Op-Ed

Lexington must counter divisiveness

Aerial shot of downtown Lexington
Aerial shot of downtown Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Several weeks ago, a brief statement appeared in the Herald-Leader entitled: “A Community Summons.” It called upon Lexington to be “a welcoming and inclusive community” and stated: “We, as leaders in diverse faith communities and organizations, stand together with one voice against threats, harassment, intimidation and acts of violence directed toward our brothers and sisters. We pray and work together to continue to build an atmosphere of respect, safety, civility and dignity for all.”

Publication was paid for by the Lexington Human Rights Commission; it was signed by over 50 of Lexington’s religious leaders.

Lexington/Fayette County prides itself on being a good place to live and to raise a family. For our community to live up to this aspiration, we must enlarge our vision of who we are. Lexington is the home of people born in many different parts of the United States and in many regions of the world.

Whether our ancestors moved here 200 years ago or whether we moved here last summer, whether we moved here from Pike County seeking work, from New Jersey to be reunited with family, or from another part of the world fleeing civil war, Lexington is now our home.

Some of us are affluent, but more of us are not; some of us can barely afford to keep a roof over our and our children’s heads. But we are Lexingtonians and we all need to work hard to respect, nurture and protect each other.

Our elected officials and civic leaders must help lead the way.

In mid-January, leaders of groups whose members have felt exposed to harassment and the threat of harassment based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity wrote a letter to Mayor Jim Gray requesting that he and city government:

▪ Focus on building a strong sense of community. The divisiveness in our country today weakens the links among many community groups. Keep Lexington strong.

▪ Craft a practical plan to maintain Lexington as a welcoming and inclusive community. We are somewhat unique in our local diversity. Promote the inclusion of all of those in our midst — regardless of race, religion, sex, national origin, immigration status, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

▪ Create social infrastructure which supports and maintains safety, civility, dignity and respect for all. Coordinate and strengthen the links among community groups working toward these goals. Model safe, civil and respectful behavior in all city administration’s contacts with the public and with each other. Establish committees, task forces or commissions to address specific conditions and behaviors that undercut or contradict these goals.

Working to make our city one that helps and values all its residents does not mean we must agree with all of each other’s ideas, values or choices. It means we need to treat each other as human beings, people fundamentally like ourselves.

Harassing or marginalizing numbers of our fellow citizens because they are not like us in some way ends up creating hostile factions and a less pleasant and functional community — one with higher medical, social services and police costs.

Therefore, those of us who share the dream of making Lexington a more humane, responsive and united community need to speak up, show up and be serious, determined, flexible, understanding and committed.

Authors: Rick Clewett, faculty emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University; Father Paul Prabell, Cathedral of Christ the King; Marilyn S. Daniel, Maxwell Street Legal Clinic; and the Rev Nancy Jo Kemper, New Union Christian Church

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