LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - In Lewiston, the community is coming together to stand up against hate.
They are not holding a rally, but instead are starting a movement. Church leaders, police, teachers, business leaders, social workers and citizens wrapped up training this week on how to safely and effectively intervene when they hear or see acts of hatred.
This week’s training is certainly timely with what’s been going on the past several days, but it was in the works months ago when organizers felt the tone of tolerance in this country was changing for the worse.
“There’s been a tone set that it is okay to say some hateful things or to harass people”, said Kathy Durgin-Leighton, executive Director of the YWCA.
By teaching bystanders to intervene when they witness such things, organizers of this training called Green Dot say they can make everyone in the community feel safer and welcome.
“We forget that we have a tremendous impact as bystanders”, said Jan Phillips of Community of Kindness.
No community is immune from incidents of hatred. It can be a simple as some words.
“There may be someone who feels they have a right to yell out from their car, go back to your country”, said Durgin-Leighton.
On the third floor of the Lewiston Public Library group members are learning about effective ways to respond. They range from creating a diversion to get the person to stop the verbal attack, to simply comforting the victim by telling them that’s not the way community feels.
“Ways that we can do very small acts of intervention that are safe and effective when we see forms of harassment, forms of threats, forms of violence”, said Phillips.
There was a time when Lewiston became the focus of hate groups after immigrants of Somali began making up a bigger part of the community. It was 2003 when a self-proclaimed white supremacist group came to town to hold a rally. 35 people showed up. it was met by a counter rally of more than 4,000.
Leaders say it’s an indication of what this community is all about. Organizers of this training say the turnout this week reaffirms that.
“I think people are really good people and we talked a lot about hope this week”, said Phillips.
The people being trained this week will become trainers themselves. Taking what they learned and passing it along to co-workers, members of their groups and friends and relatives.