Cherry Hill Human Relations Committee discusses wide variety of topics in first community conversation event
The committee answered submitted questions from residents as well as questions from the audience in the first event.
The 17 Cherry Hill community leaders seated on stage inside the Carman Tilelli Community Center last Tuesday night came from different parts of town, were of different backgrounds and faiths and represented a variety of organizations.
The leaders were representatives on the Cherry Hill Human Relations Advisory Committee, a new group formed to address concerns about human rights and equality at the township level. The committee hosted its first community conversation last week.
Township officials announced the creation of the Cherry Hill Human Relations Advisory Committee in March. The committee was created to work with township officials to build relations and dialogue to promote respect for the rights of all residents as well as provide a resource for those seeking assistance in dealing with feelings of threat or fear.
For the first community conversation, the committee addressed questions submitted to the township prior to the event and later opened the floor to the audience.
Mayor Chuck Cahn noted the committee did not know what questions would be asked prior to the event.
“I told the committee that this wasn’t going to be a scripted event,” he said. “This wasn’t going to be an event where we had the questions and they were going to know the answers. They had no idea what the questions were going to be, nor did I.”
The committee was also prepared to answer questions from residents with a wide range of political views.
“We want to hear passionate people of all types,” Cahn said. “So we were prepared to hear all kinds of questions.”
There were numerous topics addressed during the 90-minute discussion. Committee members offered their input on the rights of local immigrants, challenges facing refugees in the community, the state of cultural diversity in Cherry Hill, how to prevent bullying in schools, preventing youth and teen suicide in the community and more.
A few ideas for new initiatives were presented and could be developed further in the future. During a discussion about embracing residents from different backgrounds, Richard Cruz of the Cherry Hill Hispanic Civic Association mentioned how the community should show its pride for the many cultural groups in the community.
“Let’s celebrate diversity,” Cruz said. “Let’s celebrate who we are.”
The discussion eventually led to the idea of a township-wide Diversity Day or International Day. Carusi Middle School principal John Cafagna, representing Cherry Hill Public Schools on the committee, and Councilwoman Carole Roskoph, student activities coordinator at Cherry Hill High School West, both noted the school district hosts International Day events and the township could easily put on its own version for the entire community.
Multiple committee members also encouraged attendees to attack hateful dialogue with positivity. Committee member and Cherry Hill Township Council President Dave Fleisher talked of how residents can put out positive stories about the community to help drown out hate speech.
“How about we double down our effort to dilute the pollution of hatred?” Fleisher said.
Cahn said the ideas brought forward at the forum were exactly what he was hoping to hear when the committee was created.
“When we bring residents together who are passionate, we always get good ideas,” Cahn said. “You can always learn something from someone else. I’m a big believer in learning from others.”
Some committee members shared why they decided to participate in the group. Anita Wade of the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association talked of how the committee was the perfect opportunity for residents to learn about different cultures.
Roskoph talked about wanting to participate on the committee to make sure Cherry Hill remains a culturally accepting and diverse community.
“We’re lucky to be in a community where everyone embraces one another,” Roskoph said. “We need to make sure that doesn’t change.”
A number of committee members felt the conversation held last Tuesday was a great way for the committee to begin interacting with residents. Pat Slater, pastoral associate for The Catholic Community of Christ Our Light, felt the forum was the perfect opportunity for the community to discuss current issues and figure out ways to make the town stronger.
“I think part of our mission is to be proactive,” Slater said.
About 50 community members were in the audience for last Tuesday’s community conversation. The committee is expected to host similar community conversations again in the future. Cahn mentioned the committee is looking to host events about once a quarter and may try to host them in different locations around town. He also hopes more residents will join the conversation at the next committee event.
“I think once the word gets out about what this event is about, more people will come out,” Cahn said.