Community Embraces Love in Face of Hate

The Love Your Neighbor event at Barfield Park in April. Photo by Ashley Benkarski

By Ashley Benkarski

MURFREESBORO, TN — Two years after white supremacists rallied in their community, residents have continued to stand in solidarity against racism.

Local groups Murfreesboro Muslim Youth and Murfreesboro Cold Patrol joined forces to create Love Your Neighbor, a potluck open to the public that encourages fellowship. “The idea is to bring people together–no agenda, no speeches, no flyers. Just bring folks together … bring some food, or don’t bring any food,” said Abdou Kattih, a member of MMY’s leadership team. “Let’s meet each other. Let’s get to know each other. Let’s build bridges … create an environment where faith has feet that can walk. Prayers have to be met with action. Each one of us in this community is essential to the success of the community, and if we don’t work together we’ll never succeed.”

A college city with an expanding population, Murfreesboro is home to people of many races, ethnicities and faiths–including many refugees who’ve been here for decades. However, as anti-Muslim xenophobia spread in the years after Sept.11, 2001, the city did not prove immune to such fear–a slew of Islamophobic acts, including arson, were committed at the construction site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in 2010. After rumors of an armed protest in front of the ICM circulated online, Kattih and Jason Bennett of MCP organized the first Love Your Neighbor event at Barfield Park to “have a picnic away from hate to celebrate love,” Kattih said.

MMY supported Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church after it was vandalized, targeted for its predominantly black congregation. The group also helped organize a Love Your Neighbor event on the town’s square one year after white supremacists gathered there for a White Lives Matter rally. Mariah Phillips, Murfreesboro resident and former candidate for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, co-organized the Murfreesboro Loves group with Kattih and Bennett as a response to the rally, attracting hundreds to celebrate diversity. Since then, the groups have continued uniting the community by holding Love Your Neighbor events three times a year–April, July and October. 

This past weekend, Montgomery Bell State Park Inn and Conference Center was again host to the American Renaissance Conference, a gathering of white nationalists that included former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Tennessee is one of the largest home bases for white nationalist groups in the country,” Phillips said, pointing to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s statistics on hate group growth. “The more that we see the legislation coming out of the State House, we see confirmation of that,” she continued, referencing the controversial “Slate of Hate” bills that target the LGBTQ community for discrimination and the passing of the voucher bill which she believes will disproportionately affect minority students in urban communities. This legislation “encourages groups like the white nationalists to feel welcomed in our communities,” she said.

“As a Christian, it also makes me sad that people use faith as a way to divide, as a way to segregate and as a way to discriminate and use hateful tactics because that’s not what God calls us to do,” she added. “We are called to love our neighbor.”

The next Love Your Neighbor event will take place at Barfield Park July 28 at 3 p.m. The last event will be held Oct. 27 at Murfreesboro’s city square.

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