Dearborn gathering takes on 'rise of divisive rhetoric'

Dearborn — Bowing their heads, elected officials, community members and local nonprofits were led by religious leaders in interfaith prayers Thursday in a Take on Hate gathering in Dearborn. 

More than 40 organizations were represented at a Take On Hate event at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where participants said they planned to combat "hateful rhetoric" and divisiveness in the country.

Lt. Gov Garlin Gilchrist and Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, the spiritual leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom.

Kenneth Kettenbeil, vice-chancellor at UM-Dearborn, said the university has sent out messages to students and faculty denouncing hate, most recently after the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings.

“When Dingell’s office inquired about having this event on campus, there wasn’t too much to think about,” he said, referring to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell. “This falls in line with our culture, respect and inclusion guidelines. We all know there’s more work to be done”

Signs reading “United we stand against hate,” “Make racism wrong again” and “Hate has no place in this world” were held up during speeches at the University Center on the Dearborn campus. 

Dingell said she hosted the event because she felt her constituents were being pitted against each other. 

Supporters holding signs at a Take On Hate gathering at University of Michigan - Dearborn on Aug. 29, 2019.

“We have to stop letting that happen because we are strong as one,” she said. “We can disagree, agreeably, and put each other in the other’s shoes instead of demonizing those who are different.”

Dingell said hate crimes in the nation are rising.

“The crystallizing moment for me was when a little Arab girl came up to me at Dearborn Homecoming and asked, ‘Why do people hate me?’” Dingell said. “It’s constant drama, turbulence and post 9/11, Arabs and Jews came together and said they would not allow hate crimes to occur in their communities. That’s not happening as often today, but it’s everyone, black against brown, white against black … it needs to stop."

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said as a parent of twins set to begin first grade next week and he wants to see through the lens of his children.

"Hate, racism and bigotry, those are learned behaviors, nobody's hate is born like that," Gilchrist said. "As adults, what we tolerate and allow to happen in our presence, it poisons the minds of the future.

Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, the spiritual leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom, speaks to the crowd at the University of Michigan - Dearborn for a Take On Hate event on Aug. 29, 2019.

"The dangerous and destructive words and deeds that have come from Washington, but what's even more insidious is that it arms, emboldens, encourages and pulls out that hatred from other people."

Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, led a prayer followed by Rabbi Asher Lopatin asking for hate mongers to be banished and for community members to listen to one another.

"Help us promote the culture of rationality, reason and respect. Let our rifles be replaced by reason," he said. "Let them understand, not shoot. Let the death threats be traded with dialogue.

"Love your neighbors, regardless of who they are."

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The feeling of belonging isn't a given, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib told the crowd, highlighting hatred directed at people of color and LGBTQ communities.

"I grew up in an America where every black woman was my mother, where a pastor, no matter if I wasn't from the same faith, brought me into his church home, and that is an incredible story that has yet to be told," Tlaib said. 

"It's so easy to function from a place of fear," she said, "But I promise you, we will prevail. There is more of us than them."

Sara Gleircher of Southfield said national rhetoric is playing out at the local level.

“That national climate of vitriol that is spewing against anyone who isn’t white,” Gleircher said, who is Jewish. “Ultimately, we do have to get rid of the current president and put into office, elected officials who don’t espouse hate and hateful policies.” 

People gathered at the University of Michigan - Dearborn for a Take On Hate event on Aug. 29, 2019.

Dingell organized the event two weeks after speaking in front of the Dearborn Police Department, calling on the department to end its relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Last week, Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly Jr. decided that the city will not voluntarily cooperate with ICE after it has held thousands of detainees since 1999 following backlash from the community. / @SarahRahal_