In 1996, Ishamon Harris’ oldest son, Ian, was jumped by skinheads in FDL.
The story made national headlines. Ish was even contacted by the Today Show to do an interview; he humbly declined.
Peggy Breister, from the FDL Reporter, went to visit the Harris family to cover the news angle of the event and “help fix” the problem.
Instead of becoming angry and revengeful, the family wished to deal with the situation in a peaceful way.
Barbara Harris, Ish’s wife, wanted to have an event open to all people who needed support and were disadvantaged in some way.
On Sunday, March 31, 1996, the first article was published. The Harris family received numerous phone calls from people wanting to help, as well as threats. Barb took most of the calls as she did daycare in their home at the time. She still has the notebook with all the hand-written names in it.
Ish contacted his supporters and eventually started arranging meetings at Salem United Methodist Church as the group continued to grow.
On August 9th, 1996, the first community wide peace rally, was held at Lakeside Park, titled “Witness Day.”
There seemed to be a bit of a lapse, but five years later, a group reconvened to discuss what had all happened since the peace rally, and in September 2001, Peacefest was established and incorporated as a 501c(3).
October 2001, Peacefest held their first community event at Lakeside Park. It was a celebration filled with entertainment, games, food, and activities for all. It was attended by several city, county, and state officials.
Early supporters included Clarence Austin, Stella Storch, Jon Flood, Margarita Garfias, Genia Lovett, Robert Scheels, Lewis Rosser, John Lent, and many, many others to include the FDL Police Dept.
In May 2003, Peacefest held another event, this time at Buttermilk Park, called “Together We Sing,” which featured an entire afternoon of musical entertainment – one of the earliest inspirations of “Celebrate commUNITY.”
Early 2003 also marked the start of the Iraq War. With some confusion about the mission of Peacefest and its possible connection with the war, the group changed its name to United for Diversity later that year.
In the spring of 2003, chaired by Lewis Rosser, Study Circles were formed aimed at improving the FDL community’s ability to develop solutions to race and ethnic issues and improve communication and understanding of one another. These circles continued through 2005.
Also in 2004, another UFD initiative began – “We Welcome Diversity.” This campaign started with downtown business, but branched to many others across the city. Over 100 businesses had signed up. There was great support from the FDL Reporter, Marian University students, and others. Businesses signed a covenant, posted a plaque and window decal that you still see today. It is a goal of ours to check in with these businesses on their diversity initiative and re-ignite this program. If this is something you would like your business to be part of, please contact us.
Early 2006, an Advocacy Committee was formed, led by Daisy Frazier and Joan Bowser.
Later that year, in October 2006, under the leadership of Sister Stella Storch, UFD was joined by other diverse groups of the FDL area for an event called The Gathering. Representatives displayed their information and shared their purpose and activities so that we could learn from one another. Over 20 groups were represented.
In 2008, the Comprehensive Countywide Diversity Initiative was created by the County Board with the leadership of Judy Goldsmith and Al Buechel. UFD supported this initiative as well, and sometime in late 2009, we were asked to “join forces” with the county group. After much deliberation, we declined; deciding UFD should stay in independent group with more flexibility and our own control. It turns out, that was a good move. The CCDI dissolved after certain issues of diversity, to include homosexuality, got too uncomfortable for our conservative county.
The first annual CELEBRATE commUNITY event was held in February 2008. It has continued on the 3rd Saturday of every February ever since. In the words of the late, great board member, Carol Kaiser, “it’s more than an event, it’s an attitude.” Booth hosts representing over 30 countries proudly share their ethnic foods to our nearly 1500 visitors for free, yet we reimburse each booth up to $100 at their request. Additionally, the cost to offer such a wide variety of musical entertainment can be as high as $4,000. We suggest a modest $5 admission at the door to help defray some of these costs, but children under 18 are free. The majority of our expenses are covered by the relentless work of Georgiann Froemke’s grant writing and pleas to local businesses for donations. Georgiann IS the heart and soul of this event, and one whom the community owes much thanks to.
In 2011, to mark the 10th anniversary of UFD, the FDL City Council proclaimed February 9, 2011, as “CELEBRATE commUNITY Day” in Fond du Lac. Added to the proclamation was our definition of diversity and vision for FDL which read: Fond du lac is a community of caring people who work to create a healthy, safe, and secure place for people of all geographic, ethnic, economic, religious, sexual identity, age, ability, and other backgrounds to live, work, raise their children and age with dignity. As you might have guessed, the city council did not allow us to include the words “sexual identity” so those words we removed. Yet, we considered this a small victory, and our continued efforts of educating the community continue.
Carol Kaiser passed away October 1, 2012. Carol requested that her memorial funds be designated to the work of UFD. Funds totaling $1165 have been used to purchase books and resources at the FDL Public Library and are planned to be used to purchase a table cover and peace banner to use in parades.
Ish Harris, Jr. passed away January 2, 2013. Money has been raised through fund raising efforts to purchase a park bench with plaque and was installed in the spring of 2014.
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