Modesto gathering against hate offers ‘candid and courageous conversations’

Modesto Junior College student Zola Hayes spoke on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community at a town hall against hate hosted by the NAACP in Modesto, Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.
Modesto Junior College student Zola Hayes spoke on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community at a town hall against hate hosted by the NAACP in Modesto, Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. jholland@modbee.com

A town hall in west Modesto aired concerns about hate while celebrating the contributions of diverse people.

The NAACP of Modesto/Stanislaus hosted the Tuesday night gathering at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center. It featured speakers from varied faiths, ethnic backgrounds and gender identities.

“We just wanted to have an event that brings us all together in a safe setting and allows us to just kind of talk and have some very candid and courageous conversations with each other,” said Wendy Byrd, president of the NAACP chapter.

It happened 24 days after a Straight Pride rally in Modesto that drew far more protesters than supporters.

Zola Hayes, a member of the LGBTQ+ community at Modesto Junior College, told of seeing hateful flyers left at the Central Valley Pride Center recently. And then there’s the man on campus, known to fellow students as “preacher guy,” who also has spread this kind of message.

“When I see him, I don’t feel accepted and I don’t feel safe,” Hayes said.

Rachael Roseman, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, talked about the slavery and genocide suffered by Jewish people in ancient Egypt.

“This is a pattern that repeats itself throughout Jewish history and in fact is a pattern for hatred of many peoples,” she said.

Roseman noted also that “Jesus was a Jew, teaching a different kind of Judaism,” in the time before Christianity was established.

A Muslim view

Islam has similar connections, said Tawfik Saleh, a member of the Islamic Center of Modesto. It honors Moses, Jesus and other figures in the Bible, he said.

Saleh said an unfounded fear of terrorism has complicated his extended family’s effort to immigrate from Yemen. He added that Muslims are of many nationalities and contribute to the local economy.

“You find them having stores here down the street, or driving Uber or working in a factory,” he said.

Jaspreet Kaur of Ceres talked about her fellow Sikhs, who first came to California to farm in the early 1900s and now work in many careers. She told of recent assaults against Sikhs and of how they were wrongly mixed in with Osama bin Laden, the Islamic extremist behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We look at a man who is wearing a turban and has a long beard,” Kaur said. “What are our thoughts?”

Out on Crows Landing

Rebecca Harrington, a leader in the Modesto area’s Latino community, recalled her revulsion at hearing then-candidate Donald Trump criticize people from Mexico.

Harrington also decried the continued lack of sidewalks and storm drains in many parts of south Modesto, where she lives. She added that the Crows Landing Road commercial strip has tax revenue comparable to Vintage Faire Mall.

“There’s a lot of money out there that’s being circulated in the community, and yet they’re absolutely neglected,” she said.

Al Smith, a history professor at MJC, talked about his fellow African-Americans and how slavery laid the foundation of the nation’s economy.

He said he generally opposes the idea of paying reparations to today’s descendants of slaves, because this could not begin to compensate for what they endured. He does support one specific measure – college for future generations.

“Make something right for my children, my offspring.” Smith said. “Make sure they get a free college education.”

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.