<p>LOWELL — White supremacist ideology was the last thought on Allison Vollmar’s mind when she scanned a QR code off a sticker pasted to a railing along Lowell’s Riverwalk.</p><p>“I scanned it, and it went to a Patriot Front website,” Vollmar said by phone on Friday. “I thought, ‘Oh, geez, this isn’t good.’ So, I just kind of scraped it off with my fingernails.”</p><p>She found several more during her walk.</p><p>According to the Anti-Defamation League, Patriot Front is a Texas-based “white supremacist group whose members… define themselves as American fascists or American nationalists who are focused on preserving America’s identity as a European-American nation.”</p><p>The group formed in the aftermath of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which protestor James Alex Fields plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters and killed Heather Heyer.</p><p>Then-President Donald Trump gave a speech describing the violence that followed the tiki-torch carrying white nationalists holding antisemitic signs, as "…very fine people, on both sides."</p><p>This reconstituted version of homegrown fascism marched through Downtown Boston last summer carrying riot shields and banners reading “Reclaim America” and “Strong Families Make Strong Nations,” and Patriot Front flags.</p><p>Vollmar knew all that backstory, but she chalked the stickers up to a one-off issue. That is, until on Labor Day weekend, when she found a swastika drawn on the elevator panel in the lobby of the Downes Garage on French and John streets in Lowell's National Historical Park.</p><p>The swastikas were scrawled in permanent marker on elevator panels on several floors, said Vollmar, and they looked freshly made.</p><p>“We want to chalk it up to knuckleheads, but we all need to be looking out for this sort of thing,” she said. “I snapped a picture on my phone of the swastikas, and sent it to Wayne Jenness over social media.”</p><p>Jenness, a city councilor in District 4, who represents the residents in Downtown Lowell, among other neighborhoods, immediately reached out to City Manager Tom Golden’s team.</p><p>“I texted Tom (Golden) and Shawn (Assistant City Manager Machado) at 12:22 p.m., about it,” Jenness said by text on Friday. “Shawn texted me at 6:45 p.m., that it had been removed… I would just say that I was very thankful that she reported it to me, and very appreciative of the quick action from the administration and specifically DPW employees for coming in on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of a long weekend to remove it.”</p><p>A few days after the Downes Garage vandalism, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan issued a statement, after a group of neo-Nazis, identified as part of the Nationalist Social Club, or NSC-131, attempted to intimidate refugees in a Marlboro hotel over the weekend.</p><p>On Aug. 8, Gov. Maura Healey announced a state of emergency due to the rapidly rising number of migrant families in need of shelter and services. The administration of UMass Lowell confirmed that its 252-room Inn & Conference Center on Warren Street in Downtown Lowell was closing Sept. 13, fueling speculation that it is a possible housing site for migrants fleeing unrest and violence.</p><p>“The United States is a nation built by immigrants from all over the world, and Massachusetts has benefitted mightily from the contributions of refugees and immigrants for generations,” Trahan said. “We’re not going to stand idly by while a bunch of neo-Nazi bullies try to intimidate refugees who legally came to this nation in search of a better life for their families.”</p><p>NSC-131, a New England neo-Nazi organization, is led by <a href="https://www.lowellsun.com/2023/01/17/mass-hate-group-leader-subject-of-n-h-civil-rights-complaint/">Christopher Hood</a>, formerly of Pepperell, who was the subject of a January civil rights complaint by the New Hampshire attorney general. At a July 2022 protest, Hood led a group of NSC-131 members in hanging banners that read “Keep New England White” from an overpass overlooking U.S. Route 1 in Portsmouth. A superior court judge dismissed the civil rights case in June, however, citing free speech protections, but the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office is appealing that ruling, WMUR reported.</p><p>Hate groups may not be new to the commonwealth, but symbols of their ideology in the Mill City are, said Vollmar, who said she has “never seen anything like this before in Lowell.”</p><p>If these specific acts of white supremacist vandalism and propaganda are "testing the waters" in Lowell, the perpetrators will not find a warm welcome, said Golden.</p><p>"Upon learning about this cowardly and vile act – Our DPW removed it on Sunday within hours,” he said by text on Friday. “Hate has not and never will be tolerated in Lowell.”</p><p>Trahan’s statement also closed with an affirmation of American values that embraces diversity and acceptance.</p><p>“The beliefs and actions of this hate group go against every value we hold dear as Americans and as citizens of Massachusetts,” she said. “I join thousands of folks in Marlborough and across the Commonwealth in saying clearly and unequivocally that hate has no place here.”</p><p>It was the message Trahan delivered in person to a group of LGBTQ+ leaders during a roundtable discussion in June during Pride Month. Anthony Bovenzi, president NoWoCo Pride, a Fitchburg-based LGBTQ+ group for North Worcester County and beyond, spoke to the challenges Pride events face from white supremacist groups.</p><p>“Massachusetts is great on many fronts, but Massachusetts is also the biggest safe haven for White supremacist groups, and they are constantly threatening our Pride,” he told Trahan. “Right now, I’m receiving 10 death threats a week from white supremacist groups all over the Northeast including, Massachusetts.”</p><p>He noted that five of the groups are based in Fitchburg alone, with Proud Boys active in Brookfield and Spencer.</p><p>For her part, Vollmar is glad she elevated her concerns and grateful for the city’s quick response.</p><p>“I’m probably going to be extra vigilant as I walk around, and be aware of what’s around me,” she said.</p>
Anti-Semitic reported incidents spiked across the state last year, as the total number of incidents against the Jewish community hit record highs in New England and around the U.S., according to Anti-Defamation League officials who called it a “a grim reminder that anti-Semitism continues to infect our communities in real and pervasive ways.”
The ADL’s annual “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents” recorded a total of 204 anti-Semitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in the New England region last year — a 32% jump from 2021, and the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded in the region that covers Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont.
The Bay State accounted for 152 of those 204 anti-Semitic reported incidents. Massachusetts’ total of 152 incidents was a 41% surge from the previous year, and the state recorded the sixth highest number of incidents in the country.
Nationally, ADL recorded 3,697 anti-Semitic incidents last year, a 36% increase and the highest total since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.
“The continuing increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the region and across the country should dispel, once and for all, the myth that anti-Semitism is a problem of the past,” said Peggy Shukur, ADL New England’s interim regional director.
“Behind every one of these numbers are people who have experienced the harm, fear, intimidation and pain that reverberates from each of these incidents,” Shukur added.
In Massachusetts on Sept. 11 last year, a group held an anti-Semitic banner on a Route 1 highway overpass in Saugus, blaming the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Jewish people.
“A banner emblazoned ‘Jews did 9-11’ on our freeway overpasses may only be recorded as one incident but does not capture the harm done to every individual who saw it,” Shukur said.
A total of 71 cities and towns in Massachusetts saw at least one anti-Semitic incident last year, an increase from 54 towns in 2021, according to the ADL data.
The Boston Mapping Project, an interactive map laced with anti-Semitic tropes, pinpointed the locations of Jewish communal and other community organizations in Massachusetts, along with the names of individuals associated with them. The Mapping Project included a chilling call to “dismantle” and “disrupt” most of Boston’s Jewish community.
The number of New England incidents taking place at private homes doubled last year. These incidents include multiple swastikas at a Stoneham home, and the etching of an anti-Semitic slur on a car at a Stow home.
“The doubling of anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in homes is particularly chilling,” Shukur said. “Seeing swastikas in a front yard is deep and enduring both for the residents of that home and everyone who encounters it.
“The fact that numbers increased in nearly every category, including harassment and vandalism, is a grim reminder that anti-Semitism continues to infect our communities in real and pervasive ways,” she added. “We and our strong and resilient New England community will continue to speak up and stand strong in the face of Jew hatred.”
FITCHBURG — The legacy and impact of the late civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could be felt reverberating throughout the city Monday, as it paused to pay tribute.
“The time is always right to do right … and mobilize against oppression,” said keynote speaker Stephanie Williams, chief diversity executive at Mount Wachusett Community College. Her message was conveyed to the large crowd gathered at the Fitchburg Senior Center for the 24th annual Montachusett MLK Coalition celebration.
“Courage calls out to all of us,” Williams said.
Montachusett MLK Coalition President Linda Mason started the program which was filled with moving performances and spoken word, orations, and prayers. “As we reflect and remember … may we be inspired through speech and song,” she said.
Rev. Annie Belmer, the new pastor at First Baptist Church said it was her “honor” to emcee the momentous occasion in the city she now calls home. Recognizing the crowd which included local and state leaders, residents, and students, she introduced Mayor Stephen DiNatale as the first speaker.
DiNatale talked about the “tumultuous times that existed” in the 1960s he remembers well, including the assassinations of King, President John F. Kennedy and his brother, presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy.
“Dr. King was not only a man of God, he was surely sent from God,” DiNatale said, adding King was “the catalyst for change” and “organized diverse leaders” from all walks of life and brought them together to fight for civil rights.
He spoke about the infamous March on Washington, where a quarter of a million people including civil rights leaders such as King gathered on August 28, 1963, in our nation’s capital to demand an end to segregation, fair wages and economic justice, voting rights, education, and long overdue civil rights protections.
“Such a movement was not widely accepted at that time,” DiNatale said of the march before noting a “narrative and agenda” by the federal government to label King as “the leader of a hate group.”
“He was not pursuing hate but basic human rights for all,” he said.
DiNatale’s remarks were followed by an invocation by Rev. Dario Acevedo of St. Joseph’s Church, who mentioned the unveiling of “The Embrace” sculpture in Boston last week, a tribute to King and his wife Coretta Scott King, who was also deeply involved in the civil rights movement.
“She said the legacy of her grandparents is alive,” Acevedo said of the Kings’ 14-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King’s remarks at the unveiling ceremony. “It’s a legacy that we have received and one that we must pass along to the generations.”
The reverend read a prayer by King that included the words “give us the courage to do your will,” followed by everyone in attendance being invited to sing what is known as the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Belmer noted before the stirring rendition that the song was performed for the first time by 500 school children on Feb 12, 1900, in celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
Mason came back to the podium to recognize Black trailblazers who passed away in 2022 including NBA legend Bill Russell; Bill Owens, the first Black senator in Massachusetts and “one of the first to call for reparations for descendants of Black slaves,” Tuskegee airmen Charles McGee who died on Jan. 16 at the age of 102; and Sydney Poitier, the first Black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor.
Mason encouraged everyone to read through the key civil rights anniversaries and events noted in the front of the program, a timeline of important events from 60 years ago, saying she “thought it would be helpful in reflecting and accessing where we are today.”
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan spoke via video and shared that while “it’s easy to look at the partisanship and decisiveness today … and throw up your hands,” she quoted a letter King wrote from a jail cell during which he penned “In some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
“He held onto hope,” Trahan said of the civil rights leader. “Every time we lean into the ‘not too distant’ future he mentioned, we get a little closer.”
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern thanked the Montachusett MLK Coalition and all involved with organizing the event and praised King for bringing people together. McGovern spoke about one of the issues he addresses in Congress, hunger, and how along with the disproportionate effects of COVID is one of the “disparities that are the failure of this country … that all have the same root — racism”
“Racism is about power and politics … that system has been institutionalized,” he said, before going on to say that to stop racism, “You can’t just tell people not to be racist, you have to teach people to be anti-racist.”
“We need to remember that Dr. King was not just about words,” McGovern said. “He was impatient, he was about actions. Our job is not just to make people feel comfortable … we need to disrupt racism in our personal choices … and especially our political choices. All of us can play a role in shaping the future. Let us be impatient and let us be resolute in our mission.”
Belmer called herself a “proud momma” while presenting the praise choir from her church, who marched and swayed in unison to the front of the hall singing “I Like the Dreams of the Future” with beautiful harmonies. A young woman read some of King’s words in between verses of the song before the chorus made a grand exit singing themselves out.
Mason then introduced Williams, who gave a 20-minute impassioned speech concentrating on her theme, “…the Courage to Be Great,” where she spoke about King and how it’s important to remember who he was as a man, not just an icon.
“The legend of Dr. Martin Luther King has been gentrified … sanitized,” Williams said, pointing out that many of the issues he boycotted “still exist today.” She spoke of how during his civil rights journey, he was “deemed the most dangerous man in the country by the FBI.”
“MLK had very radical views throughout his life,” she said.
Williams also shared some “lesser known facts” about the leader, including that he was born Michael before his father was inspired to change both of their names to Martin Luther after the German Protestant leader. She added King attempted suicide at the age of 12, skipped several grades and enrolled at Morehouse College at 15, and got a C in public speaking, a tidbit that drew incredulous chuckles from the crowd.
She also revealed that King spoke at over 2,500 events during his lifetime, that he was jailed 29 times while fighting for civil rights, was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35, and that his own mother was also killed by a gunman six years after her son was assassinated — while she was playing the organ at church.
Williams said “most often the fight for civil rights is unpopular” and that contrary to popular belief stemming from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, “he did not want us to live in a colorblind society.”
“Don’t get complacent,” Williams urged. “Sure, we’ve made some strides here and there, but we have a long way to go.”
She posed the question, “What would MLK say today?”
“We know he had a dream, and we know he worked tirelessly to make that dream a reality before he was assassinated. What are you doing for others? All of us have a role in speaking out against injustice … ultimately, I have faith in the power of people.”
Belmer then asked everyone to stand up and sing “Happy Birthday” to King before students from the Fitchburg State University’s Upward Bound program reflected on what Martin Luther King Jr. Day means to them. Youth from the sophomore leadership team and senior leaders helped out with the event and shared their thoughts.
“I admire how brave Dr. King was to speak out,” said Gardner High School senior Dellabee Gagnon, who attends Mount Wachusett Community College full time.
Leominster High School senior Darranise Hunter, who grew up in Memphis where King was assassinated, said “We can’t just ignore what happened in the past.”
She quoted one of the most well-known portions of his “I Have a Dream” speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” and imparted, “we can’t just ignore what happened in the past.”
Hunter said she is not immune to racism and proudly declared that she will stand up for herself if she’s “treated badly” but that she will take a page from King’s peaceful actions and “kill you with kindness.”
“I carry his spirit with me every day.”
Fellow Leominster High School senior Chrissy Evans said it was “hard to putting into words” what the day means to her as King was “such an influential figure.”
“If we want change then we must recognize our faults,” she said prior to FSU student Delaney Lora reciting Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem “New Day’s Lyric” almost entirely from heart and with great power and passion in her voice, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
“We are learning / That though we weren’t ready for this / We have been readied by it. / We steadily vow that no matter / How we are weighed down / We must always pave a way forward,” Gorman penned in the poem she released at the beginning of last year.
Mount Wachusett Community College student Nasih Thomas eloquently delivered his own spoken word creation, “Modern Ghandhian Methods,” after verbalizing that “it’s important to note it’s an old movement with new energy” of civil rights. “Disrupt what you do not stand for.”
You could hear a pin drop when Evans and Hunter closed out the profound program by singing a duet of Andra Day’s song “Rise Up.”
“We are going to walk it out and move mountains … I’ll rise up in spite of the ache … and I’ll do it a thousand times again for you.”
Belmer spoke for the crowd when expressing “that was just a tearful moment and a cheerful moment” of the inherent emotion conveyed through the young women’s performance and offered a word of encouragement to those gathered before Elm Street Community Church Pastor Dr. Steve Mayo gave the benediction.
“May you walk this road but not alone.”
ASHBURNHAM — The story begins on July 6, 1942, in the secret annex and gives you a taste of what life was like for Anne Frank.
Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt Germany on June 12, 1929. She lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam, having moved there with her family at the age of four-and-a-half when the Nazis gained control over Germany.
By May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As the hatred for Jewish people increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked.
From then until the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, Frank kept a diary she had received as a birthday present and wrote in it regularly.
Sheryl Faye, award winning local performer of historical women, will portray Anne Frank in her presentation titled “Anne Frank, A Life to Remember: A Story of Perseverance, Hope and Love” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at Stevens Memorial Library, 20 Memorial Drive.
“My audience can expect a glimpse into Anne’s life and what she went through,” said Faye. “She was a teenager growing up in an unthinkable situation, and although her circumstances were hard she chose to see the good in people.
She had dreams, just like all of us, Faye said.
“She so badly wanted to become and writer and she did,” she added. “‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ has sold more than 30 million copies and is available in 67 languages.”
Faye travels all over the country, portraying Frank and an array of other historical women, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Helen Keller, Sally Ride, Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton and Abigail Adams.
And to celebrate her 20th anniversary of performing historical women, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be added to her schedule this fall.
“I believe all these historical women’s messages are still so relevant today,” Faye said. “I think history is so important and must be taught. I want to inspire people with their strong messages and maybe influence younger people to be kinder and more accepting of others.”
Faye also believes that her performances make learning about these women more interesting.
“I am told that my shows are engaging, entertaining, educational and like nothing they have ever seen,” Faye said. “I work with a team of very talented people who help me bring these women to life.
Faye performs for any age with different versions of her shows. She performs in schools, libraries, historical societies, senior living, women’s and church groups, temples, Girl Scouts and birthday parties.
“In this world where there is a lot of hate this a wonderful program about perseverance, hope, and love,” Faye said. “And my hopes is that I will be leaving us all with a stronger message.”
For more information, or to register for this historical program, visit ashburnhamlibrary.org. For more information on Sheryl Faye Presents Historical Women, visit sherylfayepresents.com.