Fishtown Parents Turn Hate Into Hope
Let the Light In: A swastika on a playground bench sparked a neighborhood movement.
When someone painted a swastika on a bench at the Shissler Recreation Center playground recently, one mom put out the alarm on Facebook. Neighborhood families started with the basics: they called 311 and reported it.
But even though the hateful symbol scrawled in white paint was removed almost as soon as it was noticed on November 11, that was only the beginning of the local conversation.
Beth Huxta Conant said she was group texting with friends, discussing the Facebook post that originally reported the graffiti, when a friend, Lauren Kogen, hit on a plan: turn the squared-off swastika shape into a window with flowers, a la Orange Is the New Black (when a character’s swastika arm brand gets the same treatment).
Conant jumped on the idea, posting in a Facebook group for Fishtown moms that she’d be at the park at 10 am November 12, and asking for helpers. She got there early, around 9, and just started drawing: first, a window in chalk on the bench where the swastika had been, then more, radiating out from the bench.
“We talked with a lot of members of the community who were there to play, and some moms and dads helped us spontaneously after we told them what happened and why we were doing it,” she said in an email interview.
Kids at the playground — some younger than 2 — admired the work, and some even helped. Others joined in after 10, including Jenn Nicholas, who thought up the hashtag #LetTheLightIn. By the time the group was done, chalked squares spread out from the bench and out on to the rest of the playground. They left behind some chalk and a simple instruction: Add more.
Since then, Facebook and Instagram posts have spread not just through Fishtown, but around the city.
Conant said she and her husband have been living in Fishtown for almost seven years, and have a 2 1/2-year-old son. They love the neighborhood’s diversity, she said — something many in the area have noted in Facebook conversations.
She’s lived in the city since she was in college, and said she’s heartbroken by the hateful graffiti and other incidents that have happened in other parts of Philadelphia since Election Day.
“My hope is the other community members who have been feeling the same way that I have — helpless, lost, frustrated, angry, and sad — will go there with some chalk and continue drawing these symbols,” she said.
The response to the graffiti, from the original Facebook post to the window drawing and beyond, was a true community effort, Conant said. She hopes the sentiment spreads well beyond the neighborhood and the city.
“We want to send a message of light, love, hope, solidarity, and unity, especially to those most directly affected by the acts of hate that have taken place across the country,” Conant said. “It’s a peaceful way to stand up and reject hate.”
Want to get involved? Kiley Bates-Brennan, another local mom, is bringing the project to Northern Liberties. She’s organized an event at Liberty Lands Park at 10 am on Sunday, November 20. Bring your kids and your chalk!
Photographs courtesy of Beth Huxta Conant.