It’s inarguable that we live in an era of hatred and violence, with political and cultural beliefs pitting humanity against itself.
In an effort to change this negative trajectory and help individuals become more understanding of one another, Building A Better Bensalem Together – a coalition of concerned community members – hosted its 18th annual Unity Week.
The five-day celebration of diversity commenced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 20) and continued through Friday, Jan. 24. A number of houses of worship in Bensalem and Feasterville-Trevose opened their doors to those of all religions, offering special services, which included details about their faith, and lunch/dinner.
Festivities kicked off on Monday morning at 8 a.m. at Parx Casino East, where B3T members, residents and elected officials convened for a buffet breakfast. Emceeing the event was Ron Davis, Parx Casino’s Director of Diversity and Community Development.
“B3T has changed not only this area in Bensalem, but it’s changed the world,” he said. “It’s a message of love, of hope and togetherness.”
Michelle Saldutti, a member of B3T’s Diversity Committee, provided a bit of background on the coalition, which was founded in 1998. In addition to Unity Week, it hosts Prescription Drug Take-Back, Celebration of Culture and Students Against Destructive Decisions at both Bensalem middle schools.
“The mission of Building A Better Bensalem Together is to motivate and organize the community by providing resources and building skills to reduce substance abuse and other adolescent problem behaviors using proven programs and strategies,” she said. “In other words, to help to provide our children and our grandchildren with the opportunity to create a life and drug-free community.”
The theme of 2020’s Unity Week was “Passing the Faith to the Younger Generation.”
“Unity is the desire of the youngest citizens,” Saldutti said. “Challenges abound in our world. Every one of our neighbors has been affected in some manner. Unity Week offers us all the opportunity to reinforce the strength of our shared commitment to diversity and unity.”
Saldutti invited honored guests Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, Director of Public Safety Fred Harran and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick to say a few words.
“What an honor to be part of this team in Bensalem, to lead the way in diversity,” said DiGirolamo. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, and I still haven’t seen anybody emulate what we do here in Bensalem.”
Harran, a co-chair on B3T’s executive board, echoed DiGirolamo’s sentiment, explaining how Bensalem Township Police Department is working with the FBI to ensure all houses of worship are safe, and that visitors can pray in peace.
“If we could do this throughout Bucks County, then we could ensure that Bucks County would be the safest county in America,” he said.
Fitzpatrick agreed that of the 54 municipalities in Bucks County, Bensalem is the only one that dedicates an entire week to upholding the legacy of King. He shared with the crowd his favorite King quote – “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“He [King] gave us a very profound definition of character,” said Fitzpatrick. “He defined character as the things that we do and the decisions that we make when nobody else is watching.”
Several individuals and groups were then given the Champions of Diversity Award. According to Davis, criteria included “promoting respect, supporting inclusion, creating opportunity for all, valuing uniqueness of individuality and demonstrating significant impact on the community.”
Recipients were Chris Smylie, Parx Casino’s Team Member Communications and Event Planner; Bensalem Lions Club; and Bensalem Relay for Life. Toby Kahn, the B3T Diversity Committee Chair, was also singled out for her efforts.
After the award distribution, guests heard from Bensalem High School student Erin Mulhern, who won B3T’s essay contest on what unity means to teens. Mulhern shared a powerful message that went far beyond her years.
“We only see the flaws or differences someone has, rather than seeing how similar we truly are,” she said. “When there’s teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved. Unity is more than just accepting. It is also about acting and paying back to the world. Together, nothing would be impossible. We are all human at the end of the day.”
Houses of worship that participated in Unity Week included Love Fellowship Tabernacle, Linconia Tabernacle, Bensalem Presbyterian Church, St. Gregorios Malankara Orthodox Church, ShreeNathji Haveli Temple, Mongkoltepmunee/Buddhist Temple, Faith Unity Islamic Organization, Bensalem AME Church, Congregation Tifereth Israel Synagogue and St. Ephrem’s RC Church.
Attendees were asked to bring non-perishable food items, baby care products or toiletries to any of the events. All items collected throughout the week will be donated to area food pantries.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org