The civic group MooreUnity is trying to bridge divides between Moorestown residents.
Back in February, there was a week where Karen Reiner felt like she was waking up to a new piece of devastating news every day. She said one day she heard about Ku Klux Klan fliers in the neighboring town of Cinnaminson. Another day there was a bomb threat on the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill. She said both the local and national news had her questioning if there was more she could be doing to foster peace.
For that reason, Reiner took to Facebook. She asked residents in a local group if they were interested in actually taking action to foster unity, then they should like her post. She said her post received more than 50 responses within the hour. With that, a group of Moorestown residents came together and MooreUnity was born.
MooreUnity is a civic group whose vision is to “raise awareness of divisive forces in our community and promote inclusion by building bridges across those divides,” according to their vision statement. Reiner said the group is not affiliated with any religious group or political party and is not a nonprofit. She said they’re simply “a group of citizens that want to make a difference.”
“The gist of it was we saw so much happening and knew that we had to speak up and say something and to do something that we can unite,” said MooreUnity member Meredith Butts. “We wanted to show solidarity for those who felt marginalized in our community and surrounding communities.”
The first meeting was held in Reiner’s home. Butts said a group of around 50 people who had never met before came together through Facebook.
Reiner said the first event MooreUnity held was a race relations panel. She said the Moorestown Theater Company, which was working on “Hairspray” at the time, was happy to offer up its space. The panel moderator was 6ABC’s Rick Williams, a Moorestown resident. She said the panel was well-received by those in attendance and fostered a great dialogue.
On Thursday, Aug. 17, MooreUnity held a peace walk along Main Street following the events in Charlottesville. Reiner said more than 150 people came out to walk together. Butts said the scope of what MooreUnity does is loosely defined, but thus far most of MooreUnity’s gatherings have been in response to current events or conversations taking place in town.
On Sept. 18, MooreUnity held a parenting discussion titled “Embracing Special People: How to Talk to Your Child about People with Developmental Disabilities.” A panel of experts — including parents of special needs children — shared their stories and facilitated discussions about helping children interact with compassion when they meet people who have developmental disabilities.
Reiner said the idea for the forum came from a post she saw on Facebook where a Moorestown parent asked who can help them to be a good parent and help their child befriend someone with a developmental challenge. Butts said the discussion was a prime example of just one of many ways MooreUnity hopes to bring people together.
“We see ourselves as helping to connect people in different ways,” Butts said. “We’re not just about disabilities. We’re not just about race. Our community is divided in a lot of ways, and let’s not just be in our separate groups.”
Butts said Moorestown is no different than any other community in America in terms of divisions. She said MooreUnity is facilitating conversations she thinks everyone in the country should be having.
Today, MooreUnity’s private Facebook page has more than 130 members engaging in conversations and planning events. Reiner said she and Butts are trying to grow the group by seizing on the fact that Moorestown is a walkable and engaged community.
MooreUnity is working on its next panel discussion. Butts said on Oct. 25, it will host a discussion on how to engage with children about race issues. She said the panel is still being finalized, but those interested in attending can get updates on MooreUnity’s public Facebook page.
Reiner said anyone is welcome to join MooreUnity. She said members can be actively involved or just come to the discussions. She said the group is open to residents’ ideas about what discussions to have next. She said her hope is MooreUnity may one day spread to neighboring towns.
“My ultimate dream would be that it could be packaged up in a box and the programming that we’ve done could be shared with other neighboring communities to have the equivalent of MooreUnity in other towns,” Reiner said.