Fresno, Calif. – A collective of Fresno writers is calling for peace amidst racial tensions sparked by national rallies by white supremacist groups and anti hate movements alike.
Bitwise Industries hosted “Words Against Hate,” an event aiming to inspire unity by denouncing hate and discrimination, but even an event focused on peace wasn’t immune to the current political divide.
“Why are you here, wearing that hat to try and intimidate us,” said one of the poets at Monday’s event.
“Cause I support our president. I’m not here to try and intimidate,” said Ben Berquam, one of two conservative activists in the crowd.
Words were exchanged between political opposites during an event meant to provide a sense of unity.
Emotionally charged thoughts on prejudice and racism in the Central Valley sparked a moment typifying tensions nationally.
“Folks, this is why we’re here,” said organizer Bryan Medina, Fresno’s poet Laureate, as he attempted to diffuse the situation.
He said the spoken word event was intended to raise spirits and open minds at a time of extreme division.
“To come out here and speak their truths. to the people that want to hear something positive, inspiring and give them hopefully energy to stand up to what’s going on today,” said Medina.
An audience of nearly one hundred attended the event to hear 15 poets and writers share stories about racial conflict and tensions in our time.
Medina, speaking to the crowd said, “Who would of thought, in 2017, we would be talking about Nazis.”
He referenced the tragic events in Charlottesville on August 12th and the rallies and protests it spawned across the country.
Rallies like the right-wing free speech gathering in Boston over the weekend that was overwhelmed by thousands of counter protestors and eventually lead to several arrests.
“We’re not trying to go, or blame purpose on one side or another, we’re talking about people coming up, a community coming up in a peaceful ways talking about things to lift us all up,” said Medina.
Despite completely polar opposite political views, it was a message Berquam agreed with.
“I stand against white power. I stand against the KKK. I stand against anybody who thinks they’re better than anybody else because of the color of their skin.”
While he admits words can’t cure all, he believes it’s a start.
“I would love to just sit in a room with this crowd and just talk about it,” said Berquam.