Community assembles at Westland, unites against hate


Westland community members gathered for a “vigil” addressing vandalism in the area. Photo by Lily Friedman.

By Lily Friedman

“Hate cannot defeat hate. Only love can do that,” a woman read as she stood among a crowd of candles and blanket-wrapped community members. Her audience cheered as she quoted one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic sermons.

Westland principal Alison Serino was one of many community members who spoke at Westland Middle School during an open “vigil” held in response to swastika graffiti in their school bathrooms Nov. 17. Although a hate crime drew the crowd together, a feeling of unity underscored most speeches.

The gathering included planned speeches, poem readings and musical performances by parents, students and teachers. After scheduled presentations, additional parents and students gave impromptu speeches.

“It’s easy to get downtrodden when we’re witnessing hateful acts like this, so it’s important to see that there’s many more people who have respect for one another than that don’t,” parent Adam Messinger said. “This vigil really proved that we’re a strong community and we can fight hatred by showing our love for each other.”

Even after the incident, some student speeches focused on their love for Westland.

“I can’t believe someone at the school I love so much would do this,” an anonymous student said. “This is not Westland.”

Despite their initial shock regarding the graffiti, many parents are proud of the Bethesda community for unifying rather than dividing in the face of hate, parent Crissy Upston said.

“We’re in this sheltered area, but no community is immune to hate,” Upston said. “I was a little nervous about what the turnout would be, but seeing the school unite was probably one of the more touching moments in my life.”