HIGHLAND — Micah Jennette, megaphone in hand, stood in front of about 125 people Sunday afternoon at Wicker Memorial Park and spoke out against discrimination.
"I'm Micah, and I want to talk about how racism is not good," he said, before detailing the racial bullying faced by his black adopted brother. "I'm sorry this is happening to him, it's just crap. ... All we're going to do is keep on fighting."
Micah got perhaps the biggest ovation at a gathering to stand up to hate, a day after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly when a driver barreled into counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 people.
People at the Highland vigil held signs with such messages as "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," "Hate has no home here" and "RIP Heather Heyer," and spoke out against what they see as a rise in hate speech in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as president. Saturday's rally in Charlottesville against that city's removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee drew such groups as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
"We've gotten to a point where racism has gotten emboldened by the atmosphere of the country ... by the atmosphere the president has set in this country," said the Rev. Cedric Howard, of Goodwill Baptist Church in East Chicago. "They don't wear masks anymore. Racism is overt."
The response, he asserted, has been the largest upswell of political activism in America since the 1960s.
"We're not supposed to be divided and conquered," said Alex Watkins, of East Chicago, one of the planners of Sunday's rally. "We're supposed to be ascending as one."
Organizers were impressed with the turnout at the event, since it was only announced on Facebook at around 9 p.m. the night before. The vigil included a diverse mix of ages, races, genders and species (there were several dogs in attendance). Organizers weren't aware of any counterprotesters at the rally, at least any who made their presence known.
"America is a place of immigrants, the descendants of slaves and indigenous peoples," said the Rev. Cheryl Rivera, of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Religious Organizations. "There is no place for what we saw (Saturday). There is no place for KKKs. There is no place for Nazis. There is no place for folks who are about white nationalism. We are about inclusion in America."
The event was hosted by local social justice organizations like NWI Resist, Indivisible NWI and Black Lives Matter Gary.
"There are times to turn the other cheek. Now is not the time," said the Rev. Marie Siroky, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary. "I'm not advocating violence. It is time for a spiritual resistance in this country."
Activists said Sunday they're ready to protest any white nationalist rallies in Northwest Indiana. Those events would likely require permits because of the additional security required, so the activists would have time to plan.
"We haven't been made aware of any alt-rightness in the Region," said L.E. Whitman, of NWI Resist. "If that changes, we will go down that road."
Lorrell K., of Black Lives Matter Gary, led the crowd in a chant.
"Charlottesville means ..." she called out.
"We got to fight back!" they answered.
"Because Indiana means ..."
"We got to fight back!"
"Because racism means ..."
"We got to fight back!"
"Because fascism means ..."
"We got to fight back."
"We got to do what?"
Nearby, on a glorious summer day in Northwest Indiana, people played tennis and walked their dogs, seemingly unaware of the passions being displayed at the park's veterans memorial. "If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention," read one protester's sign.
Micah's mother, DeAnn Jennette, said she normally tries to shield her kids from the news because it's so traumatizing. On Sunday morning, she couldn't.
She said Micah cried over what happened in Charlottesville. He couldn't understand how people would turn to violence because they didn't agree with someone else's views.
So the family decided to attend Sunday's rally in Highland, their second after the pro-immigration "Welcoming Valparaiso" march in February. They might make it a habit.
"This gives us something to do ... to be able to participate in the solution of spreading love, not hate," she said.