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Fundraiser tonight for new Working for Justice group

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Staff from The Fresh Palate gather around a sign on Tuesday welcoming anyone in, unless they have symptoms of COVID-19, homophobia, or racism. From left to right are Rachel Nieves, Andrew Williams, owner Eric Peterson, Troy Muritok, Sarah Campbell, and Tilmont Williams.

ALPENA — Human rights are human rights, and we all deserve to be treated equally.

That’s the basis behind a new group called Working for Justice-Alpena, which will hold its first fundraising event from 4 to 9 p.m. today at the Fresh Palate in downtown Alpena.

The committee, started by Fresh Palate owner Eric Peterson and led by Fresh Palate server and bartender Brittany Blethen, held its first meeting in June. Its purpose is “to eliminate racism, bigotry, and prejudice in our communities” by working “to educate and inspire individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, and businesses to invest in interrupting racism, discrimination, bias, and hate whenever encountered,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

That includes homophobia, Peterson noted.

“We feel like children and adults alike need to be educated on why human rights are truly human rights,” Peterson said. “Because we are all human.”

Tonight’s servers are all on the newly formed committee, and they will all donate their tips toward purchasing books and educational materials for the Boys and Girls Club of Alpena. The Fresh Palate will match the donated tips, Peterson said.

“The Black Lives (Matter) movement inspired me to do something rather than just sit back and stay my white-privileged self,” said Peterson, who grew up in Alpena. “Once I thought about how privileged and easy my life is, I realized I needed to do something for those who haven’t had it so easy.”

He said he doesn’t personally know what oppression feels like, but that no one should have to go through that.

“I’m just a white-privileged white boy from northern Michigan,” he said.

He wants to start a movement to create safe spaces in Alpena where people can feel comfortable, regardless of skin color, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.

“We want to create safe spaces for people to know they’re not going to be treated differently just by entering the building,” said Peterson, who put a sign in front of his restaurant that reads, “Please do not enter if you have symptoms of: COVID-19, homophobia, racism.”

He said he has already received backlash and negative comments from some people, but he will continue to take a stand in the community for equal rights for all people.

He hopes other businesses will follow suit.

Blethen, the server, recalled the first staff meeting at which Peterson explained his idea for the tip nights and inspiring inclusivity and diversity in our community.

“We had our first staff meeting back in June,” she said. “Eric called the staff together to have a conversation about what was going on in the country, especially with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s death, and everything. And he said he wanted to make a change, and he wasn’t sure how to do it.”

George Floyd is a black man whose death earlier this year at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests, riots, and reforms across the country.

Tonight’s fundraiser is the beginning of the change Peterson wants to see, Blethen said.

“We had that meeting, and then we had another one the next week, which brought in people from the community,” Blethen said. “Like people from Family Enterprise, the Thunder Bay Theatre, and then some of our staff decided to carry forward with Eric’s idea. Eventually, the plan is to get other businesses on board with this … and keep promoting that to make everyone feel safe.”

Blethen noted that, since tonight’s event is a fundraiser, cash is the preferred method of payment. Servers have to pay taxes on any credit or debit card transactions, so cash will provide the maximum donation.

“The Fresh Palate is a place where we promote peace and love and kindness,” Blethen said. “That’s what it’s like to work there, and that’s what it’s like to come in and eat there.”

Blethen said a sticker will be posted on the Fresh Palate door saying “you’re welcome” in the colors of the PRIDE flag (rainbow colors).

“It means that people know that they can come to the Fresh Palate and they can be safe and comfortable because they have allies there,” she said. “With our Black community, or our gay community here in Alpena, a lot of people feel like they can’t speak up but they’re not comfortable here.”

She said that’s not fair, and it needs to change.

Educational initiatives the group will work on include working with Thunder Bay Theatre to support and promote programming related to systemic racism, racial injustice, diversity, and inclusion, working with Alpena Public Schools and Alpena Community College to address systemic racism through curriculum, athletics, and extracurricular activities, and implementing anti-racist, inclusive learning opportunities, programming, and policies.

Community involvement will include establishing a diversity and inclusion policy to be shared with community stakeholders. The policy will both protect employees who could be subjected to discrimination and punish any employee that exhibits inappropriate behavior. The group will ask businesses and organizations in the community to require all employees sign the policy. The group will organize and attend events to educate themselves and our community, such as movies at the Bay View Park bandshell, a citywide book club, and attending school functions and community events.

Political action initiatives include: meeting with elected officials and law enforcement agencies to discuss implementing anti-racist and inclusive policies, discussing and ensuring that anti-racist and inclusivity is in play in our local court systems with local judges, and voting and encouraging others to vote.

Blethen said the group’s “primary goal is to educate business owners and then also children, because this starts with kids.”

In addition to Peterson and Blethen, Working for Justice committee members are TBT Artistic Director Lucas Moquin, Family Enterprise owner Cristi Johnson, Jennifer Calery, Carly Zolnierek, Candace Showalter, Dakota Bentley, Griffin Sexton, Thomas Jore, Elizabeth Kissane, Lauren Smith, Courtney Holmes, Nicolle Wieschowski, Melissa Burns, Adrienne Puryear, Grace Reimer, Brad Somers, Saidee Zann Jacobs Homant and Julie Helms-Bastow.

Darby Hinkley is Lifestyles editor. She can be reached at 989-358-5691 or dhinkley@thealpenanews.com.

If you go

∫ WHAT: Fundraiser for Working for Justice-Alpena

∫ WHEN: 4 to 9 p.m. today

∫ WHERE: The Fresh Palate, 109 N. 2nd Ave., inside The Center Building in downtown Alpena

∫ INFO: Servers will donate their tips, and The Fresh Palate will match those donations, to buy books and educational materials for the Boys and Girls Club of Alpena.

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