Racist flyers in Richmond prompt diversity celebration
Photo credit: Angelika Dawson
by Angelika Dawson
On a frigidly cold Friday in December, Kelly Greene and her two-year-old son Sully braved the snowy weather and headed out to the Richmond Public Library. It wasn’t a regular visit to take out books, but a special visit to attend a public rally of support for the community. Greene, who has lived in Richmond since she was a child, was taking part in the rally for unity, held in response to anti-Chinese flyers that had been sent out to communities all over Richmond.
“I’m here because the poison that was sent to my mailbox is not acceptable,” Greene shared passionately. “It’s important for our community to hear that we all belong and to show that we are stronger together.”
Greene is not alone. Nearly 100 people gathered at the rally, responding to an open letter sent out by church leaders calling people to gather together to show the sentiments in the flyer were not a true reflection of the community. The gathering included a welcome from the Aboriginal community and speakers from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.
Pastor Victor Kim, of the Richmond Presbyterian Church, who organized the rally emphasized that this was not a protest. “This rally is a celebration of the rich diversity in our community,” he said, adding that the flyer did not speak for the majority of the people in Richmond.
Kim, who describes himself as an Anglophone Canadian of Korean descent, said he was moved by the response he received from the faith community and by the presence of so many people who decided to come despite the bad weather.
“We have to speak lest our silence be seen as acquiescence,” Kim said. “As people of faith, we believe we are all made by the Creator, we all have a spark of the divine within us and whether we are Asian, Scottish, Dutch, Korean, or another heritage, we all call Richmond home, we are Canadians as well.”
Rabbi Howard Siegel, of Beth Tikvah Congregation in Richmond, encouraged those in attendance to be people of action as well as works. “We must pray with our words but also with our feet, standing together, marching, not in protest but in unity,” Siegel said.
Rev. Dr. Alan Lai of the Richmond Chinese United Church said that he chose Richmond as his home more than 20 years ago because he found it to be a welcoming community of people who were loving and peaceful. He also appreciated the multicultural flavour of his community. “We all come from somewhere,” he said, drawing appreciative laughter from the crowd.
Rev. Christoph Reiners from Our Saviour Lutheran Church spoke of the effect that the racist flyer had on him. “I was offended,” he said. “I was offended because it was wrong and we need to state it. It was wrong because the facts do not support its claims. It was wrong because it crossed the boundary of what it means to live in a civil society.” Reiners called on those gathered to pledge to be welcoming of others “as God has been welcoming of us.”
The final speaker was Rev. Maggie Watts-Hammond from Gilmore Park United Church. She reiterated what other speakers had said, that the gathering was not a protest but a show of caring, compassion and unity. She ended her speech by quoting John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
The rally concluded with the singing of “We Shall Overcome” and words of thanks from Pastor Kim. “We are convinced that there are many here in our city, many who will not and cannot remain silent as forces that are aligned with bigotry and racism seek to marginalize, blame or scapegoat a certain segment of our society,” he said. “Thank you coming out on this cold day and showing your support.”
To read the original statement of unity by Richmond Church leaders, visit richpres.com/wp/a-statement-of-unity-by-richmond-church-leaders/