We Are Gainesville: Remarks at the Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope at Trinity United Methodist Church
Good evening, everyone, and welcome.
My wife, Chris, and I just returned last night from Texas.Â Â Texas. Â While we enjoyed College Station, especially the win against Texas A&M, our visit reminded us of our affection for our hometown of Gainesville. Â We are glad to be back here in Florida, on familiar Northwest 53rd Avenue at Trinity Methodist, and with all of you, this evening.Â This is home!
This gathering began two years ago after an attack against the Muslim faith brought international infamy to Gainesville.
We were stung by that attack, and we were dismayed that it could in any way represent our community to the eyes of the world. Â We felt compelled to raise our voices for the true values of our gentle and accepting college town â€“ those of respect for people of all faiths, for mutual understanding and a desire for peace.
Thankfully, this community does not face a similar incident this year. Â However, we have every reason to continue the tradition of this gathering. Â That is clear from the terrible violence against members of the Sikh temple near Milwaukee. Â It is even clear from the acrimony that fills this presidential election year â€¦ when name-calling so often replaces dialogue â€¦ and when healthy disagreement gives ground to unhealthy division.
What I think people too often forget is that extremism does not begin as extremism. Â It starts like a small point of light, and, when fueled by hate speech we may prefer to just ignore, grows into a dangerous roaring fire. Â So as we remember those who were killed on 9-11, we must ask ourselves, how can we stand up against religious hatred and violence? Â How can we renew the give-and-take of thoughtful conversation and revive our innate spirit of unity as Americans?
Our advocacy for good may start out with seemingly small actions â€“ first, by just listening to, and appreciating, one another. Â As it turns out, this is something that I think Gainesvillians have become very, very good at.
As with any community, Gainesville has its issuesâ€¦but when we are our best selves, there is a gentleness and spirit of acceptance about our town that truly rises above the ordinary.
We see this unusual harmony here at this eveningâ€™s gathering.Â So many people, from so many different faiths, joined together to call for respect, mutual understanding and peace.
We see it in the growing movement to protect the natural springs that are the singular environmental treasures of North Central Florida â€“ a movement that has united rather than divided the local business and environmental communities.Â I was impressed to learn that Trinity United is a part of that stewardship, protecting the beautiful spring that exists on this property.
We experience this harmony in the gathering unity of town and gown, with the University of Florida and the City of Gainesville working side-by-side to create a new creative community that will finally join the UF campus with the downtown.
We see it in our residentsâ€™ support for the arts, including public support for maintaining arts and music instruction for the children in our public schools.
We live this harmony in the many charities that are the mainstays of Gainesville public life, from the Friends of the Library Spring Book Sale to the UF Community Campaignâ€¦and in joint university-city efforts to bring new jobs and development to East Gainesville.
Two years ago, we began this gathering as a needed response to hatred and intolerance reaching out from our community to the entire world.
This year â€“ and hopefully in future years as well â€“ it is we who are doing the listening and the speaking for our community.Â We are Gainesville.Â Let us take this opportunity to renew our embrace and celebration of the gentleness and spirit of acceptance of this city at its best.Â
As we mark the 11th anniversary of the tragedy of 9-11â€¦ and as we strive to overcome the violence and divisions of the presentâ€¦those are qualities that can help keep our campus, our community and our country whole.Â Thank you!