By Nathan Stephenson
If you found the recent defacement of the Islamic Center of Omaha (ICO) upsetting, you are not alone. UNO student Brendan Leahy, frustrated by the vandalism, used it as an opportunity to bring people together to extend their support to the Omaha Muslim community.
On Nov. 17, a member of the ICO’s cleaning crew discovered a spray-painted symbol of the Eifel Tower in the center of a peace sign on an outside wall of the building near 72nd and Pinkney Streets.
“Somebody took what happened in France and decided to send a message which pretty much says, ‘You’re not welcome here,’” Leahy said.
In response, Leahy created a Facebook event inviting people to join him at his apartment to write letters and bring flowers to be delivered to the ICO.
“It was an open invite because I figured anyone who wanted to do something like this should,” Leahy said. “Then there were 1,200 invites sent on Facebook after two days. So I had no idea what to expect.”
Ultimately, about 40 people participated in writing letters for the ICO. A diverse collection of people came out to show their support including Leahy’s friends, family and people he didn’t know personally.
“It’s not that hard to write a letter and say ‘I know that people are trying to make you feel unwelcome, saying the Muslim community doesn’t have a place in the Omaha community, but that’s not the Omaha I want to live in,’” Leahy said.
He hopes the gesture will help the Omaha Muslim community feel safe and welcome.
“Hate spreads, fear spreads,” Leahy said. “They’re really contagious emotions, but I think love can also be a contagious emotion.”
When Leahy delivered the letters to the center Sunday evening, along with several flower bouquets, he discovered that someone else had already delivered flowers independent of his group.
“I did encourage some of the people who couldn’t make it to write letters on their own and send them,” Leahy said. “Hopefully, people do.”