Cultures, religions gather at City Hall in response to hate crimes

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Below the portraits of Kingston’s past leaders, different religions and cultures united for a night of music at City Hall on Monday night — all because of a Grade 7 project.

Lakeshore student Samanntha Springer was given a personal project assignment at the beginning of the school year, and she wanted to do something in response to hate crimes like the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting that saw 11 killedlast October.

“There’s been lots of hate crimes and discrimination recently, and I thought it’d be important to educate people to create awareness, acceptance and peace,” she said.

Springer, who had gone to camp with some of the children from the Tree of Life Synagogue, began planning the Interfaith and Diversity concert in the winter.

“I wanted to do something based upon tolerance and kindness and respect for one another,” she told Monday night’s packed audience.

Springer met with community leaders and organizations to plan the concert, which featured performances from several different cultures and a message from Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen.

“I couldn’t have done it without all their support,” she said.

Elder “Grandmother” Laurel Clause Johnson opened the ceremony before spiritual leaders from the Jewish, Islamic, Bahai, Sikh and Christian faiths offered prayers.

The performances were dynamic, ranging from Chinese poetry and Modern Indian Dance to the Irish Fiddle Sisters and the Kyoko Ogoda and Kings DON Taiko Japanese Drumming group. Younger members of the community took the stage for acts by the Arabic Language School and the Ecole Madeleine-de-Roybon children’s choir.

Kingston’s Sisters of the Drum asked the audience to sing a Mi’kmaq welcoming song with them, which translated from Haudenosaunee to “my heart welcomes you.”

“We are not entertainers, we are not a choir,” they told the crowd. “We are interactive.”

Rabbi Daniel Benlolo, who co-hosted the event with Springer, also had the audience singing along to classics such as Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Springer herself took the stage to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” alongside her best friend, Sharah Essadam.

“I thought it was a really important song,” Springer said after the event. “It’s about how beautiful this world could be.”

Clause Johnson, a self-proclaimed Beatles fan who cried during Springer and Essadam’s performance, later compared Springer to Greta Thunberg, a teen climate change activist from Sweden.

“I really believe young women can change the world,” she said.

Springer dedicated the event to victims of hate and will donate proceeds from the concert to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.