Stand up. Speak Up. It’s your turn.
When I first sat down to write this story, I was disheartened and sad. I had witnessed an exchange that was so striking in how it made me — and other people — feel, how powerless I felt and where it came from. The exchange happened at the mayoral forum on Oct. 7 at Hillside Middle School and the words were spoken by Mayor Ted Gatsas. In response to a question from a man who identified himself as an immigrant, who asked whether Ted Gatsas would be more flexible and embrace the diversity that refugees bring to a community, because the speaker felt that Ted Gatsas has been a disappointment in his stance on trying to restrict refugees coming to Manchester.
Mayor Gatsas thanked the man for his question, touted the EL program in Manchester, touted the Bring It program and, after not answering the man’s question at all, said: “I respect that you call yourself an immigrant, but I think you’re a refugee. There’s a difference.”
When I left the forum, there were students walking behind me from the Bring It program. They were students from the nursing program offered at Bring It, and had taken the opportunity to see the “political process,” and learn how they will need to be involved in what is happening in their communities as health professionals. They were so upset. Mayor Gatsas had just marginalized them by telling them they were not immigrants, but rather refugees. Left to infer a negative connotation? Mayor Gatsas’ tone was certainly negative when he said it. I stopped to talk to them and they mentioned their upset. I told them that what was said was not okay. I felt horrible. The next day, I called school Superintendent Debra Livingston to let her know what happened, and asked her to follow up with those students. I also wrote to the principal of Hillside Middle School, Brendan McAfferty, and called Jodi Harper, who runs the Bring It program.
How, in 2015, in the city of Manchester, where there is so much diversity, is the leader of this city making such a disgusting comment? Does there need to be a distinction made about how a person got to New Hampshire? What was the point of that statement, other than to make the man feel bad?
And then the School Board meeting happened. It turns out that I was not the only person who was really disappointed in Ted Gatsas’ words. Speaking during the Public Comment section of the meeting were several Manchester residents, students (even a student from Bring It!) teachers and administrators. All of the speakers come from very diverse backgrounds. Some came as immigrants, some as refugees, all as US citizens. There was however, a common theme. What Ted Gatsas said was uncalled for, unwarranted, insulting and hurtful.
The community members who spoke out are my heroes. I was sad because I thought I was going to write a story with a sad outcome. A big man made a bunch of people feel small. Instead, I get to write about some amazing people who weren’t afraid to come forward to speak out against one man. Unfortunately for Manchester, that man is the current mayor.
Manchester needs a leader who leads. What we do not need is a leader who denigrates and makes others feel small. Manchester needs a new mayor.
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Kate Turner Desrochers lives in Manchester with her two daughters. She attended Manchester public schools and serves on the school board for Ward 11.