Elgin rally against hate urges residents to 'Be an Upstander'

A rally Friday in downtown Elgin had a clear message: hate has no place there.

More than 250 people attended the "Be an Upstander, not a Bystander" rally at Civic Center Plaza against racism, anti-Semitism and all other forms of hate and bias. It was organized by the city's human relations commission in partnership with the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders and other community organizations.

"What I heard from my black and brown friends is that they know what racism is. What I heard from my Jewish friends is that they know what anti-Semitism is," human relations commission member Danise Habun said. "And it is up to white folks to take ownership of these issues that some of us seem to have forgotten, or (have) given the impression that we don't know what to do. ... Well, we do know what to do."

The rally was in response to last weekend's events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white supremacist rally turned violent and a car plowed into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring 19. An Ohio man accused of having ties to neo-Nazis has been charged.

The Elgin rally made "a clear moral statement about the kind of society we want to live in," state Rep. Anna Moeller said.

She exhorted people to beware of what happens when racial hatred is left unchecked, such as in Nazi Germany. "We are here to proclaim a strong message that this community rejects hatred, white supremacy and violence," she said.

The Rev. Jeff Mikyska of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church said, "There is nothing Christian about white supremacy."

The rally was peppered by chants such as "Organize, educate. Share the love, not the hate" and "This ain't bingo, this ain't Yahtzee. Don't play games with hateful Nazis."

It's imperative to speak up against divisive rhetoric, even when it comes from families and friends, police Chief Jeff Swoboda said. "We take pride in being a welcoming city but drawing the line at people who want to divide us," he said.

Speaker Joyce Fountain, an instructor at Elgin Community College, said it's important for parents to expand their own circle of friends and impart realistic messages to their children. "It's not just enough to say to your children, 'Oh, we are all the same.' We are not all the same," she said, "but that does not mean we are not all endowed by our Creator."

Tony Pellegrino of Streamwood, who works in downtown Elgin, called it a "fantastic" event. "Unfortunately, it's something that needs to be done," he said. "Time and time again, we find ourselves in these situations."

Eradicating hate takes hard, methodical work, said Junaid Afeef, director of the targeted violence prevention program at the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists 32 hate groups in Illinois, he pointed out.

"We need to move beyond rallies in times of crises," he said. "We need to be deliberate and work every single day."

  More than 250 people attended a Friday rally against racism and anti-Semitism at Civic Center Plaza in Elgin. The rally was organized by the Elgin human relations commission and others. Rick West/
  Jessica Burnett of Elgin attended the anti-hate rally Friday in Elgin. Rick West/
  Joyce Fountain speaks during a rally against racism and anti-Semitism behind city hall in Elgin on Friday. She's a sociology instructor at Elgin Community College. Rick West/
  Paige Wolfanger says a few words in a prayer circle before a rally against racism and anti-Semitism Friday in Elgin. She was visiting with a group from the First Congregational Church of Dundee. Rick West/
  More than 250 people attended a rally Friday in Elgin organized by the Elgin human relations commission. Rick West/
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