In the wake of the controversial presidential election and with the country seemingly split in two, residents of one South Brooklyn neighborhood are laying out the welcome mat.
Bay Ridgeites came together in peace and solidarity on Saturday, January 28 at an afternoon affair appropriately dubbed, We Are Bay Ridge. The event, which took place at the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church (414 80th Street), hosted over 225 people of various ages and backgrounds, in an effort to inspire a sense of togetherness and settle any potential local unrest.
“Right after the election, there were discussions popping up on local Facebook groups, especially one geared toward families,” explained Bay Ridge resident Teri Brennan, one of the event’s many organizers. “Parents were sharing that many of their kids were feeling anxious. Some were worried about what might happen to their families; others were worried about what might happen to their friends.
“Bay Ridge is a diverse neighborhood and that can be a source of friction,” she went on. “We are also a neighborhood that comes together when there is a crisis like 9/11 or Sandy and when a neighbor has a tragedy like a fire or major illness.”
And so, in that spirit, We Are Bay Ridge was born – its promotional fliers decorated with the colors of the Pride flag, and the words “We Are Bay Ridge” in 17 different languages.
“A few of us starting talking about planning an event that would bring the community together, an event that would celebrate our diversity and be inviting for all different kinds of people to come together and get to know one another better,” Brennan said. “We felt that our community would be stronger if we knew each other better. That it would make us more likely to look out for each other. That the more vulnerable among us would feel (and be) safer.”
Brennan and others banded together with groups of local Muslims, Christians, Jews, Unitarians, atheists and more – some American-born, some immigrants – to host the event.
“Some grew up in Bay Ridge, some have lived here for many years, some are relatively new,” Brennan told this paper. “Several speak a language in addition to English. Most of us had never met before and we did this on our own without any organization or community group for backing.”
A number of organizers, she said, used their own money to buy supplies for the event, while others stepped up to donate their own art supplies, games and equipment.
The event’s turnout was similar to its inception.
“For three hours, a couple of hundred neighbors were talking to each other, playing card games, playing with kids, doing crafts, and breaking bread together,” Brennan said, noting that, while many children played, their parents, grandparents and more got to talking about the true meaning of diversity, and how important that definition is today.
The afternoon also included readings from residents of various backgrounds and homelands, as well as a potluck dinner featuring traditional foods from far and wide.
“The feedback from everyone who attended has been wonderful,” Brennan said. “Many attendees met someone new and/or got to know an acquaintance a bit better and that was our goal.”
She and her team certainly did.
“Many members of the planning team made new connections and started some friendships,” Brennan went on, stressing that the event’s name was intended to signify that everyone in the neighborhood is “on equal footing, regardless of where they came from, when they arrived, how they identify, and any other descriptor.”
Brennan attributed much of the event’s success to its strong support from the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church and Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.
“Our diversity makes us stronger and enriches life in our neighborhood,” she said, looking forward to future events of its kind.
Organizers and supporters included Amie Jo Pappas, Cathy Vargas, Catharine Hanoosh, Danielle Bullock, Irena Vorotnikova Nedeljkovic, Jon Green, Victoria Hofmo, Isabel Ibrahim, Jennifer Kruger, Jennifer Rosenstein, Johanna Conroy, Justin Brannan, Kaleidoscope Toy Store, Reverend Khader El-Yateem, Kristen Pettit, Lina El Younis, Liz Turrigiano, Maggi Ridolfo, Marina Madden, Melanie Cohen, Natasha Stovall, Pamela Sosa-Corso, Rana Abu-Sbaih, Rita Pihra-Majurinen, Rupsha Iqbal, Sarah Castellano, and Shane Spaulding, among others.