NEW BEDFORD – Build bridges, not walls.
That was the advice of city leaders and clergy members Sunday at an interfaith worship service at North Baptist Church on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“We have a patriotic duty to end hatred and xenophobia,” said Bruce Rose, president of the New Bedford NAACP. “Understanding and empathy make us less likely to fear each other.”
That fear, he said, “makes us more vulnerable to hate mongers,” he said.
Bridges can get built, he said, but “construction of these bridges requires commitment and effort from each and every one of us.”
New Bedford has been blessed with rich diversity, said Rev. Christopher Morck of Grace Episcopal Church. That diversity reflects ethnicity, races, languages, sexual orientation, cultures and customs, he said.
“We need not just to tolerate each other but to build mutual respect,” he said. “Our city can be an example of what is possible. Let us strive to see each other as brothers and sisters.”
The youngest speaker at the service, Yannick Almeida, a 16-year-old student at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School, made a compelling call to action in a world he said was filled with “negative energy. People don’t understand what love is, how love connects us.”
He said people should recognize that “there is only one race. I classify it as human.”
But with a world “wrapped up in greed” where innocent people are killed, he said he is worried. “I’m told I am the future,” he said. “How are we going to be the future if there is no future for us?’
Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro urged people to make connections every day. “Be vested in our community,” he said. Meeting someone new – a neighbor, a store clerk – can help develop mutual understanding, he said.
“Every day, be kind to everyone,” he said.
He said the sacrifices of the civilians and first responders should not be forgotten. The best way to honor those who were killed on that devastating day 15 years ago is “by being the best person you can be.”
Rev. David Lima of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford ended the event with a call to action.
He urged everyone to meet someone new. “Get to know them,” he said. “When we get to know them, it starts to break down the walls.”
Understanding different cultures and learning new languages can help strengthen the bridges being built, he said.
“Let’s make a difference,” he said. “And it starts with me.”