By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Community leaders gathered Friday at Niagara Falls City Hall to talk about issues of discrimination as part of the YWCA's 2013 Stand Against Racism campaign.
The speakers evoked leaders in race relations as the spoke out about America's struggle to overcome racism.
Mayor Paul Dyster joked that the pressure was off for him this year, as he would be reading remarks from former city administrator Bill Bradberry.
Bradberry's words placed Niagara Falls in the history of America's movement towards equality, comparing the quest for an end to discrimination to steering a ship through rugged waters.
"The challenge to steer our vessels through treacherous seas towards the realization of our objective is always a dangerous journey, but well worth it," Bradberry wrote.
Bradberry's speech chronicled some the many important figures in the struggle for equality and the work they did in Niagara Falls including Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. DuBois.
"We shall continue to rise up, to stand up against racism," Dyster said, echoing Bradberry's sentiments.
Friday’s ceremony was part of a citywide recognition of the Stand Against Racism, an annual YWCA event that seeks to bring people of all walks together for a few moments to recognize the dangers of discrimination in any form. Held each year in April, the movement is coordinated locally by the YWCA of Niagara and the YWCA of the Tonawandas. The event involves dozens of YWCA agencies, municipalities and school districts nationwide and asks all adult and child participants to stand up and commit themselves to stamping out discrimination of any kind.
On Friday, Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed spoke about a moving experience he had with his family while visiting the King memorial in Atlanta, Ga.
While sitting and listening to King's speeches, Steed looked at his mother and his son, he said.
"Looking at my mom, we have come a long way," said an emotional Steed. "But, looking at my son I realized we still have a long way to go."
Marjorie Gillies, vice president of the YWCA Niagara's board of directors, said in her years as a teacher in the Niagara Falls School District she saw students and community leaders tackle issues of inequality.
Gillies recalled a group of students who demanded change in the school's curriculum.
"Students at Gaskill Preparatory School were among the first to be involved in the stand," Gillies said. "On their own they went to the board of education and they asked for a whole curriculum change that ensured that every student that's in the Niagara Falls school district would actually learn of all people of color."
Norma Higgs, treasurer of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, said she has seen racism in the community but not in the many community groups she has been a part of over the years.
Those groups have helped to build bridges, she said.
"Neighborhoods are what they are," Higgs said. "A collection of diverse people living side by side in a, hopefully, peaceful coexistence."
Tasha Moore, the regional director of the New York State Division of Human Rights, said standing up for equality takes courage.
"We are modeling courage right now, by gathering today in this room to educate and encourage and remind our community that racism hurts everyone," Moore said.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257