As a call to act locally in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, a CommUNITY Gathering for Peace event was held Saturday night at the State College Municipal Building.
“Numerous people were struggling with the division we witnessed as a result of our recent presidential election,” said Renne Ford, event organizer and pastor at Houserville, Woodycrest and Gray’s United Methodist Churches. “And there was a deep sense of need for us to do something locally to respond — to come together, to act, to listen, to celebrate diversity and to rise above fear and hate.”
More than 200 people gathered in the Community Room to listen to speakers from all corners of the Centre County community. The event, which organizers described as a public community expression of unity and peace in Happy Valley, was made possible in part by a grant from the State College district of the United Methodist Church.
“I’m grateful to see everybody here,” Ford said. “This is speaking to something that’s on people’s hearts and minds, and hopefully it’s the beginning of something, and one of the coolest things is what you’re sharing in the background. It’s people getting to know each other.”
The event featured multiple speakers from various religious and community groups, each with a different message about peace, tolerance, dialogue and community. Topics covered by the speakers included welcoming the Muslim, LGBTQ and disabled communities, using peaceful and nonviolent principles to stand up for neighbors, and celebrating diversity.
“You have everything in you that you need to make State College a great place,” said Barbara Farmer, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs for Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology. “It’s up to you to make use of what you already have.”
In between speakers, attendees were encouraged to introduce themselves to someone whom they did not know, and discuss various topics such as how they can make a difference in the community.
“It’s maybe easy to have an opinion about or marginalize or think negatively about somebody who you don’t know,” Ford said, “but once you know somebody and you’ve spoken to them … it helps build the network. It’s different. They’re no longer the other. We’re in it together.”
Audience members represented a wide range of demographics, including elementary-aged students, senior citizens, members of different faith-based organizations, working professionals and members of the media.
“It’s good to see people getting together and investing in the community,” Brenton Mitchell, of State College, said. “I appreciate the energy that’s here and in the room. I’d like to know more about specific forces that shape our lives that are beyond our control. How do we reach outside of ourselves?”
At the end of the event, attendees were encouraged to write on Post-It notes about the type of change they could make in the community, and then to stick the notes on a bulletin board in the room. Attendees were also encouraged to do the same a paper chain, creating a link in the chain for how they felt they could contribute.
The next UNITY event, a Sabbath Service for the Community and for Our Communal Aspirations, is slated for 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Congregation Brit Shalom in State College. Rabbi David Ostrich will be joined by the Rev. Dean Lindsay, of the State College Presbyterian Church, for the service.
“We not only hope, but we know that there will be more events,” Ford wrote. “We hope to un-silo some mutual efforts — so that we can partner across organizations.”