By Husnaa Vhora
The Muslim Education Center (MEC) in Morton Grove held an “Empowering the Diverse Community” event on January 29 which brought together an estimated 1,500 people of all faiths and backgrounds for a solidarity march and rally against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim refugees from seven countries.
The event, which had been in the works for months was expected to draw in 300 people, but President Trump’s executive order which sent a shockwave through the entire country, helped mobilize a crowd that flowed from the MEC basement to their parking lot.
Despite the cold, snowy weather, the event brought out politicians and religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. The program started with musical performances by the Niles West Choir and Cantor Jay O’Brien, a member of Congregation Solel in Highland Park who played guitar as he serenaded the hundreds of people who squeezed tightly into the room. The crowd was then asked by Niles West Choir director, Matthew Hunter, to join hands with those surrounding them to sing “We Shall Overcome” in unison. The crowd followed suit and the entire room became one big human link.
The event drew in not only adults, but youth too. Miriam Berkson, a junior at Niles North high school and a Jewish American woman narrated the story of her school environment the day after Donald Trump was elected President. She explained how the first people she saw that day were her two very good friends, a black woman and a Middle Eastern man, who were “sobbing and holding onto each other with fear and worry for the future.” Berkson left the crowd with words of encouragement by saying, “His hate can make us feel small, and fearful; but his hate can also unify us and make us strong.”
As the one and a half mile walk was set to begin, the hundreds of people waiting outside were taking pictures with signs and cheering. The loud crowd also got the sound of approval from cars that drove by as they rolled down their windows and honked their horns. Among those who marched was Anis Elahi of Lincolnwood who said, “I am so thrilled and so honored that all these people respect what’s going on.”
After the walk concluded, participants warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate and jam packed into a gymnasium to hear words from local politicians and event organizers as well as testimonies. State Representative Jan Schakowsky of the 9th district promised to stand with any group that the Trump Administration attacked.
“If God forbid, they build a registry for Muslims, we are all Muslims!” Event organizers Dilnaz Waraich of the Muslim Community Center (MCC) and Lesley Williams of Jewish Voice for Peace closed the rally by encouraging people to contact Governor Bruce Rauner and urge him to make Illinois a sanctuary state, with Waraich reminding the crowd that, “This is a movement, not a one-day event.”