BY JON CRONIN
The Forest Hills community came out in force on Sunday for a rally held by the Queens Coalition for Solidarity, during which attendees chanted, “Love, not hate, makes America great.”
The Queens Stands Together Rally at MacDonald Park featured speakers from the many faiths of Queens’ diverse community as well as elected officials representing the borough, residents and students who shared their stories of compassion and inspiration.
Imam Shamsi Ali, of the Jamaica Muslim Center, said that he hoped rallies similar to the one in Forest Hills could put “harmony over conflict” and inspire a “new spirit of caring…in our city, country and the world.”
“[The United States] has been the beacon of religious tolerance, [but] is infected by a poisonous season of hate,” he said.
Ethan Felder, a 29-year-old labor lawyer from Forest Hills, coordinated the rally after meeting Mazed Uddin, a Muslim, civic leader, mother of five and Bangladeshi immigrant who inspired Felder when they met at a similar rally three weeks ago in Long Island City.
“We look different, we sound different, worship differently…that is Queens,” said Felder. “This is a borough of family, faith, diversity and tolerance. Our strength is not a pejorative.”
Felder said that when he thinks of immigrants denied entry to the United States, he recalls his friends from high school. He talked of a Muslim friend who is now a doctor and a father.
“An attack on him and his religion is an attack on me, is an attack on all of us,” he said. “To our neighbor lying in fear, we stand with you.”
Felder’s hope is that when people left the park on Sunday, the rally would be only the beginning of their civic activism.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) told rally attendees that New York should not be afraid to advertise that it is a sanctuary city.
“This administration tries to paint the picture, and we know they’re averse to facts, that our diversity is our weakness, but we’re here to say, in Queens and New York City, that our diversity is our strength,” she said. “People come from other countries to succeed and our economy has succeeded because of it.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz dropped by the rally and noted that the United States was built on the backs of immigrant workers.
“Queens is the most diverse area on the planet,” she said. “People all over the world should hear that pride.”
Mohammed Naeen, one of the event’s organizers, said he is the son of two minimum-wage workers. He said he is a Muslim and an American by choice. Naeen, who was born in Pakistan, believes the recent political climate is “an assault on the national conscience and on our freedom.”
Kenneth Shelton, president of the Black Lives Matter chapter at St. John’s University, noted that he was disappointed that the words “black lives matter had yet to be said that day. He reminded everyone that the day of the rally was the five-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death.
“That could have been me,” he said, adding that black people “are often the last in the conversation, but the first to be attacked.”
He noted that “immigrants helped build this country, but slaves built it first.”
Sangida Akhter, of the Muslim Students Association at Townsend Harris High School, said she was happy to see the number of people who turned out for the rally and a sense of community, but recalled a day not too long ago when she and her mother were shopping on Austin Street in Forest Hills. Akhter said while she and her mother were laughing, a man tried to spit on them. The man yelled at her mother to take off her hijab. Akhter said she was shocked, but her mother’s steps did not falter.
“It’s nothing new,” her mother said. “Let’s move on.”