Diversity Day returns to Morristown with prayers for immigrants and pledge for tolerance

Alianza Juvenil Vigen del Cisne de Morristown, an Ecuadorian dance troupe, at Diversity Day 2019 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin


By Marion Filler

As federal authorities were preparing to round up undocumented immigrants in several major cities on Sunday, a priest asked a Diversity Day crowd on the Morristown Green to pray for the immigrants.

“We can’t close our eyes and say, ‘It’s none of our business, let them go back.’  We’ve got to pray for them,” said Father Hernan Arias of St. Margaret’s Catholic Church in Morristown.

Father Hernan Arias of St. Margaret’s Church prays for undocumented immigrants, Diversity Day 2019 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Arias, a native of Colombia, addressed a morning interfaith service that kicked off Morristown’s second annual Diversity Day, organized by area churches.

The warm, breezy afternoon included live music and dance, ethnic foods ranging from empanadas to knishes, and informational tables staffed by local religious and civic groups.

Migrants come to America –“the land of plenty and freedom”—for liberty, security “and the peace we all experience and share with one another,” Arias said.

“It’s not an easy life, it’s a difficult life. They are here because they had to leave their countries. They had to. They had no choice, because of the violence, and poverty, because of the lack of work and the lack of so many other things.”

Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove and Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:

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Urging people of all faiths to reject bigoted statements by members of their own faith communities, Ali Chaudry of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge led a pledge called “To Stand Up for the Other.”

Afternoon prayers on the Morristown Green, led by Imam Jawad Ahmad of the Islamic Society of North Jersey, Diversity Day 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

“The question for us is, if we are all created in the image of God, and we are all one as human beings, then how is it that some people choose to denigrate others?” Chaudry asked.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Forrest Pritchett of the NAACP reminded the audience that “we all may have come to this country in different boats, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

When the NAACP was established in 1909, blacks were prohibited from assembling at gathering like this one, noted Pritchett, director of Seton Hall University’s Martin Luther King leadership program.

Emcee Franz ‘Cash Owens and Cali Woods of the Presbyterian Church at Diversity Day 2019 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“All of us need all of us to make it,” Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel AME Church said in a call-and-response prayer honoring Black Lives Matter.

Islamic prayers were conducted on long rolls of vinyl prayer rugs, a specialty product from Pakistan.

Performers included a rabbi-daughter singing duo and an Ecuadorian dance group. The Morris County Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s offices and Morristown police were among organizations with tables at the event.

‘FROM MANY, ONE’ : Event founder/ organizer Beverly Tignor and Ali Chaudry of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge at Diversity Day 2019 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Maria Vargas, a pastoral associate at St. Margaret’s who works for the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center, said immigrants feel more comfortable in Morristown than in other towns, partly because of the relationship forged by Wind of the Spirit and police.

“There is an understanding that we are not all criminals,” Vargas said.

She contrasted the administration of Mayor Tim Doughtery–who attended Diversity Day along with Council President Toshiba Foster–with that of former Mayor Donald Cresitello, who advocated participation in 287(g), a statute enabling police to enforce immigration laws and detain anyone they suspect of being here illegally.

Teens affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Morristown wore “Rise” t-shirts on Sunday, one day after returning from a mission project in Friendship, NY, about 300 miles away.

One of the teens said their goal had been to make “make people’s houses warmer, safer, and dryer.”

Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.

The Lintet band at Diversity Day 2019 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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  1. I wish the very best for immigrants. They have worked hard to get here, have gotten in line and have followed the rules, and deserve to be here.
    Illegal aliens, on the other hand, deserve to be arrested, jailed, and deported.
    It’s funny how the press “forgets” to use the word “illegal” when writing about them.