Peace Offering/Love the Alternative in Sharpsburg
by Nathan Oravec
Hate is wrong.
There exists, however, a sure-fire way to keep it from spreading: Give people something else to do.
So, on Saturday, August 28 in Sharpsburg, MD, while some march to promote negativity - many will be elsewhere, Antietam National Battlefield and Keedysville’s Taylor Park, to be precise, to celebrate diversity; to foster friendship; to enjoy good music; to be, simply, together.
Known as Peace & Unity gatherings, the events are the result of a coalition for tolerance and unity spanning the towns of Sharpsburg and Keedysville, Maryland, with activities planned at respective recreational arenas of both. They are being offered as an alternative to the hype and causality surrounding an organized rally slated that same day. Strange that the unity gatherings, working within their communities for good, remain relatively unknown, unlike their infamous counterpart, highly publicized and much talked about for many weeks prior, for any number of reasons. There is yet another distinction: With Peace & Unity, all are invited.
“A lot of people were thinking about things to do,” says Jerry Randell, Sharpsburg’s Peace & Unity Event Coordinator, “but no one knew how to get started... It was frustrating.” But, love, it is said, finds a way. After a discussion with Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John Howard, Randell was graciously offered space at the park to launch a community concert. A subsequent visit, on the advice of a trusted pastor, to an interfaith meeting of local church leaders where the subject was in contention, led to the gathering’s green lighting. Randell proposed an event on Antietam grounds to include local musicians, food vendors, fun and games. “They said, ‘That’s great. Why don’t you put that together,’” he laughs.
Similarly, Keedysville’s contribution to the cause was made possible largely by the generosity of the town’s Ruritan Club, whose annual festival at Taylor Park also happened to land, this year, on the twenty-eighth of August. When made aware of the coalition’s planned alternative program, the Ruritan Club donated half of its park space to be used for the effort’s Dance Marathon.
According to Shannon French, Coordinator for Keedysville’s Peace & Unity Event, some sound advice came courtesy of a Justice Department specialist who spoke in Keedysville recently on dealing with racial issues. Such specialists, explains Randell, follow rallies harboring potential for breeding discourse within a community wherever they may rise.
The best thing, it was suggested, was to provide a different place for citizens to go, one of neutrality, in an effort to eliminate any possible conflict, while creating a positive feeling and outlet, notes Randell, that offers an option “other than listening to hate.”
It is especially important, in situations like these, to provide such an environment for area youth. “It’s high time,” French exclaims, “that we provided them with something, anyway.”
“There are a lot of people who say, ‘Just ignore the whole thing and it will go away,’” says Randell. “And they’re free to do that.” But it’s rare, he says, that ignoring a problem ever makes it disappear. And if it does - all to often, it comes back.
Instead, Sharpsburg and Keedysville will be privy to two music-filled festivals. Eight live bands will take to the stage at Antietam, with sounds of bluegrass, rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Storyteller Bob Wilhelm will provide a tale; exotic reptiles, wrangled by Mr. Peters, will provide a tail; and the Lions Club will provide concessions for all.
The fun will continue in Keedysville, where a Dance-A-Thon, hosted by DJ Chad Allan of York, Pennsylvania, will have jitterbugs competing for a $500 cash prize. In addition, a classic car show, palm readings, and face painting will round out the festivities, while educational information will be provided from a number of local humanitarian organizations. Food and drinks will be available from the Keedysville Ruritan Club.
The Peace & Unity Events, say their planners, would not have been possible without the selfless involvement of The National Park Service and The Keedysville Ruritan Club, who have been more than willing to provide any and everything necessary for smooth operation, while funds for publicity and advertising were made possible by a grant from The Southern Poverty Law Center.
At 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Sharpsburg’s alternative of love, peace and understanding will begin with an interdenominational prayer & worship service to be held at the Dunker Church at Antietam Battlefield. “Whatever we do will be non-political. It’s going to be a low-key event, not a bunch of strident speakers,” says Randell. “We’re less against anything, and more for [people] enjoying each other.”
Bands for the Sharpsburg Peace & Unity Event, being held at Antietam National Battlefield, include: Treehouse, The Todd Coyle Trio, Contemporary Vibe, Freewheelin’, Slim & Brynda Harrison and The Sunnyland Band, Allegheny Uprising, Steven Wright and Jennie Availa.
For more information, including directions and schedules, visit www.peaceunity.org.