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Coming Together As One

Like many in our community, we were horrified when we learned of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Our thoughts were with the victims of this act of terror, along with all members of the Jewish community, both here in Western Pennsylvania and across the country.

When the opportunity arose for us to participate in a vigil for the victims organized by the Westmoreland Diversity Coalition and Voice of Westmoreland, we were grateful for the chance to not only take a stand against the hatred and anti-semitism that led to this violence, but to offer our counseling services for anyone who may have been affected by the crime.

As the agency in Westmoreland County that is the voice for victims of all types of crime, Blackburn Center is able to not only offer its services, but a perspective on the root causes of these types of violent crimes. At the vigil, the president of our Board of Directors, Sheila Confer, spoke passionately about the shooting — and how Blackburn Center is committed to end all violence:

We stand together tonight with our Westmoreland County community in mourning and in unity, in our commitment to continue Blackburn Center’s work to end violence, and in our resolve to support those who are impacted by this horrific act.

Blackburn Center’s mission is to engage the community in dialogue about what it will take to end all forms violence, while providing for the well-being of those whose lives have been touched by this violence.

At Blackburn Center, we know the violence we see on a daily basis is hard to bear — so the enormity of what people in Squirrel Hill had to deal with on Saturday is unimaginable.

We also know that the magnitude of the shooting will play itself out over the next several months in many ways for people who were directly and indirectly impacted by this event. Be mindful of that and seek help if you need it, and be a help to someone in your life if they need it. We have brought information tonight about our services – which are available at no charge to you, and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

American journalist photographer and humanitarian, Ruth Gruber said “Everyone can look inside his or her soul and decide what he or she can do to make a world at peace, to end this fighting that goes on every day around the world.”

And we ask that you make a commitment today to an action you can take to support efforts to end this violence. Make this a lifelong commitment so we can turn the tide and no longer accept this kind of violence as inevitable. That’s the only way we’re going to see real change in our communities.

Through this tragic event, we are reminded of the urgency to build and sustain our community as a home that will welcome, embrace, and protect future generations. At Blackburn Center, we are so grateful to be part of work of the Diversity Coalition and all other groups here tonight.

We were heartened to see so many members of our community come together as one. Standing together in the cold, more than 550 people lit candles, listened to powerful words from local leaders, cried — and stood up against hate.

We know that there is much work to be done to combat the type of hatred that fuels anti-semitism, racism,

homophobia, misogyny, and all other types of violence. We strongly believe that by working together, we can make a difference. The vigil was a first step; it is up to us to continue the work so that we can see a change in our society.

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