By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Four years ago, Bowling Green was struggling with how to confront racist acts and hatred in the community. Racial graffiti had been written on sidewalks, racist tweets were made about university students, and a local man with ties to known hate groups was arrested.
City and university leaders came together and decided to try a Not In Our Town campaign. The program had worked in other communities across the nation to stand up against all forms of violence, discrimination and hatred.
The effort took off, engaging more than 12 community organizations and collecting 50,000 pledges from students and community members who understand that hate hurts the entire city and campus.
Earlier this month, those Not In Our Town efforts were recognized with a national award for adding to the quality of life in Bowling Green. The award was presented in Chicago by the International Town & Gown Association and Brailsford & Dunlavey.
Accepting the award were local NIOT leaders Heather Sayler, representing the city of Bowling Green, and Leslie Galan, representing BGSU.
Galan said the award came as a surprise since the recognition is normally given to programs that create economic development and infrastructure projects.
“It’s an honor, when you think you’re flying by the seat of your pants,” Galan said. But the efforts are clearly paying off, she added. “It has really helped to change how students see things. It’s changing the quality of life for a lot of people.”
The Bowling Green NIOT program is now being asked to share its success with other communities struggling with similar problems.
“We have the same concerns, the same issues,” Galan said.
Despite its success, Not In Our Town organizers will be the first to admit that their work is not over. The community was reminded of that this week when the group participated in a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shootings.
During the vigil, Rev. Gary Saunders disputed the notion that “Not In Our Town can go home and close the doors. It’s all better now.” The work is far from over, he said.
The organization is committed to pointing out hatred and intolerance – and not settling for it as the norm. He mentioned the “Islamaphobia” discussions held earlier this year in response to discrimination against Muslims.
“We get better after each event,” said Saunders, another NIOT organizer.
But the Orlando shootings, and the hateful actions of some local motorists toward people holding daily vigils downtown for the LGBTQ victims, are a reminder that citizens must stay vigilant against intolerance.
“Let’s show that backbone,” Saunders said during the vigil.
Bowling Green’s Not In Our Town has held several events to promote diversity and inclusion, including:
- A Black Lives Matter forum that created a safe space to talk about race relations and feelings of insecurity.
- “Coffee with Cops,” where police officers and community members can discuss topics in a casual, coffeehouse atmosphere.
- The Tunnel of Oppressions, a series of exhibits meant to educate students about issues of terminology, immigration, masculinity, beauty, gender identity and disability.
- The film screening of Waking in Oak Creek, a film that documents the deadly attack on the Sikh community in Wisconsin by a white supremacist.
- The film screening of Class Actions, three stories of students and their communities standing together to stop hate and bullying.