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Riverhead is, and has always been, a melting pot of nationalities. Our town’s DNA has traces of Italy, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Africa, England, China, South America, India, Syria, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Korea, England, Scotland, Japan, as well as the indigenous tribes here before any others. We are the home of Polish Town, USA. We are different but the same.

We all call Riverhead home. We share the roads, our children go to the same schools, we shop in the same stores, enjoy the same beaches, riverfront, parks and playgrounds. We all want the same things: family and good friends, a happy home, our health. We want to feel safe. We want our children to have a life as good, or better, than our own.

We share common ground, but no two of us are exactly alike. Some are taller, shorter. Some are dog lovers, some prefer cats or both or neither. We worship in temples, churches, mosques or in our own way. We have different coloring. We have brown hair, red or black, white hair, no hair. We have different tastes in music and art. We love sushi, curry, empanadas, paella, kielbasa or all of it. But some of what makes us different — beliefs, traditions, language, appearance — can create misunderstanding, fear or even hostility.

We can conquer fear by removing the unknown, clearing up misunderstandings, learning what we don’t know. It begins as easily as meeting the people next door, the family down the street, the children at the bus stop. We can offer to lend a hand when we see a need. We can say hello when we pass on the street or in a store. We can have the courage to step outside our comfort zone of what’s familiar and speak to people who don’t look or sound like us, but who want the same for their families. This is how we can gain understanding and bring our community together. One person, one conversation, one smile at a time can take down the wall that keeps us separate.

Recognizing our similarities, respecting our differences, and making any effort to bridge the gap will be a giant step forward in making Riverhead the strong, united community that we all call home.

This is submitted on behalf of the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force, a non-partisan group of citizens, government officials, law enforcement representatives, educators and clergy working to address prejudice, encourage understanding and promote unity for the greater good of Riverhead and all of Long Island.

Connie Lassandro is chairperson of the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force. She lives in Baiting Hollow.

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