The month of August was a study of extremes in American citizenship.
Selfless heroics by ordinary Texans stand in stark contrast to the hatred and bigotry on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The events represent the best and worst of our society. As South Floridians, our hearts ache for those struggling in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Yet, while we bear witness to the horrific weather disaster in Texas, I fear an additional casualty of the storm is our national outrage at the storm of hatred exhibited in Charlottesville.
The past month has not been easy for our nation or our communities. Deeply entrenched beliefs fueled by bigotry and prejudice were elevated to the national stage. But this national spotlight has also illuminated values and characteristics which reflect what America is truly about; the calls for unity vastly outnumbered the calls for division. We are encouraged that so many are recognizing that America is stronger when our commonalities are celebrated rather than our differences exposed.
The events that transpired in Charlottesville are a clear and resounding call for us all to engage actively in the fight against hatred. We cannot just utter heavy words while taking no action. As we focus on Hurricane Harvey, we must not forget Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed by a neo-Nazi sympathizer at the Charlottesville protest. As community leaders and citizens, we must ask what we can do to move our communities closer to the place where we embrace all our neighbors as we embrace ourselves and our families.
As city leaders, we are on the front lines of our communities. Combatting division must begin at the local level, where government is closest to the people. While it may be difficult to engage in open and honest dialogue about our history of racial and religious bigotry, let us not shy away from that task. But let us not get stuck there either. We must focus on where we want to go, and work hand-in-hand to build better communities.
Racial hatred and religious bigotry know no borders. That’s why last week, as president of the Palm Beach County League of Cities, I launched the Stand Together Initiative. As part of that initiative, the organization has issued a public statement encouraging municipal elected officials throughout the county to identify and encourage initiatives in each of their communities that are fighting hatred and bigotry. We urge municipal leaders to speak from the dais about the need for unity and healing in our communities, to pass resolutions or post statements on their municipal websites, and take action throughout our cities, towns and villages in furtherance of unity and healing.
History proves that out of tragedy rises triumph. As we’ve witnessed in Texas, during our darkest times, Americans have linked arms and walked towards the light. Following the ugliness of racial hatred and religious intolerance recently displayed in Charlottesville, let us continue to work together to bridge our differences and build a strong foundation of unity for a better tomorrow.
KEITH JAMES, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: James represents Dist. 4 on the West Palm Beach City Commission.