Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Meet the Press December 21, 2005

Harwich Plans Tolerance Event On Martin Luther King Day

The Cape Cod Chronicle
by William F. Galvin

HARWICH — The board of selectmen appears ready to embrace a No Place For Hate program in an official capacity, agreeing Monday night to hold events on Martin Luther King Day, including the reading of a proclamation, as an initial step in participating in the statewide initiative.

The No Place For Hate program is an effort by a group of residents to bring the community together to denounce hatred and bigotry, seen earlier this month when a swastika defaced a bike crossing sign located along Route 39 adjacent to the bike trail.

The mission of the program is “To empower Massachusetts municipalities to create local programs that will actively promote inclusion and respect for individual and group differences, while encouraging residents and officials to speak out against hate and intolerance.”

Board of Selectmen Chairman Ed McManus said he attended a Harwich Clergy Association meeting last week on the subject and listened to a presentation by Jennifer Smith, director of community outreach for the Anti-Defamation League. Smith and the late Rabi Leonard Zakim created the program.

The ADL and Massachusetts Municipal Associations, working with more than 50 coalition members, have been striving to have municipalities adopt the program and through a proclamation make a commitment to help set a community standard of respect for diversity and anti-bias efforts as well as maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes.

There are 59 communities in the commonwealth which have adopted the program, according to resident and activist John Bangert. The towns of Falmouth , Mashpee and Provincetown on the Cape have embraced the program, he said.

McManus said there are procedures in place for a town to follow when adopting the program, including the reading of a proclamation and establishing a committee or community coalition to plan for events. The board chairman said there does not have to be major involvement from town government, and more of the activities can take place in the schools, churches and through other community organizations.

Rev. Terry Newberry of the First Congregational Church of Harwich Center said Monday night the program is a fantastic idea for the community. Newberry also said he does not think there is prejudice or discrimination in the community.

“To open up our community to this will make a very positive statement as a people,” Newberry said.

Selectman Robin Wilkins recommended a proclamation be read on Martin Luther King Day. He said a simple event could be planned in one of the churches or in a town park and the proclamation read at that time.

“There is an energy felt from the people who have gotten behind this and that energy should be sustained,” Wilkins said.

There was discussion about the language of the proclamation. Bangert said there is a uniform proclamation document that is read as the municipal acceptance of the program. But Wilkins said he has read those of Provincetown and Lowell and they are different. The selectman challenged the notion the town could not craft its own language for the proclamation. But Bangert said Smith has told him the uniform proclamation is the legal document in Massachusetts . Bangert said reading this proclamation and conducting three events over the year are required to become a No Place For Hate community.

Wilkins said he would prefer that a diverse group from throughout the community draft the proclamation and the board of selectmen “buy into it.” Bangert said additional proclamations could be read by members of a town coalition.

Selectmen agreed to refine plans for the Martin Luther King Day event, Monday Jan.16, at the board’s Jan. 9 meeting.


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