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400 march for peace in Bowling Green

Organizers create solidarity theme to stop hate

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    Leading the Peace March through the Bowling Green State University Campus are Leslie Galan, center left, a BGSU co-chair of Not In Our Town, Bowling Green Mayor Richard Edwards, center, and BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey, center right.

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    Marchers cross Wooster Street on their way to BGSU during a Peace March as part of Not In Our Town, a campaign to stop hate and build safe, inclusive environments in Bowling Green.

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    A Peace March participant holds a sign while walking in a Not In Our Town (NIOT) event in Bowling Green.

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    A peace march participant holds a sign.

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BOWLING GREEN — Several days ago, Mohammed Albaaj said he heard a passer-by on the Bowling Green State University campus tell him he wasn’t welcome there.

On Friday, Mr. Albbaaj, 24, a BGSU senior majoring in premed and biology, was one of about 400 people walking in downtown Bowling Green — including on the BGSU campus — in an inaugural peace march organized by the city of Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University and the Not In Our Town, a group that bills itself as a community campaign “to stop hate and build safe, inclusive environments.”

“Two days after the election, someone stopped me on this campus coming right here from the education building and said, ‘Finally we will get rid of you,’” Mr. Albaaj said when asked why he was marching. “And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ And he said, ‘I don’t like your kind of people. Get out of my country!’”

Mr. Albaaj, an Iraqi citizen who is here on a student visa, said he had spent 14 years in a refugee camp and that for him “coming to this country is like a rescue.”

“I love this country,” Mr. Albaaj went on to say. “But I don’t like people showing me this hatefulness. The reason I love this country is because [almost] everyone here [accepts] diversity and people respect each other ... [But] after the election, some people [are], maybe, more prone to show what they have inside.

“I think it’s very important to come together and to serve this country,” he added. “I come from Iraq where a lot of people are dying every day. That’s because there is hatefulness over there, because everyone is divided on the race issue.”

Jauntez Bates, 20, a BGSU junior and a political science major, said he heard Mr. Albaaj as he talked to a Blade reporter, introduced himself as the BGSU Black Union president, offered help to Mr. Albaaj in getting his message out, and shared his contact information.

“When these things come up, when people feel threatened on our campus — especially people of color and people who come from other places — we want to make sure that their voices get heard,” Mr. Bates said. “Because we understand that a lot of these incidents do not get reported, like this one, for example.”

The 30-minute parade, led by Bowling Green Mayor Richard Edwards and BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey, began at noon at Main and Wooster streets, continued east on Wooster to Thurston Street, where it turned north to the BGSU Student Union parking lot, and concluded at the northwest entrance to the building. As the marchers walked, passing motorists honked in support as they spotted the peace signs that some marchers carried.

“This is an important occasion,” Mayor Edwards said as he walked at the head of the marching column. “We think it is extremely valuable to reaffirm the principles underlying Not In Our Town and stamp out hate in any form.”

Leslie Galan, a BGSU co-chair of Not In Our Town, said the event sends out a message to everybody, including the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

“I believe it could send a message to them,” she said of the Trump administration. “It’s certainly a good perception.”

Mayor Edwards agreed.

“That’s why it’s important to reaffirm the principals of Not In Our Town,” he said. “At all times.”

The mayor also said that two reports of incidents involving hateful slurs in the past two weeks on or near the BGSU campus later turned out to be not valid.

“I want to be clear that this does not absolve us from continuing our important dialogue on diversity and inclusion ...” Thomas Gibson, the BGSU vice president for student affairs and vice provost, said in a letter to the BGSU students Friday.

“We must be ever vigilant in ensuring that there is no place for racism, sexism, homophobia, intolerance or other bias at Bowling Green State University. There are members of our community who do not feel safe. That is unacceptable.”

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.

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