The Educational Alliance, a non profit that offers social services, unveiled a mural called, “We the People” Monday morning at the Manny Cantor center on East Broadway in downtown Manhattan to kick start the group’s new community outreach program of the same name.
The mural features the opening line of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The line is written in English, Chinese, Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic.
The president and CEO of the institution, Alan van Capelle, attended the event and pointed out that Lower East side neighborhood has historically been the point of departure for immigrants, setting foot here first and moving from poverty to affluence in a generation or two. The area has strong presence of major communities like the Irish, Jews, Chinese and multiple other countries.
“It is in these buildings that good people came together, speaking many languages, all with one goal to become good American, to practice citizenship, to be neighbor to one another and to understand that this is the greatest city in the great country the world has ever known,” Cappelle said.
A diverse group of New Yorkers from the Lower East neighborhood joined by dozens of parents and kids that participate in the center’s educational programs attended the launch.
Capelle said that the initiative is a response to many incidents that have occurred since November in the neighborhood. “They believe they can see a woman in hajib, and go up to her and say Islamophobic things to her, they believe they can hear a teacher in a coffee shop speaking Farsi to her parents and tell her to go back home, they believe they can see two young men holding hands down east Broadway and call them derogatory names, they believe they can take a swastika and plaster it to a building in this city and no one would say anything,” he said.
The mural art was created by the conceptual artists Michael McDevitt and Otis Kriegel of Illegal Art. It will be up on the same wall in the alliance’s main lobby for the next two months and visitors are welcome to sign it. Hundreds have already signed it. Joanna Samuels, the executive director of the Manny Cantor Center said the idea is to let everyone know that they are a part of the narrative of the country that has its roots in this phrase on the mural.
To complement the mural, the alliance plans to host series of events, community forums and workshops around anti-violence, self-defense and immigrant rights themes. The first: “Know Your Rights” forum, to be held in partnership with the Mayor’s Office on Immigration Affairs, is set to take place this Wednesday.
Jose Ortiz, a retired federal government worker and a resident of the Lower East Side, also distributed stickers that say “Welcome” in five different languages. Organizers encouraged participants to paste the stickers in places of business to encourage people to work together and feel welcomed.
Echoing the new president’s campaign slogan, Ortiz said, “it’s inclusion that makes America great.”