By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – During the days following the Nov. 8, 2016, Presidential Election, Karen Fine of Shrewsbury feared that her country was becoming unrecognizable. She has called the United States home since she was 3 and had become a citizen by the age of 10. She rarely thought of herself as an immigrant.
Fine’s parents and their parents before them had fled authoritarian countries (Russia and Apartheid South Africa).
“I knew the warning signs of authoritarianism – scapegoating ethnic groups, demonizing the press, fostering hate. This new administration checked all the boxes,” she said. “The KKK was planning a victory parade. I’m Jewish. These were troubling times.”
She saw a post on Facebook from a woman named Lara Wahl from Upton, who had the desire to start diversity groups in central Mass. This was in response to the increase in hate crimes and reports of children teasing other children about getting deported. Fine thought, “Why not start one in Shrewsbury?”
Through Facebook, Fine found interested like-minded individuals so she booked a meeting room at the library for an initial meeting. She was joined by Sadia Kazimi, Mona Ives and Sarah Jane Frankel. They became the core membership of the Shrewsbury Diversity Coalition. Kazimi created the Facebook Group.
Kazimi was deeply concerned about the emerging rhetoric that surrounded her, a rhetoric that she couldn’t imagine in 2017, in the country she has called home since she was 12.
“As a person of Muslim faith, raising my four beautiful children in our town, I felt it a duty to spread the message of diversity and show to my children that there are many around them that cherish it as much as we do.”
“The group was formed with a goal to create a place for people of all backgrounds – race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, abilities and challenges, gender orientation, family compositions…We’ve had [discussions] on Islam, special needs children, women in activism, community involvement, and bullying,” explained Frankel. “For me, the group was a place where I could bring my daughter to be exposed to others who value diversity and inclusion as a way of life for themselves and their children.”
The first meeting last winter was a great success. Since then, membership has grown and recent meetings have included topics and presenters such as: hijabs, League of Women Voters and information about autism. Numerous officials have attended, including State Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), School Committee Member Jason Palitsch, and special needs activist, Robbin Miller.
The groups’ Facebook page has been very active, with members sharing their stories about diversity, both locally and globally. The group has grown to 350 members. New members are always welcome and the easiest way to join is to request to join the Facebook page.
“It has been comforting for my husband and I to know that there is a supportive network available in our town,” said Fine.