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How the River Wards mobilized in support of Al-Aqsa Islamic Society

A Picnic for Solidarity at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society. December 14, 2015 Category: FeaturedPurpose

Derek Dorsey is not a Muslim, but he felt the pangs that reverberated through the city’s Muslim and Arab-American communities when Al-Aqsa Islamic Society was terrorized with a severed pig’s head earlier this month.

The mosque is not only a place of worship, but also a private school for local Muslim children. Dorsey, who lives a block away from the building and said he has a personal relationship with the mosque and the local Muslim community, felt personally attacked by the act.

“I was truly hurt by what happened, and felt an immediate reaction that I had to do something,” Dorsey said. “There’s no place more precious than where we send our kids to school for their education.” 

So, he took to social media to express his pain and anger. 

Dorsey said an initial post on Facebook calling for the local community to rally behind Al-Aqsa yielded an “overwhelming” number of initial responses.

“I realized I had a platform to move forward,” Dorsey said. “After that, I reached out to neighborhood organizations — South Kensington Community [Partners], Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association and a rich group of young, proactive folks that live in the Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Kensington area. Everyone was willing to be a part of this.”

Led by Dorsey, the coalition reached out to the mosque, first through a phone call. After meeting at the mosque, the group worked on putting together an event. At first, they wanted a “rally.” In the early planning stages, the idea of a rally evolved into something that became more of a celebration of community.

The celebration — “Picnic for Solidarity” — garnered hundreds from across faith, race and socioeconomic spectrums, all sharing in conversation while feasting on a diverse spread of foods. The fear that brought this community together was soon eclipsed by a bond that transcended divisive cultural silos — the same ones that rallied the community in the first place.

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