The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A church was defaced with ‘Trump Nation, Whites Only.’ The community had a different message.

Rev. Robert Harvey discovered this banner outside the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring. (Robert Harvey/Facebook)
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Five days after the election, Kristin Mink, a 32-year-old middle school teacher, desperate to channel her anxiety to something positive created a Facebook group she called, “What Now? (Moving Forward).”

“I was so frozen afterward, and I felt like I was on the verge of tears all the time, it was such a feeling of hopelessness and impotence, I realized I needed to be doing something,” Mink said. “I needed to feel like I could take an action every time that feeling came over me. I wanted to create a place where other people who felt the same way could come together.”

What Mink didn’t expect was an incident in her own backyard.

On Nov. 14, the day after she created her call-to-action social media page, she learned that a church in Silver Spring, the town where she was born and raised and was now raising her 8-month-old son, had been the target of a hate crime. Outside the church, on the back of a banner in Spanish, and on the brick exterior of the building was sprawled the same message: “Trump Nation. Whites Only.”

The Rev. Robert Harvey, who discovered the vandalism when he opened the church for Sunday services, doesn’t know why they were targeted. Maybe it was because of the non-English sign advertising their Spanish-language church service. Or, even worse, because the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour is majority immigrant, with congregants from 50 different countries.

He felt scared. He never thought it would happen there. But he assured his congregants that day they’d stand united no matter what.

Then, two days later, when Harvey was leaving for the night, he noticed a new banner had materialized in the church yard. It was bigger than the old one and visible from the highway. It held a very different message than the one left before: “Silver Spring Loves and Welcomes Immigrants!”

Harvey calls it their miracle banner.

Later he found out that Mink had mobilized her new social network, and within a day they’d collected the funds to rush-order the new banner. Others in the community made signs and wrote notes to leave outside the church. When Mink went that Tuesday to hang it, she saw others had come before her, writing hopeful messages in chalk on the ground and delivering flowers and handmade notes. One child’s drawing had hand prints in different colors and the child had written in crayon, “Happy you are our neighbors.”

“It’s a small thing, but a lot of small things equal a big thing in the end,” she said. “It’s really been a community effort, and there’s no way any of this would have gone the way it had if there wasn’t a like-minded community.”

Mink borrowed back the banner to carry it in Silver Spring’s Thanksgiving parade on Saturday. She said she cried as she walked along the route and heard the crowds of people lining the streets cheering when she passed. That, she said, is the Silver Spring she knows.

Meanwhile, Harvey is now determined to use his church as a hub for resisting hate and intolerance. At Sunday’s service he used his sermon to invite his parishioners to have a dialogue about the incident. People said they were scared, they were humiliated, that they were frightened for their children.

The church typically has close to 400 people attending its three Sunday services. That day, close to 800 came, including people from local synagogues and other churches. After the service, they stood together outside, holding hands singing, “We Shall Overcome.” Throughout the week, Muslims representing nearby mosques came by to offer their support.

“This election certainly helped us understand the depths of the racial wounds that have divided this country since its inception,” Harvey said. “I think it was a very powerful message to say we’re united against this racism, and we’re going to do it together. We want to work with the community to offer our church as a place where these conversations can happen. We also want to be a place to offer hope and welcome.”

For Mink, this election and the rise in hate crimes that followed has increased her social consciousness, she said. That it happened in Silver Spring has only emboldened her.

“I never imagined a lot of the actions we’re seeing across America, but to see it in this diverse, progressive, beautiful community felt like a punch to a gut,” she said. “My initial thought was I wanted to crawl into a hole and give up, but that was fleeting. Then I was really mad, then I felt defensive, protective of our church, our communities, the values we have around here.”

Then she did something.

Read more Inspired Life:

She helped bring down Sheriff Arpaio. Now she’s ready to take on hate nationally.

Deep in Trump country, this Clinton voter found renewed faith in her neighbors and America

This professor devotes her life to countering dangerous speech. She can’t ignore Donald Trump’s.

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