March 24, 2019
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Communities of Lewiston come together to Unite for Peace

Community Author: Melissa Dunn, Niomi Larrivee, Lisa Ravis
Post Date:
Jen Sorkin | BDN
Jen Sorkin | BDN

Residents hold community building event against violence and racism

LEWISTON/AUBURN — Nearly 100 Downtown residents and allies held the Lewiston United for Peace and Hope event on Saturday morning in response to a life lost due to street violence. Rumors surfaced in the death of Donald “Donny” Guisti in Lewiston’s downtown, which resulted in the targeting of ethnic groups in the area and social media. Residents of the Downtown led a grassroots effort for an anti-violence and anti-racism initiative to create an opportunity of empowerment through education and dialogue of the issues residents face.

Lewiston United for Peace and Hope focused on centering and lifting the voices of Downtown’s poor and working class folks impacted by violence and poverty. Speakers from Calvary United Methodist, Maine Community Integration, Downtown residents, and youth shared their experiences and hopes for anti-violence and anti-racism in their community.

Residents and allies participated in community building activities, circling together to celebrate their identities and humanize one another. In response to community feedback across cultural differences, organizers of the event held workshops on “Bystander Education” as a witness of hate speech, “Rapid Response” to urgent community needs, and “Knowing Your Rights” when engaging with Law Officials. From the activities, residents learned how to work together to diffuse tense situations before the potential for violence breaks out.

Speakers of the event included Reverend Annie Baker-Streevy of Calvary United Methodist, Fowsia Musse of Maine Community Integration, Downtown resident  and mother Shama Maiwan, and Downtown youth Jacobi Joseph and Liahna Palmer.

“Today we are gathered in the midst of grief, confusion, anger, frustration, fear, love and hope as we remember the life of Donny Giusti and to be in dialogue in order to create some concrete actions which promote peace, healing, and hope for our community.” Reverend Annie Baker-Streevy said.

The message at the Hope and Peace event was clear, to name violence as violence everyone in the community is affected by. Executive Director Fowsia Musse of Maine Community Integration helped with planning the event. “The community of Lewiston has an abundance of potential to be a cohesive and unified community. We must take it upon ourselves to view this as a healing and learning opportunity,” she said. “Learn to accept one another, and heal from any bias or judgement we hold over another group. If we unite as a collective voice and effort, we can all rise stronger than ever from this, and I know it is in our hearts to do so.”

Participants expressed their concerns about violence in many forms, including toward poor communities. Power holders and decision makers put money into increased policing of poor neighborhoods instead of improving housing, education, and access to healthcare. According to Lynnea Hawkins,”Turning against our neighbors will not solve our issues. We need to stand together and support each other to heal.”

Activist Niomi Larrivee, involved in the planning of the event, expressed the importance of community education and solidarity. “I am proud to call Lewiston home. We are taking back the narrative that solely exists to divide poor communities during tragic times like this,” she said, ”We have come together to show we care about our neighbors affected by violence and talk about ways of being more supportive to each other to address the needs of our community.”

At the closing of the ceremony, community residents came together in a large circle to face one another and reflect on the morning’s event. When 8-year old youth Jacobi Joseph was asked, he told the crowd the event was “Impressive”.

Jared Fiori of Lewiston and Good Food Bus Driver at Cultivating Community, “We must continue the process of healing this community and counteract the presence of hate and bigotry, with a presence of peace and love. Today, we have acknowledged that change needs to be made. Now let’s make it.”