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BIGOTRY? NOT IN OUR TOWN! #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut When a Jewish family in Billings, Montana was threatened by white supremacists, thousands of people in that town took a page from what the King of Denmark did during World War II and stood with the threatened family. It was Hanukkah. Tammie and Brian Schnitzer had decorated their windows with Star of David decals and a menorah, the nine-branched candelabra that’s the symbol of this Jewish holiday. Someone threw a cinder block at the menorah, sending shards of glass into the bedroom of the Schnitzer’s five-year-old son. It wasn't the first time white supremacists had caused trouble. Billings—a town of about 80,000, only seven percent of whom are minorities, including about 50 Jewish families—had seen Ku Klux Klan newspapers and flyers attacking Jews and homosexuals. There were also appearances by the Northwest United Skinheads and the Aryan Nation. Headstones in the Jewish cemetery had been overturned. The synagogue had received a bomb threat. Swastikas and racial slurs were spray-painted on the synagogue as well as on the home of a mixed-race couple. The month before, a beer bottle was thrown through the window of a Jewish home. Tammie Schnitzer was afraid. “It was my sense of being so helpless,” she said. “It was my fear of what would come next. I kept thinking, ‘They know where we live; where can we go?’ . . . Maybe it sounds naïve, but I grew up believing nothing like this could ever happen in America.” But she experienced more than fear: “During that long night, my fear turned to outrage. What kind of life would my children have if they had to cower before bigots?” The police officer who responded to the Schnitzers’ call suggested that they take down their Hanukkah decorations. The Schnitzers didn’t feel good about that. “Maybe it’s not wise to keep these symbols up,” she acknowledged. “But how do you explain that to a child?” Her question appeared in the Billings Gazette, and it spoke to Margaret Macdonald, who, with Tammie and others, had formed the Billings Coalition for Human Rights the previous spring. Macdonald couldn’t imagine having to tell her own young children that they couldn’t have a Christmas tree, or that they had to take a wreath off the door because it wasn’t safe to display it. “I had tears in my eyes,” she said. “The idea of a family right in my own community being unable to celebrate their religious holiday made me sad and angry.” Macdonald remembered the story of the King of Denmark during World War II. As the story goes, the German occupiers ordered Danish Jews to wear the Star of David in order to identify themselves, so they could be banned from public places, forbidden to work, and deported to concentration camps. But the King himself donned the Star and asked every other Dane to do the same. The SS weren’t able to tell who was really a Jew, so Denmark's Jews escaped the fate of Jews in other German-occupied nations. Macdonald went to pastor Keith Torney of the First Congregational Church and suggested that they make copies of menorahs and ask people to put them up in their windows. Torney thought it was a great idea, and that week hundreds of Christian homes in Billings had menorahs in their windows. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Macdonald. “With two young children, I had to think hard about it myself.” The next important player was Police Chief Wayne Inman. “Isn’t this risky?” asked some of the congregants who hesitated putting up the menorahs. “Yes,” he said, “there’s a risk. But there’s a greater risk in not doing it.” Macdonald knew the town had a history of ignoring racism. “There’d been an emphatic hard-line stance in the town, like a brick wall, that the less said about the skinheads and other racists, the better.” For his part, Chief Inman was initially pressured by local businesses and politicians to let the matter lie, not to “make a big deal of it.” He was mercilessly criticized for supporting the Schnitzers. But the way Inman put it, there really wasn’t much of a choice at all: “Silence is acceptance. [The hate groups] are testing us. And if we do nothing, there’s going to be more trouble.” The idea did begin to gather support. The Gazette published a full-page image of a menorah that went to thousands of homes. Local businesses distributed photocopies of menorahs. And a local billboard pronounced “Not in Our Town! No Hate, No Violence. Peace on Earth.” Menorahs were appearing in windows all over Billings. At first, the white supremacists responded with typical violence: They smashed panes on the doors of the Evangelical United Methodist Church that displayed menorahs. They fired shots into a Catholic school that had joined the resistance. They vandalized cars and made threatening phone calls. But the resistance grew: Dozens of Christians came to synagogues to worship with their Jewish neighbors. Schools and churches facilitated discussions about bigotry. Thousands of homes, churches, and stores in Billings now displayed menorahs—and kept them up until the end of the year. Inman said, “The haters could attack a couple of Jewish homes. They could make a second wave of attacks on Christian homes and churches. But they could not target thousands of menorahs.”he Klan backed off. Sarah Anthony, a student with the Human Rights Coalition, said, “We did something right here, and we will do it again if we have to. If we don’t, there are people who would break every window in Billings, and we would look in those windows and see ourselves.” Perhaps the wisest comment came from a fourth-grader: “You just have to show people that you care. If you don’t stand up to bullies, they’ll just keep pushing you around.” Update: Janice Cohn wrote a children’s book called, The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate. Later, with lyricist Barry James, she created the elementary-school musical, “Paper Candles: How Courage and Goodness Triumphed in an American Town.” It was first performed in Billings on the 12th anniversary of the window-breaking incident. A film based on the Billings occurrences, entitled “Not in Our Town,” was also made and shown on PBS; it spawned “Not in Our Town” groups in towns across the country, all dedicated to resisting hate-mongering. You can learn more at and here on Facebook: Like this story? LIKE this whole Page so you can see more great stories.

LEICESTER VT~THEIR NEW NEIGHBORS' KEEPERS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut The Marquez family was in the United States illegally; that's not in question. Mario and Maria Marquez, along with their four boys, crossed the Mexico-U.S. border legally, to attend a Mormon conference in Salt Lake City. They then drove to Vermont to visit a friend. They had proper visas, but the visas soon expired, so they were not supposed to love the tiny town of Leicester, get jobs there, and become valued members of the community. Mario worked at a dairy farm and–since he had experience as a mechanic–worked on the farm machinery and volunteered his services around town. Maria made piñatas for the school Christmas play and got involved in community activities. They joined the nearest Mormon church. Their oldest boy became a Little Leaguer. But in due time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) caught up with them. The Border Patrol came to the farm, citing the family for violating immigration laws, and took them all to a local police station. They were granted a hearing, and were ordered to leave in six months or they would be deported. The people of Leicester wanted them to stay. They gathered hundreds of signatures on petitions. They lobbied their state representatives, their U.S. Senators, and their U.S. Congressman. They garnered testimonials like this one, from the boys’ school Principal: "I can only say that the entire Leicester community enjoys and, yes, loves the Marquez family . . .." When the Border Patrol came to the school to pick up the Marquez boys, the principal refused to let them take the boys; she drove them home herself that day. The INS started listening to the people of Leicester. They extended the deadline several times, and Mario won a reprieve into the following year. A Vermont State Representative credited the town for the slowdown. The town’s strategy then became an effort to qualify Mario as a special agricultural worker. This shouldn't have been difficult to do: Both his current and past employers submitted affidavits attesting to his meeting the conditions for that classification. Mario and Maria want to stay in Leicester, that's clear, but it's not because they dread returning to Mexico: They own a home and a business there. Rather, it's because they want their boys to have an American education. The waiting is tough: Even if Mario gets qualified as a special agricultural worker, he'll have only a temporary residence permit, good for two years, and the permit doesn't include the rest of the family. He has to figure out how the entire Marquez family can become eligible to apply for permanent residence. "It's hard again to wait and wait," he said. "The boys sometimes ask what's going to happen. I don't know what to tell them." If the people of Leicester, Vermont, have any say in it, the Marquez family will be there for a long time. The town agent, who was one of the organizers of the petition and letter-writing campaign for the family said: "They're always doing things for the community. They're good neighbors. We want people like that in Leicester." As for Mario: "Before I came here, someone told me Vermonters aren't friendly. But I don't believe that. Not here in Leicester.” UPDATE: There was a long and somewhat absurd process, during which some immigration officials decided that corn didn’t qualify as a vegetable because the corn Marquez worked on was for animal feed, so he was not doing valuable work. Seriously. Wiser heads at Immigration prevailed when the town pushed even harder; Mario won status as an agricultural worker and the entire Marquez family was granted permanent US residence. Like the people of Leicester? LIKE this whole Page so you can get more great stories.

BECAUSE THE FORESTS NEED DEFENDERS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Carl Ross believes that grass roots activism can change the world, and he's dedicating his life to that belief. As co-founder of Save America's Forests (SAF), a nonprofit lobbying group, Ross lobbies daily against forces that want to cut old growth forests and against fellow environmentalists who disagree with his tactics. He has been attacked in the press and even had angry environmentalists storm his office. They might well find him there in the middle of the night–Ross works so late and starts so early, he often sleeps in the office. Ross and two partners who later left the group, started SAF in 1990 as a national network that would enlist all environmental groups in a coalition to press for the legislation that would save America’s trees. It hasn't worked out that smoothly. Through unrelenting lobbying and educating of politicians, tiny SAF has repeatedly attracted strong congressional support for forest-protection bills. Ross works to rally environmental groups behind the bills in question, but some well-funded national groups have proposed separate bills and then accused Ross of undermining their efforts. In spite of all difficulties, Ross is undaunted. His viewpoint: "We got the movement out of the doldrums." Lobbying politicians and rallying grassroots environmental groups are only parts of SAF's work. Another major thread is training the next generation of environmental activists. SAF regularly has 10-12 interns learning environmental law and the political process. Many of them go on to careers in places such as the Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department. SAF also provides citizen education. Their website offers a Citizen Action Guide full of information about upcoming forest legislation and existing laws, the effects of clear-cutting, and the status of endangered species. Ross is sure that environmental protection will someday be the norm in our culture rather than a matter of ongoing dispute. "It took hundreds of years to end slavery and to secure women's right to vote." says Carl Ross, who led his first save-the-trees campaign at age 19, rallying neighbors in Plainview, New York. "Forest protection is doing amazingly well for a movement that's only decades old." Carl Ross will be hanging in for the long haul, working for that day when there are no more disputes about environmental protection. You can keep track of this work at Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this whole Page so you can see more real heroes' stories.

BECAUSE CONVICTS' LIVES CAN BE REBUILT #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Not many people choose to spend their lives working with convicted felons and drug addicts. But Mimi Silbert, founder of San Francisco’s Delancey Street rehabilitation project, has committed her every waking hour to helping ex-cons become productive, welcome members of society. Silbert knows what gets results: in the first 26 years of the program, Delancey Street rescued over 11,000 former convicts, addicts, prostitutes, and alcoholics, without government funding and without a single act of violence. The foundation has grown to include 25 commercial enterprises run by 500 recovering addicts and convicts working out of a $30 million residential/ business complex on San Francisco’s waterfront. Taken together, Delancey Street’s enterprises generate enough revenue to keep the foundation fully self-sufficient. Silbert could have taken her formidable skills anywhere. But she cites her solid family upbringing as the reason she chooses to stick her neck out for the common good. “Delancey Street functions the way my own family did—everybody looked out for everybody else as we struggled upward. That’s what happens here every day. Together we rise or fall.” Silbert’s approach is simple. Incoming Delancey Street residents must learn three different trades and take part in weekly group sessions that promote self-understanding, interpersonal communication, and basic life skills. And no one leaves without the equivalent of a high school diploma. Despite daunting national statistics on recividism among ex-convicts, Silbert starts with the assumption that people can change, and from there, creates that change. “We have a saying ‘to act as if,’” Silbert explains. “We say if you walk around saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ you will become a person who talks that way naturally. And if you act as if you believe in yourself, you will.” For Silbert, Delancey Street remains a work-in-progress, mirroring the lives of her “clients.” The foundation’s construction projects provide a case in point: “You’re building your own foundation here. If you make a mistake with a wall or a joint, you tear it down and rebuild it. That’s what we’re doing here at Delancey Street for ourselves–tearing down bad things and replacing them with good things.” In a world where most convicted criminal offenders and hard core drug addicts emerge from prison and from treatment programs unchanged, Silbert wants to spread the Delancey Street success: “Our biggest issue now is to replicate this model. You need a strong, visionary, committed lunatic to dedicate a life to initiate something. But to continue, Delancey Street must be bigger than I am. I think we’re succeeding.” To keep track of Silbert and Delancey Street, go to Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this whole Page so we can send you more real heroes.

If a friend is in trouble, don't trouble them by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it. #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut

FOR THE BEAUTY OF GEORGIA'S SHORES #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Larry Shaffield is into trash. Thousands and thousands of pounds of it. As founder of the volunteer organization, Clean Coast, Shaffield has taken on the awesome task of cleaning up the thousands of miles where Georgia’s mainland and its coastal islands meet inland waters and the sea. Shaffield joined the first national coastal cleanup way in 1988. “We took a ton of debris off a mile of one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in my life,” he recalls. But it was soon covered again, most of the debris thrown or lost from boats. “Somebody’s got to do something,” Shaffield decided. His own expertise was as a professional photographer, but he threw himself into the awesome task, spending his own meager savings, and enlisting boat owners, donors, state and local officials, and fellow trash pickers. Clean Coast is under-staffed, under-funded, and under-publicized, but still forging ahead on Shaffield’s ability to inspire other Georgians to get out there and haul crud off their beautiful shores. Shaffield himself is a fulltime volunteer at Clean Coast by day; by night he’s studying nursing, planning to eventually earn his living with a night job in nursing. In his constant search for more volunteer coast cleaners, Shaffield says, “This is one thing everybody can get together on because the value is obvious--you take it away, it looks better. And anybody can participate. Kids are always out there.” Update: Hundreds of Clean Coast members come from all over the state to participate in the monthly cleanups. You can see what they're up to at Like this Giraffe Hero? LIKE this whole Page so you can get more real heroes' stories.

More Giraffe Heroes


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