Over the next few months, a couple of events will mark the 20 year anniversary of Billings’ response to the message of hate.
On Wednesday, the local chapter of Not in Our Town will host a party for the public at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, 2317 Montana Ave. The event will start at 6:30 p.m. with wine and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a screening of the documentary “Not in Our Town.” The suggested donation is $20 per person, and if possible, people are asked to RSVP at niotbillings.org or call 661-5961.
California filmmakers Patrice O’Neill and Rhian Miller will be on hand for the screening. After the documentary is
shown, said Eran Thompson, chairman of Not in Our Town Billings, a community discussion will focus on the next 20 years.
“We have a lot to work on,” Thompson said. “Our community’s response has been OK, but has it been enough? Have we taken a strong enough stance?”
Thompson likes the fact that Billings’ story has inspired other cities to take their own stands. He told the story of a mostly black small private school in Boston, where little girls heard the story about the menorah and decided to make their own posters.
They had a contest to see who could make the best one. They took copies of that poster, with the message “Spread the peace” door to door in their neighborhood.
“These kids are trying to stop the violence,” Thompson said. “If you ask them how many of them know someone who has been shot, they could all raise their hands.”
It’s nice to know that Billings inspired those girls to see they could make a difference, Thompson said. But there is always room for growth.
“I love my community and I want to make sure we are focusing on diversity,” he said.
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Then, on June 20-22, Not in Our Town will sponsor a national conference that will bring 300 to 400 people to Billings from around the country. Chuck Tooley, former Billings mayor who was part of the original response to all that happened in 1993, is one of the organizers for the event.
Not in Our Town had its first national conference several years ago in Bloomington, Ill., Tooley said. The conference included workshops and a seminar and invited several Billings people, including Tooley, to address the participants.
When the NIOT board decided to put on a second conference, they initially thought of holding it in a big city.
“The filmmakers thought it would be appropriate to do this 20th anniversary in Billings,” Tooley said.
They asked Tooley to help put together events involving Billings residents. They will include an outdoor Friday night party next to the Western Heritage Center.
“This is an opportunity for us as a community to show the folks attending the conference what Billings is all about,” Tooley said.
He hopes to feature ethnic entertainment, including a Native drum group, some folk dancers and local musicians. The evening will also include local food and beverage booths, and possibly a photo of everyone to commemorate the event.
On Saturday, the initial “Not in Our Town” documentary will be shown at the Babcock Theatre, followed by a panel discussion, which Tooley will lead.
Two other local projects will focus on youth. One will involve a class at West High that will interview and photograph people involved in the 1993 events. They will mount stories and photos for display at the Western Heritage Center. Separately, youth will be involved in reporting on issues that have to do with social justice, as part of a PBS video competition.