The founder and executive director of an Oak Ridge chapter of the national Not In Our Town organization will be the featured speaker at a community forum in September.
The “Not in Our Town” presentation by Valerie Holland Hughes will start at 11 a.m. Monday, September 8, at Grace Covenant Church. It’s sponsored by the Women’s Interfaith Dialogue.
Grace Covenant Church is at 320 Robertsville Road in Oak Ridge.
Hughes began working to establish the Oak Ridge group just over a year ago, a press release said. Her goal has been to ensure that Oak Ridge is a community that models “safety, acceptance, and inclusion as an effective method to address hatred, bullying, and violence.”
The press release said Hughes and NIOT members in Oak Ridge traveled to Billings, Montana, birthplace of the movement 20 years ago, to attend a national gathering of NIOT chapters from June 20-24.
The movement was sparked by a “hate crime” in which someone threw a brick through a window displaying a menorah. It had been placed there by a young Jewish boy in observance of Passover. The local newspaper published the story and a paper menorah. Overnight, 10,000 windows blossomed with menorahs.
The incident prompted some Billings residents to create the group “Not in Our Town.” The organization now boasts more than 100 community chapters.
Speaking of her experiences growing up, Hughes said: “As an Air Force brat, (I) moved once a year for almost 15 years. Always having to make new friends was a challenge since I was usually the only black child in the school. And having the last name of Butts, I know what it feels like to be bullied and excluded.”
Hughes said she overcame her social challenges by mastering public speaking, theater, and later, film and television. She worked professionally on Broadway and behind the scenes with production companies such as Nickelodeon, Disney, MGM, Children’s Television Workshop, and Henson Productions.
She has lived in Oak Ridge for eight years, and in addition to her commitment to NIOT, she is now a professional organizer with her own company, TheClutterFly.com. The September 8 forum is free and open to the public.