Modesto clergy group gathers diverse crowd in solidarity against hate

A large group of people showed up for a Compassion and Solidarity Vigil at Tenth Street Plaza in downtown Modesto on Sunday.
A large group of people showed up for a Compassion and Solidarity Vigil at Tenth Street Plaza in downtown Modesto on Sunday. mbicek@modbee.com

Mary James is fearful that hateful rhetoric and discriminatory government policy will harm those of faiths and backgrounds that are unfairly targeted by President Donald Trump, his supporters and his new administration.

Holding a sign that read: “I love my Muslim neighbor,” she joined a few dozen others Sunday afternoon at Modesto’s Tenth Street Plaza to speak about coming together and standing up for compassion, hospitality and diversity. James, of Modesto, said she’s going to be calling her congressional representatives every day to express her concerns.

“I think it’s really important that we don’t marginalize anybody,” James said.

Sunday’s event in downtown Modesto was organized by an ecumenical group with eight or so members from a variety of religious affiliations that meets regularly to foster communication. The event included music and speakers sharing their personal stories, guidance and hope.

Difference need not divide us.

The Rev. Darcy Baxter

The Rev. Darcy Baxter of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County said the group’s various faiths require them to protect those in need.

“Difference need not divide us,” she told the crowd.

Baxter said people need to overcome a sense of isolation, even among those who might have the same ideals of equality and justice. There’s not enough communication, and those who want to help need to seek out a community whether it’s religious or secular.

“We’re most powerful when we’re together,” Baxter said.

Democratic leaders and immigration reform advocates are worried Trump will soon eliminate several of former President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects an estimated 750,000 immigrants brought here illegally as children.

According to a report from the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Trump is not expected to immediately launch raids targeting the students, but fears among so-called Dreamers could grow as he executes plans to deport more than 2 million immigrants with any form of criminal records.

They need to come out with policies to protect them. They can call it a sanctuary, or they can call it something else.

Homero Mejia, Congregations Building Community

Homero Mejia says the fear is many students who were protected by DACA will be swept up in immigration raids targeting others. Mejia works for Congregations Building Community, a grass-roots organization with a chapter in Modesto that has pushed for immigration reform and helps local families.

Mejia said about 20,000 families in Stanislaus County could be affected by Trump’s immigration plan, and many of them are fearful. Since Trump’s election, he said, he has held meetings at local schools twice a week to help explain the stark realities of this new administration.

“They’re worried about if he’s going to go after them,” Mejia said about the Dreamers.

He urges those who are fearful to not hide but to unite publicly with others seeking immigration reform. Mejia also said local and state government leaders, along with school officials, need to speak out in solidarity with young people fearing deportation.

“They need to come out with policies to protect them,” Mejia said. “They can call it a sanctuary, or they can call it something else.”

There’s an estimated 4 million immigrants in the process of obtaining citizenship or legal residence status, Mejia said, but it’s a complicated process that needs to be simplified, so it wouldn’t take as long.

Different faiths, different races; we stand for each other.

Imam Ahmad Kayello

Over the course of the campaign and since Trump’s election, the clergy group also has grown concerned about reports of escalating hate crimes across the country and has become increasingly aware of the fears felt by some in the region.

Imam Ahmad Kayello of the Islamic Center of Modesto told Sunday’s crowd that this is a city of welcoming people, and we should reach out to help others.

“Different faiths, different races; we stand for each other,” he said.

Members of the clergy group want to reach out to people in the community who feel marginalized by political rhetoric.

“We’re standing together in solidarity for justice. … Our sole purpose is to seek justice for one and all,” said the Rev. Wayne Taylor of Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church in Modesto.

Michael Schiefelbein of College Avenue United Church of Christ said there’s some fear that unfair policies can target members of the LGBT community. Schiefelbein said he and his partner, Steve Klinkerman, celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage nationwide. He’s hopeful that this new hateful rhetoric won’t roll back the progress that has been made.

“Our country has changed,” Schiefelbein said. “It has changed because people shared their stories.”

This diversity is our strength. This diversity is our beauty.

Rabbi Shalom Bochner

Modesto-Stanislaus NAACP President Frank Johnson asked the crowd to offer forgiveness instead of lashing out with hate, “or it will eat you up like cancer.” He warned the crowd not to become what they are speaking out against.

Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Modesto’s Congregation Beth Shalom said he’s felt like he hasn’t had the words to describe his feelings in the past few months. On Sunday, he still doesn’t have the words. So the rabbi blew into a shofar, a ram horn traditionally used to evoke a spirit of self-reflection.

He urged everyone to build bridges of communication and break down the walls that divide so many these days.

“This diversity is our strength,” Bochner told the crowd. “This diversity is our beauty.”

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394