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Listen to those affected by racism

I have always condemned any racist expression. I was not contacted by the media about the racist bridge graffiti when it happened, but if I was, I would have expressed condemnation. Notwithstanding, I should have issued a statement afterward, and I regret not doing so. Saranac Lake is a tremendous village, and this one graffiti incident is not representative of who we are.

I compliment our police department for taking this incident seriously and devoting its resources to solving it as well as the personal attention given to it by the responding officer, Sgt. Leigh Wenske, who was quoted at the time saying, “There’s no room for this in the world, and there never was.” We all agree with the sergeant.

I also thank our governor for sending up a State Police hate crimes investigator to assist our police department.

The racist graffiti spray-painted on a railroad trestle story had legs, and it was picked up by newspapers and television stations across New York. It made our village look racist and bad. There is no denying these facts. Many are quick to add that our high school valedictorian’s recent graduation speech also adds credence to the perception that our village is racist and bad. Others say that some of the commentary on social media underscores that claim.

Here is what I say: Saranac Lake is a lot better than this perception and will get even better. We took this gut punch, and now, we must get off the mat, go to our corner and regroup. Then we must firmly resolve to do better and be better, both as individuals and as a community. Then we must make it happen. We must act, not just for a few days but forever.

What is the best way to overcome prejudice and ignorance? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe listening to those who have been marginalized by racism is a start, then learning from their experiences and using that knowledge to act in a fashion that is without bias. 

During this process, I also believe vigilance is key, keeping careful watch for danger or difficulties toward our brothers and sisters, maintaining an environment of peace and safety as we progress toward that “more perfect union.”

This moment is an opportunity for Saranac Lake to excel and to be the place where families of any race will find harmony and a familial bond. But it will take a whole village to do just that.

It certainly hurts to be labeled racist. Many people will naturally lash out at the very word because, like most labels, it is not 100% true. Yet the bigger person, the person focused upon being the best that one can be, the village that wants to be better tomorrow than today, will use that assessment as inspiration, with determination and humility.

Humility. What is the definition of humility? The dictionary calls it “freedom from pride or arrogance.” Another accepted definition calls it “a virtue by which a person knows themselves as he or she truly are.” 

In my own imperfect humility, I call upon my fellow village residents to rise to this occasion and do the right thing, to make our shining community a beacon for all, regardless of race.

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