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Expressing Solidarity at The Islamic Center of Cleveland; Immigrant Rights March; 17th Annual Social Justice Teach-In; Irish Immigration to Northeast Ohio; Turkish Cultural Night

On Friday, February 3rd, the temperature outside was in the mid-20's but we still took part in two actions in support of immigrants and our Muslim friends in Cleveland.

First of all, around noon we drove to the Islamic Center of Cleveland on West 130th Street in Parma to express solidarity for its membership as they gathered to pray. Surprisingly, we never thought to ask whether or not this happening was motivated by the shooting at the Quebec City mosque on December 29th or the Trump administration's controversial moves that negatively affect the Muslim community but to our way of thinking, if so then fine, but if not, it was still a good thing because it signified the coming together and the commonality of all faiths. 

This event was largely organized by Ms. Karen Kirchner of the Westshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Cleveland but about 50 people came from considerable distances to take part. Among these were members of the SouthWest Unitarian Universalist Church in North Royalton, East Shore Universalist Church in Kirtland, and the Unitarian Universalist Society in Cleveland Heights including their pastors who were respectively Rev. Kristen Rohm, Rev. Denis Paul and Rev. Joe Cherry. Rev. Patricia Hart of Westshore was present as were Rev. Meredith White of the Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights who was accompanied by Rev. Leroy Ford, now retired. We recognized Sister Jane Blabolil of the Sisters of St. Joseph who we have seen at several social justice gatherings.

Thus we all gathered 12:30pm and stood outside the Mosque holding signs containing messages of support and confidence concerning our Muslim neighbors who were most appreciative. To be sure, a lot of hands were shaken and hugs were exchanged. At 1pm prayers began and we were invited to come inside and either join in or just relax in the foyer so we could get out of the cold. About an hour later, it was time to go home and a very kind Islamic Center member arranged for any of us who wanted a Falafel (which were being sold outside) to have one at no charge courtesy of himself.


This event was covered by Mr. Harry Boomer of Channel 19 as well as Channel 3 and we were very proud of our good friend and colleague Mr. George Koussa, who immigrated to the United States from Syria, stepped forward to be interviewed by Channel 3. Mr. Koussa said that this exercise was about standing with our brothers and sisters in support of justice and peace. He noted that many of the people who worship at the Mosque are immigrants, just like himself, who came to this great land in search of a better life.

The next activity was a rally and march for immigrant rights that started at 4pm in Market Square at the corner of West 25th Street, and Lorain Avenue just across the street from the Westside Market. We were starting to get a cold so we didn't think we should chance the march to the courthouse and to Cleveland City Hall that took place right after the rally but we resolved to at least tough it out until the rally ended. Our spirits were greatly bolstered by the presence of quite a few people from Margaret W. Wong and Associates who took time out of their busy work schedules drive over to Market Square which was quite full because approximately 1,000 people who were all very concerned about President Trump's recent Executive Order involving immigration.

Once again, we knew several of the main coordinators of this event who included Mr. Don Bryant of Cleveland Peace Action and Ms. Debbie Kline of Cleveland Jobs for Justice, and our friend Ms. Chrissy Stonebreaker-Martinez from the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) introduced the speakers and led us in some songs and some chants like, "Up, Up with Liberation. Down, Down, with Deportation!"; "Say It Loud, Say it Clear, Refugees are Welcome Here!"; and "No Hate, No Fear. Immigrants are Welcome Here!"

We managed to find a placeabout 6 feet from the speaking area where we stood next to Father Bob Wenz, who we had encountered about two weeks ago at the party in support of immigrants at St. Colman Church on the evening of President Trump's inaugural, and a few feet from us stood Cleveland City Councilperson Zack Reed.

Ms. Stonebreaker-Martinez began the rally by saying that we have an emergency situation in this country right now due to the Executive Order and other possible Trump administration actions against immigrants and refugees and we must not allow hatred and violence to overcome compassion. Little orange cards were passed out stating "shared agreements" that people participating in this rally and march must agree to. These were a commitment to nonviolence, intersectionality of oppression (no hierarchy or separation of injustice; what affects one affects all and that silence is an act of complicity); and centering the voices of affected communities meaning that it was not our place to speak for other people but to center the voices and struggles of people who are being continually silenced so we must respectfully listen while others speak because we have a lot to learn from each other.

One of the first speakers was Ms. Leah Jones from from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown's office who read a very effective letter from the Senator which stated his belief that the Executive Order regarding immigration was "cruel and foolish" and went against our American values and that we do not make ourselves safe when close our doors to those who are trying to escape from terrorism.

A representative from the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association talked about how she was undocumented because she was brought to the United States at an early age by her parents when she had "no choice" but now "her choice" was to fight to stay here. Likewise, Mr. Jose Mendez from DreamActivist Ohio acknowledged that he was a "dreamer" too and was outraged over the Executive Order because it was an attack on his "Muslim brothers and sisters." Mr. Mendez urged Governor Kasich and Mayor Jackson to "say no" to President Trump's "discriminatory order" and favored making Cleveland a "sanctuary city" and Ohio a "sanctuary state."

Ms. Danielle Drake, Communitary Relations Manager for "US Together" said that she would not stop fighting for the refugees who were slated to come to Cleveland but at least for now cannot due to the restrictions imposed by the Trump administration. She reminded us all that immigrants and refugees in the City of Cleveland return whatever financial investment made in them via public assistance at a 10 to 1 ratio.

Mr. Farhad Sethna, a young immigration lawyer from Akron (who told us privately that Ms. Margaret W. Wong is "wonderful") told the crowd that after this rally and march we must reach out to people and explain to them just who immigrants and refugees are and the sacrifices that they made and what they had to do to come here to the United States.

Finally, Ms. Lindsey Marie Shriver, one of the organizers of the very successful "Women's March Ohio", started her speech off by asking what an All-American midwestern white girl raised in the Christian faith (which is what she is) is so "hellbent" about something that does not affect her personally. Well, according to her, the answer is that when she marched in DC she vowed to defend all human rights, not just women's rights. Ms. Shriver went on to affirm that we are a nation of immigrant and our ancestors came here often to escape repression and to pursue the American dream. But, she continued, what is going on at this time is "no dream; it is a nightmare" and the Trump administration is "dismantling the pillars" that our society was built on. She concluded by proclaiming (and indeed she spoke for everyone there on that cold afternoon) that we will stand with immigrants and refugees regardless of their religion or from where they happened to come from.

We were afraid that we might come down with a cold because we stood outside for so long on Friday but on Saturday, February 4th, we felt fine so we were able to attend two events in the University Circle area. Unfortunately, the timing of these events was virtually concurrent so we only had time to do some networking and say hello to people that we knew at the 17th annual Social Justice Teach-In put on by the IRTF and CWRU which took place at the Tinkham Veale University Center.

Among the people that we hadn't seen for a while that we caught up with were Professor Michael Dover, from CSU's School of Social Welfare, who was at the previous day's rally and march from beginning to end (and we admire him for hanging in there despite the cold) and Sister Diane Pinchot who was on several trips that we were also on to Fort Benning, GA to call for the closing of the School of the Americas. It promised to be a great day because there would be many workshops devoted to at least 25 different topics including several which we would have loved to attend like "Militarization of the Border and Unjust Immigrant Detention", "Inventing the Illegal Alien", and "Islamophobia: Root Causes, Current Manifestations, and the Cost of Hatred and Dehumanization."

We did get to introduce ourselves to the keynote speaker of the day who was Professor Lisa Brock, Academic Director of the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. Professor Brock, in turn, introduced us to two of her friends who persuaded her to take part in this program who were Professor Tim Black and Professor Rhonda Williams of the Social Justice Institute at CWRU. Prof. Williams is an old friend of Ms. Margaret W. Wong and asked us to say hello to her. We told Prof. Brock that we had confidence that her speech titled "Power Concedes Nothing: Diversity, Inclusion and Racism in a Transnational Context" would be a good one and she asked us why. We replied that we've been coming to the IRTF/CWRU teach-in for years and we had never heard a speech or attended a workshop there that has been anything less than worthwhile and quite a few of them were considerably better than that; in fact they were excellent.

We then had to hurry over (on foot) to the Western Reserve Historical Society where a program was taking place titled "Irish Immigration to Northeast Ohio; Researching Irish Heritage" wherein Ms. Margaret Lynch, Executive Director of the Irish American Archives Society, and Mr. Bernie McCafferty, a highly regarded local genealogist talked about the various phases of Irish migration to the United States/Northeast Ohio and possible methods of researching one's ancestry.

Ms. Lynch talked about the main periods of migration which were the 1820's and the 1830's for economic opportunity; 1845-1849 due to the potato famine; and the localized migration from Achill Island in the 1860's due to bad weather and other conditions. She also talked about what was going on in Northeast Ohio during those times that motivated so many Irish people to specifically come here.

We had never heard of this before but Ms. Lynch then mentioned that that there was a "fourth wave" in the early 1880's when thousands of people from thousands of people from the depressed areas of Ireland received financial assistance to immigrate here via the "Tuke Fund" named after Mr. James Hack Tuke, a Quaker philantrophist.

Pertinent to these times, Ms. Lynch said that she regarded those who left Ireland during the potato famine to be refugees because they left their homeland to escape starvation and were often placed in camps when they arrived at their ultimate desination. Like so many that we hear/read about today, "they were in bad shape with no resources."

Mr. McCafferty began his section about researching one's genealogy by good-naturedly noting that Ms. Lynch often referred to him as a "cemetary buff" due to the amount of time he spent researching those who have long past in order to find a link to those who preceded them and the success that he had enjoyed through research focused on burial/cemetary records. Of course, Mr. McCafferty talked about other possible sources of information and how a curious, patient person could make use of them in order to discover the keys to her/his origins. Among the sources he discussed in detail were census records, city directories, birth-marriage-death records, "Plain Dealer" archives, and (we wouldn't have thought of these) deed transfers and plat records.

One source that we found especially interesting was the "Cleveland Necrology Files" which describes as having originated from "an alphabetical card file containing local cemetery records and newspaper death notices gathered by the staff of the Cleveland Public Library."

All that we can say is that Mr. McCafferty's work (which he was very passionate about) made us think of a multiply-pieced jigsaw puzzle combined with a complicated detective story and "All the President's Men" wherein two reporters trace every little lead in search of the one tidbit that will move them (and history) forward if they are able to recognize it.

We asked two other genealogy buffs what who where there that day about why they felt the need to conduct such painstaking, time-consuming searches into their pasts. One of them said that by researching the history of one's family, one finds out a lot about herself/himself; in short where one fits into the scheme of history. The other one said that for him, such efforts have grandly paid off because "I feel that I know these people now that I have spent so much time finding out about them."

We really enjoyed Turkish Social Night on Thursday in Lakewood that we decided to attend the one taking place at the Highland Heights Community Center on Saturday night and bring a friend along. We had a great dinner (excellent food for vegetarians) during which we shared a table with two young women of Turkish descent (both very mature for and very sociably well-mannered for their ages) who attend Solon High School and have spent a lot of time in Turkey; sadly, both of them would much rather be here than there due to the increasingly perilous political situation existing in this country at this time. We discussed it extensively and we appreciated hearing the point-of-view of younger people.

Ms. Seyma Gurer's short lecture on Turkish Coffee was the same but this time we were able to focus on how friendship and coffee are often intertwined in the Turkish culture; when one is offered coffee it is interpreted as a sign of friendship. In fact, someone said that "the heart desires friendship and coffee is the excuse" and/or "the only thing that I enjoy more than your coffee is spending time with you."


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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