For me, the most beautiful moment of the rally in support of Higher Ground International (HGI) was when an older woman, one of the many Liberian mothers and grandmothers who depend on the organization, broke into a spontaneous, joyful song. Cultural and language barriers prevented me from knowing what prompted the song or to understand the words she was singing, but there was joy, a lifetime of experiences I will never know, and humanity in her voice. It was deeply moving and unexpected.
“These are the elders that we support here at Higher Ground International Sweetie Care Program,” said HGI executive director Henrietta White-Holder. “They are amazing. They’ve gone through so much. They’ve experienced things that many of us can never begin to understand. But even in the midst of a storm, we have them here: resilient, beautiful, wonderful, loving women.”
On April 12, the property behind Higher Ground was defaced with the painted word “ARYAN” on a dumpster and the words “Donald Trump Rule$ the USA. Thank God” spray painted on the pavement. The graffiti seems to have been directed at the local Liberian refugee population served by HGI.
In response, White-Holder said she “believes that love is the appropriate answer” and so a rally was held outside HGI’s offices at 250 Prairie Avenue on Wednesday.
Speakers included US Representative David Cicilline and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, among others. Many spoke of their own experience as refugees or as children of refugees. The Liberian community was welcomed and Rhode Island reaffirmed that the Liberian community is important, loved and needed in our state. They are part of our story and part of what makes Rhode Island an exciting, vibrant place to live.
Here’s the song:
Dawn Euer is a board member at HGI and emceed the event.
The Reverend Doctor Donald Anderson said that “Rhode Island is a better place” because of the Liberian refugees that have settled here. “Thank you for making that journey. Thank you for facing that danger. Thank you for coming here, living here and teaching us about your love.”
Representative David Cicilline
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
“Everybody is everybody’s keeper. From our faith tradition, we are our brother’s keeper.”
Chanravy Proeung is a first generation child of Cambodian refugee spoke of the hate crimes as a sign of a deeper, foundational issue in the United States. “This moment is a big, intense wake-up call for all of us,” said Proeung, hate crimes like the one at HGI have “continued for generations… It is meant to break our spirit, it is meant to break our community, but it will not.”
Sterk Zaza has just returned from Syria, and here in Rhode Island she works to make homes for Syrian and other refugees. What the people doing this graffiti and projecting hate don’t realize, said Zaza, is that their actions “bring us closer” and make us stronger. “The more they do this, the stronger we become.”
Aaron Regunburg, a Democratic state representative from District 4 and one of the leaders of Resist Hate RI said that “‘in the state of Rhode Island, an attack on one is an attack on all because Rhode Islanders will stand up and fight for each other.”
Poet Christopher Johnson was ready to get angry and fired up about the attack on the community, but was asked by White-Holder to do something about love instead. “Oh man,” said Johnson, in mock disappointment. Then he delivered.
Aisha Manzoor represented RICMA, the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement. “the Muslim community has also faced things such as this, with hateful graffiti,” said Manzoor, “and all the love that’s come out is amazing and beautiful.”
“Love is the most powerful weapon we have. Forget the missiles. It is love.”
State Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell noted that the building that houses HGI and the Urban League of Rhode Island is in receivership. “This building is important to the black community,” said Ranglin-Vassell, “This building is important to the Latino community. And this building is important to the poor white community. Because this building belongs to all of us. This building is where people came for food, they came for GED, they came for ESL, they came for everything…
“This building needs to be saved… This is sacred ground.”
Republican State Representative Robert Lancia (District 16, Cranston), a former Navy Chaplain, gave a sermon of sorts about the Good Samaritan.
Providence City Councilor Mary Kay Harris