Athol rally for racial understanding attracts crowd to Upper Common

  • Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Police Chief Craig Lundgren, Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera and Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki were among those attending Saturday's social justice rally on the Upper Common in Athol. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol resident Angelina Moore brought her 2½-year-old daughter to Saturday’s rally on the upper common in Athol. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

  • State Sen. Anne Gobi (left) and state Rep. Susannah Whipps speak in support of SPARK's efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of diversity in Athol and surrounding towns. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

  • Some of the crowd at Saturday's social justice rally on Athol's upper common listen to SPARK board member Raheim Moore. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol Fire Capt. Jamal Hamilton speaks at Saturday’s rally for equality, justice and understanding. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

For The Recorder
Published: 7/26/2020 6:01:21 PM

ATHOL — Organizers said they were pleasantly surprised at the number of people who turned out Saturday for a rally in support of equality, justice and understanding held on the Upper Common. About 40 people braved the heat to listen to a series of speakers, each of whom urged the people of Athol and surrounding towns to work together to create a community where all people — regardless of race, political ideology, sexual preference or identity, or religion — are welcome, what Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as “the beloved community.”

The event was organized by SPARK — Standing Peacefully Against Racism Knowingly — and sponsored by the Athol Area YMCA.

Carmen Santa, who sits on the board of SPARK, welcomed attendees by explaining the group was formed because “what we have in common is that we have experienced racism, or witnessed it, in the community and we felt compelled to do something about it.

“That’s not to say that we think everybody in Athol is racist or that Athol is a racist town, but that no place in this country is immune from racism. Like anything else, recognizing that we have a problem is the first step toward recovery. We need to identify the problem, name it, and strip it of its power.”

“This is a time for self-reflection and growth,” said board member and Athol Fire Dept. Captain Jamal Hamilton. “This is a time for unity and empathy. This is a time to create measurable, tangible change for the future. The ideas we set forth today will pave the way to a brighter tomorrow.

“Only with clear eyes and open minds will the blindfolds be lifted from our eyes so that we can all emerge from the darkness of ignorance and intolerance, so we can all witness the spark that becomes a beacon of light to provide us with vision. The vision of our future isn’t defined by our differences but by our commonality and principles.”

Hamilton continued: “It’s time to be on the right side of history, on the bright side of these dark days.”

Among the speakers Saturday were state Rep. Susannah Whipps and state Sen. Anne Gobi.

“I’ve always been proud to live in this community,” said Whipps. “I want to continue to be proud living in this community.”

Motioning to Sen. Gobi, Whipps said, “We would love to be able to legislate away racism, but that’s not going to happen. It’s going to be a grassroots effort that all of us need to be part of.”

“Things are starting to happen,” said Gobi. “Today’s event is just the start of what’s going to happen. Our eyes have been opened over the past several months, and it’s up to us to figure out what we can do to make things better.”

SPARKS board member Raheim Moore said to applause, “When I say Black Lives Matter, it doesn’t mean anybody else’s live is worth less than ours, it’s just that ours is in danger right now.

“When we speak about diversity, we tend to speak about skin color or culture. But it’s not just that. Diversity to me means ‘different.’ We’re all different. And we need to let people know it’s OK to be around people that aren’t the same as you. Folks, we should feel blessed to live and co-exist as one race of human beings and actually live in peace.”

Joseph Rodriguez, who also sits on the board, thanked everyone for turning out to support the event and SPARK.

“I think if we can start where we live and make that little change,” he said, “I think progressively, over time, all of you can go home and spread this message to your family members. This may just look like a little gathering, but there are a lot of people just sitting at home who do support our message. But all of you coming out today shows that we can make a difference.”

Other speakers Saturday included Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, YMCA Assistant Executive Director Matt Talbot and YMCA Executive Director Jennifer Gordon.

SPARK is planning a cultural celebration in September, but details are still being worked out.


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