“To our neighbors living in fear, we stand with you today, we will protect you tomorrow and we will protect you forever,” said Ethan Felder, one of the organizers of the Queens Stands Together Rally.
The labor lawyer and Community Board 6 member called the rally a duty of civic engagement and involvement. He organized the event with local activists Edwin Wong, Peter Beadle, Prameet Kumar, Mark Laster, Mohammed Naeem, Alexa Weitzman and Mazeda Uddin.
Uddin, a Bangladeshi immigrant and mother of five, said that while President Donald Trump instigated intolerance against immigrants, Muslims and the LGBTQ community, he unconsciously did some good.
“Trump doesn’t know, but he makes us strong and we should send him thank you notes for uniting us,” Uddin said. “Instead of being divided, we will be united under one voice and one movement.”
Queens Stands Together was Naeem’s first time organizing a rally, but he and Felder are planning further action in the future.
“May these words march towards justice to permanently crack the vials of hate,” Naeem said. “May the song of these words cry out across our borough from bodegas to cafes, from mosques to Jewish centers, from airports to holding cells, from your house to the White House.”
He called on attendees to remember the moral spirit of the country has always been anchored by love of community and diversity.
“To all those who continue to use legal terror to divide, you should know that you will be met with fierce resistance,” Naeem said. “Equality and equity belong to each and every one of us.”
Imam Shamsi Ali from the Jamaica Muslim Center told Sunday’s crowd that the country has long been known as a beacon of religious tolerance.
“Muslim Americans are an integral part of the city and the country, living their lives just as other Americans do,” Ali said. “They are politicians, educators, artists, law enforcement officers and many have even died to protect our freedoms.”
Ali went on to denounce the rise of anti-Semitic acts around the country, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats at nearly one-dozen Jewish community centers over the weekend.
But the imam maintained that the country needs to remain the land for freedom and justice, especially in a diverse area such as Queens.
“New York is known as the city of bridges not walls,” Ali said. “In fact, we are going to build the bridges so they can better connect our common humanity.”
Kenneth Shelton, the spirited 20-year-old leader of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, asked attendees for a moment of silence to honor Trayvon Martin on the fifth anniversary of his death.
“Black citizens are the first attacked, but the last remembered when it comes to divvying up resources for the community,” Shelton said, before adding he is “hopeful” because people are beginning to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement along with discrimination against Muslims, Jews, immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
Young people must be included in the national conversation, Shelton suggested. Sangida Akter, a 17-year-old Townsend Harris student, reflected on her own experiences with Islamophobia.
On Austin Street two years ago, she and her mother were the victims of harassment due to their hijabs.
“Out of nowhere comes this man who jumps out into the middle of the road and spits in the direction of my mom’s face,” Akter said. “'Take that effing thing off,' he said, and then he started with his hate speech. I thought he would strike my mom’s face.”
While her mother told her to move on from the incident, Akter wondered how the man saw them. She contemplated whether he ever considered the woman under the veil as a mother and a human being.
“He must’ve thought I was a byproduct of Muslims who had brainwashed me into blindly following a faith, an oppressed little girl who couldn’t speak for herself,” she said. “But oh boy was he wrong.”
Today, Akter is co-president of the Muslim Students Association at Townsend Harris, and earlier this year she led the student body after an Islamophobic incident at school.
“My generation of millennials have mastered the art of looking at each other first as human beings,” she said.
Other elected officials pledged their support to the various communities of the borough.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi called the president an embarrassment to Queens. State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky announced that she is a sponsor of a bill that prohibits state public colleges and universities from inquiring about immigration status.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito ignited the crowd with a message for undocumented immigrants, stating “there is no need for us to spend resources to go after people who are contributing positively to the city.”
Borough President Melinda Katz said the fight extends beyond just allowing people into the country. She argued that society needs to have a productive conversation surrounding issues such as health care, especially a woman’s right to choose.
After sharing the story of her own family's escape to America from Poland, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said that she wakes up every morning thinking she has had a bad dream.
“My message to Donald Trump is you are not my president and you will never be my president,” Koslowitz said. “It has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans, this president is not fit to be our president.”