By Joe Southern
Citizens of Sugar Land stood together Sunday afternoon on the steps of City Hall to proclaim to the world their unity in diversity and to challenge other communities to do the same.
The event was hastily organized in the wake of shootings of police officers in Dallas the previous week and heightened in urgency when earlier in the day three police officers in Baton Rouge, La., were shot to death. The purpose was to create a video that shows people of Sugar Land of all races, ethnicities and religions standing together to decry the racism and violence that has been tearing the country apart.
City Councilwoman Amy Mitchell and Michele Fisher served as emcees of the event. They called the police officers in attendance to the stage amid great applause.
“As you can see, our message is loud and clear: We stand behind our police,” Mitchell said. “Sugar Land stands together in support and respect of one of the finest police departments in the country. You keep us safe.
… We couldn’t do it without you and we really, really appreciate it. Thank you for always putting your lives on the line.”
Mayor Joe Zimmerman thanked them for what they do.
“We stand behind our police,” he said. “We stand behind our police, fire, EMS, emergency management and dispatch. Those are the men and women who altogether protect us, not only through times of extreme events, weather, etc., but they’re always here for us.”
He also thanked the volunteers who pulled the event together on such short notice.
“This was organized by our citizens to recognize our community, not only the diversity of our community but also the support of our police, fire, EMS, emergency management and dispatch,” he said.
The remarks were followed by comments and prayers from representatives of Islamic, Jewish, Christian and Hindu faiths.
“God created us different so that we may recognize and appreciate one another,” said Imam Tauqer Shah of Maryam Islamic Center. “He did not create us in different ways so that we would be divided as a race, religion and ethnicity. But instead it was to be a recognition and appreciation of his diversity. It was to build tolerance, understanding and acceptance of each other.
“Today we gather here for a cause to reaffirm our position of peace and unity. We stand together to show that we have far more in common that unites us rather than divide us. We stand united against evil, bigotry, hatred and extremism of all kind and any form. We stand side-by-side because we care, love, respect our neighbors.”
He was followed by Rabbi Joshua Lobel of Congregation Beth El in Missouri City.
“We stand here as one before The One. The one God of heaven and earth, the creator and sustainer of our world. … Open ourselves up to understand all sides of an issue. … When evil darkens our world, let us be the bearers of light,” he said. “When fists are clinched in self-righteous rage, let our hands be open for the sake of peace. … When bias, greed and bigotry erode our country’s values, let us proclaim liberty throughout the land.”
Fr. Simon Kipiti of St. Laurence Catholic Church said, “We are gathered today out of respect of the gift of life that you give to each one of us.”
He prayed for peace and unity to prevail over the evil in the land.
Finally, Gaurang Nanavaty of Chinmaya Mission Houston gave his blessing.
“Unless our hearts change, nothing can change. Give us the understanding. When I look at a rainbow I see seven colors but my intellect understands there is but one real sun and it appears as seven colors. The colors don’t compete and fight with each other; they are but one appearing as seven, in the same way O Lord, you are one.”
After the prayers, members of Boy Scout troops 797 and 992 presented the flags and Angie Gooden sang the National Anthem.
The event concluded with those in attendance gathering on the steps of City Hall and recording a video of them saying “We are Sugar Land. We are Texas. We are America. We are a community of respect. We stand united.”
The final copy of the video will include a challenge from Zimmerman to other mayors across the country to create their own video projects to spread a message of unity and respect.