Highland Park on Monday, September 11th, hosted a Day of Remembrance/Day of Discussion whose words from many voices will resonate for the other 364 days of the year. The residents were honored that one of the voices in the discussion was that of Charlottesville, Virginia, Vice-Mayor Dr. Wes Bellamy. He spoke of his own personal journey and commitment to his adopted hometown, a town quite similar to Highland Park (college community, diverse, highly educated). “Could what happened in Charlottesville, happen in Highland Park?”, he asked the participants. Ms. Elizabeth Riley-Williams, CEO and President of the Conference on Diversity, guided the small group conversations on race, religion, economics, and sexuality. Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler expressed her hope that the community will continue these conversations throughout the year, not just in times of tragedy, but everyday.
The following is the mayor’s speech at the 9/11 Highland Park’s community gathering:
It’s been 16 years since the worst terror attack on US soil, on September 11, 2001. All of us remember where we were when we heard about the attack, and many of us know somebody who was affected by this horrific tragedy. Yet, as the years go by, this date, like so many other significant dates in our history, is losing its impact on all of us, especially those who were too young to have been affected by it.
That is why Highland Park has made the commitment to commemorate this day in a very special way. Thanks to our former resident, Greg Trevor, himself a survivor of 9/11, we have taken the tragedy of 9/11 and used it to bring hope and compassion for all Americans, and all people. Through our 9/11 Day of Discussions, we embrace our diversity as a means of increasing awareness and tolerance. We fight against hate and violence through education and communication. To those of us in Highland Park, this day represents an opportunity to come together in unity and love.
Highland Park is the third densest municipality in Middlesex County, following only New Brunswick and Perth Amboy. There are nearly 15,000 of us jammed into 1.7 sq. miles. We are a diverse community, with nearly 36 percent of our households consisting of one or more minority residents. 26 percent of our residents are foreign born, and approximately 43 languages are spoken in our schools. Yet we are undeniably a close-knit, welcoming community. We celebrate each other’s cultural events, and we support each other in times of need, regardless of our ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, or place of birth. I am proud to lead a community as open and accepting as Highland Park, and hope we can be a model of cooperation and tolerance for the rest of the country.
Today, we are honored to have Dr. Wes Bellamy, the vice-mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, speak to us about diversity in our society. Charlottesville was recently deeply affected by the hate that unfortunately still exists in our country. Though a terrible event occurred there, we were once again uplifted by the outpouring of support and love that the majority of Americans expressed for the victims, and their intolerance for the perpetrators of hate. If we continue our dialogues, and continue to communicate and accept each other, we can overcome the hatred of a few, and stand together in unity and love for all people.
This dialogue must continue throughout the year, not just when there is something tragic that occurs. We must learn to talk to each other whether things seem dire, or peaceful; whether the topics are hard, or easy; whether we agree, or argue. Talking to one another opens the door to understanding, forgiveness, and gratitude. Join me in committing to participate in open discussions with our neighbors today, so we can provide an even better community for our future.