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Street Level

How a Lakewood neighborhood is showing solidarity in the wake of hate graffiti


Communities everywhere are reeling in the aftermath of Charlottesville—and Lakewood is no exception. Early yesterday morning, resident Joshua McLaughlin was taking a morning jog down Belle Avenue when he saw swastikas painted on a neighbor’s driveway. Incensed, he took a picture of the vandalism and did what any concerned community member would do. He contacted the city…and then he posted it to Facebook.

The response was immediate, overwhelming and impassioned. Fellow residents offered their help in removing the offensive graffiti, and At-Large City Council member Tom Bullock and representative Nickie Antonio got involved by contacting various city entities—including Lakewood police chief Timothy Malley (who had already been made aware of the incident and taken action). 

But Antonio didn’t stop there. She visited the family whose house had been vandalized, and she also organized a group of children to spread positive messages throughout the neighborhood using sidewalk chalk. The effort spawned the Facebook group “Lakewood Sidewalk Chalk Love,” which has attracted more than 1,500 members in 24 hours. "The kids drew hearts and monkeys and sunshine to tell all our neighbors and passersby that we are a community of love—not the hate depicted by swastika graffiti,” Antonio wrote on her public Facebook page.

Antonio will be the keynote speaker at this Sunday's “No Hate in Lakewood” rally, which was also organized swiftly in response to the Belle Avenue hate crime. The aim? To reinforce the ideal that Lakewood is a “place of multiculturalism, mutual acceptance, and love.”

Action Together Lakewood Area founder Sara Ridley is planning the event, which will also feature other community leaders and performances by local talent along with Antonio’s speech. “There was a rapid response, and we’ve been planning for the last 24 hours,” says Ridley, who also put together the Charlottesville Solidarity event in Public Square on Sunday.

This will be the latest in a series of rallies Ridley has organized since forming the Action Together Lakewood Area group in November “in response to [the results of] the presidential election.” The group—which Ridley says is “true grassroots”—meets once a month for educational sessions on topics ranging from immigration to voting rights, and all are welcome. She hopes that Sunday’s rally will help unify Lakewood and send a zero-tolerance message to those spreading hate. 

“What happened yesterday morning is just not a reflection of what Lakewood is,” says Ridley. "People want to come out and speak out against it. We have the ability and opportunity to provide that for people."
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