BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
WILDWOOD — While there were no concrete mixers, scaffolding and hammers, there was plenty of tearing down walls and building relationships at the annual Right to Unite Unity Day at Wildwood on Oct. 8.
More than 400 people attended the celebration this year, which was started by local educator Jenn Bolling. She described the day to Front Runner New Jersey as a way that people from all walks of life can come together in a positive atmosphere to enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other.
“Unity Day came about seven years ago, after hearing about multiple shootings of people of color on the news,” Bolling said. “I believe it was around a year after Michael Brown’s shooting and it seemed to have been occurring more and more frequently on the news.
“I was inspired to make a change by making sure people in the community got to know each other, as a result, Unity Day was created. Unity Day is a day where local churches, police, fire and first responders unite to provide public information and services for free in the community.”
Visitors and those supporting Unity Day gathered at Wildwood’s Fox Park from noon to 5 p.m.
Organizations providing community resources included Cape Assist, the Puerto Rican Action Committee, the Cape May County Branch of the NAACP, among others.
“Groups hosted informational tables that could provide members in the community with assistance for the winter season and more,” Bolling said. “I am so grateful for the support of the community and first responders in planning the events. They are always so supportive and willing to be involved.”
Bolling said eight local churches took part in the first Unity Day in 2015, including Eureka Transformation Church of Wildwood, Crest Community Church of Wildwood Crest, la Iglesia Ministerio de Cielos Abiertos of Wildwood, First Baptist of Wildwood, St. Stephens AME of Whitesboro, Macedonia Baptist Church of Cape May, Iglesia Pozo de Restauración of Villas and Iglesias Oasis de Bendicion of Wildwood.
She said the Wildwood Police Department, Cape May County Sheriff Department, and various community groups offered information tables as well.
“Our first year, we had about 150 people in attendance,” Bolling said. “We provided free ice cream, burgers, and hotdogs. I wanted to make sure the event was free to the public and it has remained this way since.
“We rely solely on donations from businesses, churches, and individuals. After the fourth year of hosting this event, I formed a committee and a nonprofit organization called Right to Unite, in which our main purpose is to plan multiple unity events in the county.”
Bolling said that in 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Unity Day was canceled but attendance grew to 300 people in 2021.
“During Unity Day, I would love for people to meet others, create new connections, build relationships, network with each other, but ultimately understand that our differences are not greater than our similarities and when hate arises, we need to respond in love,” Bolling said.
Bolling has taught for 15 years in a school district where 75% of the pupils are students of color.
“I want to make sure that not only the children whom I have taught or encountered throughout the years, but also every student in Cape May County and throughout the state, have a strong support system behind them so they can succeed and that includes building positive community relationships with local first responders and community resources,” Bolling said.
“I do not want to turn on the news and find out any of them were harmed or hurt. Honestly, if I can save these students’ lives by hosting unity events throughout the county, I would have served my purpose on this earth.”
“If Right To Unite can plan more Unity events to build better community relations to ensure children succeed and not fall into the pipeline to prison category or even worse, then it’s fulfilling its purpose, as well,” Bolling continued. “It’s our time to be proactive and be the change we want to see in these communities.”
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