By Carly Cannavina
The historic Morristown Green was a swirling kaleidoscope of cultures on Sunday, featuring everything from traditional worship services to a Whirling Dervish Dance.
“Places like Morristown could be real models to the country,” said David Smazik, senior pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown. “We have diversity, but unity in that diversity.”
Unity and tolerance were celebrated at the town’s first Diversity Day— an interfaith, multicultural experience designed to introduce citizens to their unique neighbors.
The idea originated with Beverly Tignor, a chair of the church’s Elders board. She and her team brought together 17 organizations, which set up booths around the Green and engaged, after a morning interfaith service, in an afternoon of dialogue about the identities they represented.
At the center of the town square, meanwhile, performers danced, sang, and played instruments traditional to their own cultures.
Why does Diversity Day matter?
“Because most people here have never been to a mosque,” responded Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, who led afternoon prayers on the Green.
In today’s tense political climate, he said, first-hand interactions with people of different cultures can develop empathy and counteract fear-mongering.
Nearby, Jenna and Adam, children manning the Islamic Society’s table, eagerly explained to strangers the five pillars of Islam— faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.
Slideshow photos by Carly Cannavina, Bruce Frazier and Kevin Coughlin:
Across the lawn, Mayre Barrios and Mayra Cayax of Saint Margaret’s Church raised funds for Guatemalan towns destroyed by recent volcanic eruptions. (Donations may be wired to Connect One Bank account 0107609849.)
Sheetal Bangalore, a rising junior at Morristown High, raised awareness for the Romani people, “a people romanticized.”
She explained to passersby that the word Romani is meant to replace the more problematic term, “Gypsy,” in describing the ethnic group that originated in India thousands of years ago and has since migrated throughout Europe and Asia.
Near the fountain, the Morris County branch of the NAACP distributed resources for young people that included a civil rights-themed coloring book.
The branch’s program director, the Rev. Forrest M. Pritchett, reminded those who asked that the civil rights movement did not begin with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nor did it not end with him. Black America’s quest for equality continues, he said.
Across the street from the Green, in front of the Presbyterian Church, booths gave out free food samples.
The Way of Hope Albanian Baptist Church of New Jersey, for example, doled out miniature spinach pies and religious pamphlets, calling the combination “food for your body, and food for your soul.”
Performers included Adnan Tarakji, a Syrian immigrant who did the Whirling Dervish Dance.
He spun rhythmically while a musical track called God’s name over and over in Turkish. This dance traditionally allows Islamic people to lose themselves and find God, according to Chaudry.
The Lintet jazz trio opened with what trumpet player Peter Lin described as a “relevant tune,” Now Is The Time, by Charlie Parker.
Others on the docket included Albanian and Ecuadorian dance groups, the Neighborhood House Children’s Chorus, the Morristown Jewish Center Chorus, and the Morristown Uke Jam.
Kyle Bryce, 10, of Morristown, said the day’s message was simple: “Peace and love will help you.”
His mom, lifelong town resident Donna Bryce, said she was glad they explored the activities on the Green.
“I love that people of different races, religions and cultures can learn about each other, rather than shunning each other.
“It’s good for young people to see this. We all have our issues and differences. But inside we are all the same,” said Bryce, who sees a diverse range of people at her job, in the emergency department of Morristown Medical Center.
“It’s really a feel-good day, a wonderful community-builder,” said Randolph resident Debbie Goldstein, who came with her husband Doug and sons Russell, 9, and Jonah, 6.
“It’s so useful, and so needed. It shows we all have differences, but we all have so much in common. It’s only positive. Everyone will leave here feeling good,” Goldstein said.
Jack Scharf, a preacher at the Morristown United Methodist Church, was optimistic that Diversity Day will become its own tradition.
“I think a lot of people are going to take note of this day, and pay it forward. It’s like I preach: There is no them, only us.”
Carly Cannavina, Morristown High School class of ’18, will study English at George Washington University in the fall.