move forward doing our own thing while they were doing their thing.”
Held at Willys Park, the event drew about 400 people and featured a family movie, obstacle course, chili cookoff, DJ, scavenger hunt and more.
“It turned out great,” Scott said. “It’s really nice that everybody pulled together and showed that every time something negative comes, we can bring something positive.”
#BlackLivesMatterDay418 was another event organized as an alternative to the NSM rally. The Community Solidarity Response Network (CSRN) of Toledo has organized other events in the area, but the April 18 event was the group’s biggest yet, drawing more than 300 people, said member Julian Mack.
Mack said many people associate the Black Lives Matter movement with violence and black supremacy, but Toledo’s chapter wants to dispel those misconceptions. The event, held at the Frederick Douglass Community Association, featured a cookoff, dancing, songs, speakers and more.
“We wanted to show you can talk about serious issues, but do it in a positive way,” Mack said. “There’s nothing wrong with yelling on a street corner, but sometimes you have to change the narrative to get people to listen.
“Some people ask, ‘Why not say All Lives Matter?’ Of course all lives matter. But in order for all lives to matter, black lives must matter. You fix the worst part of the problem and the rest of the problem will improve.”
Although CSRN encouraged people to stay away from the rally, Mack said he understood why some people chose to go.
“There’s nothing wrong with someone having an issue with [NSM] coming to their city,” Mack said. “Just like those people have a right to speak their hateful message, people have a right to show their discontent with that message.”
Mack said he was happy with the turnout at #BlackLivesMatterDay418.
“At one point, I looked around at all the energy and the atmosphere and was like, ‘We did it! We beat them.’ I really think so. We beat them at their own game. Our group did, but also the city collectively. That’s something we should be proud of.”
Global Youth Service Day
After learning of the NSM rally, United Way of Greater Toledo decided to continue with plans to host its annual Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) on April 18.
More than 5,000 volunteers, including 4,171 youth age 5-25, participated, said Emily Avery, director of community engagement. More than 130 groups served at 84 different sites, providing more than 15,000 hours of service.
Because of the rally, organizers decided to cancel a planned celebration at Fifth Third Field. Instead, a team of volunteers brought the celebration to each group around the city, delivering T-shirts, certificates and more, Avery said.
Among those participating were about 60 students from Scott High School. On April 17, they volunteered at MLK Kitchen for the Poor and on April 18 they cleaned up the neighborhood around Scott, including planting flowers in a vacant lot nearby.
For some students, serving at MLK Kitchen hit close to home, said Shannon McIntyre, an AmeriCorps member with United Way of Greater Toledo who serves as a graduation coach at Scott, his alma mater.
“We had a couple of kids who actually ate there when they were kids,” he said. “Once they got older and their parents were a little more well off, they didn’t have to go there anymore. But some kids wanted to serve there just from prior experience.
“We ended up cleaning up the park across from the kitchen just on a whim. So you know you’re having fun if the kids say, ‘Let’s clean up the park as well!’” he said. “It felt good knowing there were others doing great projects all throughout the city of Toledo. We were really just about trying to work as much as we could but have fun as well.”
Fair Housing March
Toledo Fair Housing Center also decided to go ahead with its previously planned march April 18 to kick off its 40th anniversary celebration.
“It went incredibly well,” said President and CEO Michael Marsh. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
“We know Toledo is not a hate-filled city,” Marsh said. “We know the majority of people who live here are compassionate individuals. We wanted to give them a place where they could come and express themselves and share their values. I think a lot of people were looking for a way to express themselves and an outlet that was positive and to keep away from [the rally].”
The march through the Old West End, led by the Scott High School band, culminated with the dedication of a new mural at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Collingwood Boulevard, painted by Toledo artist Yusef Lateef. The mural features the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“The quote is so perfect when you are talking about creating inclusive communities of opportunity,” Marsh said. “There are some people who like to believe discrimination doesn’t happen anymore, but we see it all the time. It might not be as blatant — we don’t see signs that say ‘Whites only’; it might be more subtle, more sophisticated, but it still happens.
“Discrimination still happens every day and people’s pursuit of the American Dream and home ownership [is still denied], so we still have work to do.”
Attendance at the April 18 Artomatic 419! was down from the previous Saturday, partially due to concerns about road closures and parking, said event coordinator Maureen Brogan of The Arts Commission. But she said she didn’t think fear was an issue.
“Everyone that joined us talked about celebrating art and love rather than hate,” Brogan said. “I love that there was positivity used to ‘combat’ the rally. We really were through with our planning stages when we heard about the rally but were happy to be a force of positivity in a day that could have turned dark.
“Assuring our patrons that the show would be safe was on our minds but that ended up being an easy thing to offer. Our city did so much to make sure that peace was kept and it made me feel truly comfortable Downtown.”
At the rally
Some people chose to bring positivity to the rally itself. Deonte Moss of Toledo brought a sign reading, “U hate me, I [heart] U.”
“We have a lot of people who work full time to hate, so people who love have to work even harder,” he said.
Lifeline Toledo pastor Steve North attended several of the alternative events and applauded the efforts.
“All were important, because they helped us to highlight what we really care about in the city, and what many of us are committed to do,” North said. “I posted on Facebook there were some who thought the day would be difficult, but I believed it could be our finest hour. From reports I heard from other sites, and those at which I was present, I believe it was. And because of that, I believe there are even finer moments, days and years ahead.”
Tags: Artomatic 419!, Black Lives Matter, Emily Avery, Global Youth Service Day, Julian Mack, Maureen Brogan, Michael Marsh, slider, Steve North, Tina Scott, Toledo Fair Housing Center, United Way of Greater Toledo