Stand United Against Hate kick-off will be held Nov. 12 at library

By Marty Cheek

Although Morgan Hill holds a small-town warmth and neighborly spirit, it hasn’t been immune to the winds of hate sweeping the nation. Anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs spewed forth at a recent city council meeting, jolting residents and raising the specter that division could take root.

Rather than despair, some residents started banding together to fight back against bigotry and discord. The Morgan Hill Stands United Against Hate (UAH) grassroots movement aims to make compassion contagious in this tight-knit community and prevent intolerance from taking hold.

UAH debuted last year and received overall positive comments from the Morgan Hill community, said Suman Ganapathy, an organizer.

“The most critical comments questioned: ‘This was good, but what next?’” she said. “It gave us hope that our community is interested in building bridges and understanding one another.”

This event is organized by a committee made up of the Library, Culture, and Arts Commission, of which Ganapathy is a member.

Organizers will host a kick-off for the week-long event from 2-4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Morgan Hill Library. Participants will hear short, inspiring, and thought-provoking talks, as well as enjoy a sampling of diverse music, poetry, and arts performances.

As part of the campaign, posters will be distributed to local businesses and residents to display. The week of Nov. 12-18 will feature various activities centered around inclusion, compassion and speaking out against bigotry.

A UAH Poster Art Competition will be launched at this event by the Morgan Hill Kiwanis and Interact Youth Club. Deadline for submission is Jan. 15. Prize winners will be announced Feb. 14.

“We hope this initiative has a lasting impact on community attitudes and behavior, and will kick-start not just one week but a lifetime of change, and encourage people to be loving and accepting toward all,” Ganapathy said.  “Programs like this give everyone hope, not just for the marginalized, but for all of us, for humankind, especially in these volatile times.”

Noshaba Afzal, a Morgan Hill resident, is playing a leading role in the initiative. She described a short-term goal is for all community members to agree hate has no place here. She wants Morgan Hill to send a strong message that targeted hate will not be tolerated.

“By standing up actively against hate, we can build a community of mutual  respect and compassion,” Afzal said. “Hate in any form is not welcome here.”

She pointed to several factors that have increased hate and division lately, including biased media reporting, disinformation on social media, and dehumanizing rhetoric from some leaders that encourages people to act on their hate.

Afzal cited a recent example when a 71-year-old man stabbed a Muslim mother more than a dozen times and killed her 6-year-old child. The man’s wife said conservative news had influenced him to target the victims because of their faith.

Locally, Afzal said Muslims have experienced increased Islamophobia when propaganda and hate spread.

“I recall Muslims were targeted and heckled during public town hall meetings at the Morgan Hill Grange when they spoke during public comments and received direct and indirect threats,” she said. “In the Bay Area this week, a mother wearing a hijab was assaulted and spit on by a man while walking to pick up her child from school.”

To bring people together, Afzal has worked with the Interfaith Community of South County, which has 19 groups working together to build compassionate communities. They organize events for open dialogue and understanding between faiths. Continuing this work is critical, along with efforts like the Morgan Hill Stands United Against Hate campaign, Afzal said.

She called the initiative a start to building respectful dialogue and a compassionate community. Though recent events like the Palestine-Israel conflict have been difficult, Afzal said she remains determined not to let hate divide the community.

“Our South County community is one community,” she said. “We need to value that every life is precious and stand against hate when any neighbor is being targeted, as well as standing up for those being oppressed.  This initiative sets a clear tone and is a start to building respectful dialogue and establishing a compassionate community for all our neighbors.”

Morgan Hill resident Stewart Gill is also playing a leading role in launching the compassion-focused campaign. The idea stemmed from his seeing a “United Against Hate” poster in San Rafael. After researching similar national initiatives, he felt it could help address issues facing the country today.

Gill hopes the UAH campaign creates awareness in the community that hate needs to be called out when seen, and that it isn’t only a one-sided issue.

“Of all the great cities I’ve lived in across the country, Morgan Hill is hands down the best,” he said. “This seems like a wonderful opportunity to help take the edge off of the current tensions we are all feeling, and focus on what we do best; being an inclusive community that does not tolerate discrimination, hate crimes, harassment, or assault, as stated in resolutions passed in 2016 and 2021.”

A challenge is getting people to see this is a shared responsibility, not pointing fingers, Gill said. He wants to maintain Morgan Hill’s inclusive spirit despite different perspectives.

He encourages residents to become a part of the solution. Though views may differ, he hopes residents can come together, have dialogues, and stem the roots of hate taking hold nationally.

“It’s easy to blame someone else, but more difficult to take responsibility and do something about it,” he said. “If we each do our part to call out hate and be open to talk about issues and differences, we can take the first step to keeping Morgan Hill a very special place to live.”