“We shall be known by the company we keep. By the ones who circle round and tend these fires.”
“It is time now; it is time now that we thrive. It is time we lead ourselves into the world.”
“It is time now, and what a time to be alive in this turn we will learn to live and leave in love.”
As the duo sang in front of the masses at the Unitarian Universalist Church in West Lafayette, the full crowd listened to the intertwining melody, to remind themselves of the love and hope in the midst of uncertainty after an act of vandalism on Sunday. The church was vandalized under cover of darkness on Sunday morning, where two bedsheets marked with expletives and derogatory terms were draped over the fence.
Crowds swarmed into the church for the “Stand for Love, Sing for Justice” event hosted by the Unitarian church, filling the rafters and sending overflow from the chapel to a nearby room that was wired to the audio.
“Tonight has several purposes,” said Rev. Charlie Davis of the church. “One is to state that we are better than what we saw hanging from the fence. And that there is a lot we can do to overcome this.”
Davis was joined by a combination of local social activists, religious leaders and political leaders — among them, West Lafayette’s Mayor John Dennis.
“If there’s one thing I know for sure,” Dennis said, “it’s that this community is going to stand against hate. I know that for sure and I know that in my heart.”
And Dennis did indeed speak from the heart.
“I broke the F-barrier,” joked Dennis, referring to his comment to the Journal & Courier on Sunday: “I’m so f-----g mad.”
A lifelong Lafayette resident, Dennis worked as an undercover cop in the early 1990s and talked about a similar incident regarding the Ku Klux Klan that came across the region a few decades ago.
“They don’t scare us,” Dennis said. “We’re bigger than that. ... They came to Lafayette with the intent of spreading their hate.”
Working undercover, Dennis tracked the KKK and eventually led an operation to lead them into a courthouse to contain their speech in a place where they could vent.
“Hate doesn’t work in a community that loves,” he said.
Dennis’ fellow former cop, Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski, also came to speak for the “chance to show unity and send a strong message from Lafayette.”
“Sometimes I have to show up to these events and hold John (Dennis) back,” joked Roswarski. Calling for the community to come together across the river, he had a resounding message for the people of Lafayette.
“We must be the voice that says we are a welcoming community,” Roswarski said. “You have to be here, and you have to get the message.”
“When you leave here tonight, think about the role you want to play,” he pleaded. “You cannot just say that I was here tonight. Some can do more, some can do little, but please do something.”
Voices from the community joined their ranks, with West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski thanking the community for its support in the investigation.
“This Sunday I was very dismayed,” said Dombkowski. “But it only took me a few minutes to become quite proud, once again, of our community. Because I don’t always feel the burden of the safety and security of the city on my shoulders, although it is, because the people who live here shoulder that responsibility with me.”
From across the river, Lafayette councilman Perry Brown had five words for the community.
“Watch. Fight. Pray. Love. Vote,” he said. “In all honesty, I would rather not be here tonight, I really would not. But, just like the speech I’m about to give right now, it’s been done before. The reason I have to give it again is because nothing has changed.”
“People talk to me about racism all the time,” Brown said. “They tell me to just get over it. Slavery was 300 years ago; why don’t you get over it? And my response to them is quite simple: I’ll get over it when it stops happening.”
The five words, explained Brown, is what the community should be striving to do at all times.
“Watch, because we gotta pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “It’s flying thick and fast at us every day and if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on, you’ll miss it.”
“Fight, do not surrender control of your life, your liberties, your community or your property without resistance. If your government is doing something wrong, tell us!”
‘Pray not only for yourselves but for those that oppose you,” continued Brown. “Trust me, that’s what’s up. Pray.”
“Vote. Do all the things that I mentioned, and then vote. There’s a lot of reasons not to vote, ... but forget all that. ... Drops of water make a wave, and waves make change — vote!”
The crowd was joined by Pantastic X. Perience and Gaysha Leavenhurt Pfizchzerr — both Lafayette residents and members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who came to support the community.
“We are here to support the church, and we’re also here to supply a blessing to the fence when asked to,” said Pfizcherr. “I felt sorry for those who actually did the act, because they don’t understand the concept of love. They’re missing something inside them.”
She continued to state that while she was not surprised by the current political climate, she was still surprised the action happened nonetheless.
“This just really solidifies our mission of spreading joy, spreading love and educating the people.”
David Sanders, a Purdue biology professor and West Lafayette councilman, sounded off, stressing the importance of countering with a message of unity and love.”
“This incident is a reflection of something that is a poison in our society,” said Sanders. “It has to be opposed. ... This expression of hatred is not uncommon anymore. ... We also need to counter with realizing that the legacy of things such as racism, persist to this day. We still have economic inequities that have been built into this system that are depriving people of opportunities to this day and we shouldn’t forget that.”
Sanders, who lives a block away from the church, sees tonight as the true reflection of his community.
“When somebody does something like that to us, to our hometown, to a place that we love, to a place that we live, they’re going to get ... in trouble,” declared Dennis.
“So what do we do when prejudice is exercised?” Dennis asked the crowd. “What do we do when somebody, that is filled with hate, like those vehement little cretins that put that sign up? How do we respond to that?”
“We respond with a united message of not here, not now and never again.”