By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
A series of hate-filled acts five years ago led to the birth of Not In Our Town Bowling Green.
On Tuesday, the five-year anniversary of the organization was celebrated with cake, balloons and pledges of renewed commitment.
Vicky Kulicke, a founder of NIOT BG, recalled the dark events that led to the organization’s formation. First, there were swastikas drawn on the driveway of a BGSU basketball coach. Then there was the arson at the Islamic Center in Perrysburg Township.
And finally, there were a series of racist tweets that were made by BGSU students at a local bar about fellow African American students in the establishment.
The community was looking for a solution when Kulicke suggested the formation of Not In Our Town. The organization had been created in 1995 in Billings, Montana, after someone threw a brick through a storefront window where a Menorah was on display. In that community, the newspaper printed pictures of a Menorah for citizens to post in their own windows to show support.
Kulicke believed something like that could work here in Bowling Green. She was challenged by the president of the BGSU Black Student Union to make it happen. So Kulicke started knocking on doors and found overwhelming support – from the mayor, BGSU president, city police and campus police.
But Kulicke still wasn’t sure how the overall campus and community would respond. A panel discussion was planned to launch the Not In Our Town concept – but no one knew if students and citizens would attend.
“We wondered if people were even going to care about what we cared about,” she said. “There was a great fear of failure.”
It turned out they did care – so much so that people packed a BGSU lecture hall to hear about the program.
The efforts to “beat the drum for justice” were successful, Kulicke said.
“When we launched it was rapid fire,” she said of that drum beat.
Since then, Not In Our Town has stood up to hatred and intolerance of many kinds in Bowling Green. The group stands for a safe and inclusive community, and against acts of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexuality, ability, religion and class.
The organization’s pledge calls for people to “lead and live through example by stopping bigotry before it starts.”
Holly Cipriani, NIOT programming chairperson, asked those attending the five-year celebration to renew their commitment.
“How do we embody the pledge and live it day to day,” she said.
Though the drum beat has slowed and been quiet at times, Kulicke assured those present that Not In Our Town is still committed to fighting hatred in any form. Lately that has included working on issues of gun violence and food insecurity.
“There are always individuals having side conversations on how to make our community safe and people more a part of it,” she said.
Support was voiced Tuesday by city and university leaders.
Bowling Green City Council President Mike Aspacher praised the efforts of Not In Our Town.
“Five years ago, the Bowling Green community came together to stand in the face of hatred and bigotry,” he said.
The work of the organization shows “hate has no place here and absolutely will not be tolerated,” Aspacher said.
That led to an even stronger relationship between the city and university, BGSU President Rodney Rogers said.
“We continue to work together,” he said, making a campus and community where all belong. “We are welcoming each other. We listen to each other. We want to learn from each other.”