The holidays traditionally are a time when people try to forget their differences and unite around what they have in common. This past December, a Unity Rally held in Mt. Lebanon Park provided a stellar example of that tradition, as residents of many backgrounds gathered to celebrate diversity and inclusion in Mt. Lebanon and promote the community as welcoming to people of various faiths, ethnicities, abilities and lifestyles.
The event sought to overcome any fear or despair that might have been created by several hateful acts of vandalism that took place on school district property late last fall. Although the school district moved quickly to address the activities and ensure all students understand the gravity of acts of bigotry, the Unity rally went a step further, proclaiming to all that Mt. Lebanon will not tolerate hatred.
Plans came together quickly, with representatives from the school district, the municipality, all the major faiths and many nonprofit organizations participating. The rally, which took place from 4:30 to 5:30 on December 18 outside the Rec Center, drew a crowd of between 300 and 400 people. It began with a display of Indian dancing followed by speakers and inspirational choral and musical performances by Mt. Lebanon High School students.
State Rep. Dan Miller introduced the speakers, all residents, including Father David Bonner from St. Bernard Roman Catholic Church, Rabbi Mark Mahler from Temple Emanuel of the South Hills, Jim McGaw, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Lana Shami, board member of Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, Sheila McCollum, president of BASH (Black Association of the South Hills), School Board President Mary Birks and Commission President Kelly Fraasch, Junior Commissioner Varsha Venogupal, Carey Cummings, LBGT advocate and Mt. Lebanon parent, and Sabrina Filipek Don, a young adult with autism who has made great strides thanks to inclusion.
Efforts to continue spreading the positive message of unity will continue throughout 2017, as organizations such as Mt. Lebanon Public Library, the Mt. Lebanon Community Relations Board and Mt. Lebanon Partnership explore ways of cooperating on programming that celebrates diversity and inclusion.