More than 200 people came out to the Cartersville Civic Center Saturday evening for the Second Annual Unity Table Dinner, an event co-hosted by United Voices for Humanity and Masjid Quba Islamic Center of Cartersville.
"This is just bringing people together to show them that regardless of our race, our color, our creed or our background, wherever they come from, we share the same values and we're actually here to stand united as one," said event organizer Nassim Baksh. "Because united together, we can accomplish a whole lot."
Several guest speakers presented at the event, including local attorney Anthony Perrotta, Bartow Diversity Open Forum founder the Rev. Louis Tonsmiere and Bartow branch NAACP President the Rev. W.J.E. Coombs.
"Bartow County and Cartersville have a lot of great things going on for them," said Natalie Goodwin, one of the coordinators for United Voices For Humanity. "This is a way we can celebrate diversity, come together and just extend a hand and say 'hello, neighbor, nice to meet you.'"
Speaker Quincy Jackson retired from the U.S. Navy after a 24-year career in the military. He said time wasn't just a commonality shared by all people, but a precious commodity as well.
"The time we take with each other is very important," he said. "We shouldn't abuse it, we shouldn't misuse it, but we should think about what we can do with our time to come together as a community to bring us out of this separation."
Another speaker, Masjid Quba Vice President Ehson Najim, recounted migrating from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to the United States in 1998, and how local groups and organizations such as Heritage Baptist Church came together to help his family.
"They made everything available for us," Najim said. "A house, transportation, an education for my kids, work for me and my wife, they helped us."
He said he is dismayed that refugees, 20 years later, aren't getting the same welcome that he and his family received.
"Whatever your religion, if you believe in God and if you want to go to paradise, please make that paradise, before you go to paradise, on the earth for everyone," he told the audience.
Another immigrant who took to the podium was Hashim Ahmadani, a Bartow County Sheriff's Office deputy. Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, he migrated to Cartersville in 2002 when he was 16.
"Since then, I have been accepted in this community and I am really, really appreciative of the people," he said. "Ultimately, we may have different religions and different cultures, [but] we all have one thing in common, which is we are humans."
Ahmadani mentioned several life lessons he was taught by his mother, who died earlier this month.
"She always told me do good things for others," he said. "Money is not going to be worth anything in the end, your house is not going to be worth anything in the end, your car is not going to be worth anything in the end ... all you're going to take to your grave is what you did for the community."
He encouraged attendees to heed his mother's words of wisdom.
"You can make a difference in the community, you will make a difference in the community and guess what? You must make a difference in the community," he said. "If you don't, the other person will think somebody else will do it and the train will keep going on and nobody will do it."
Georgia Alliance for Social Justice Executive Director Janel Green said she was "fighting against a narrative of 'Make America Great Again,'" questioning exactly who America was being made great again for.
"Has America been great for all of you or have you had experiences throughout time or through your ancestors' time that America hasn't been that great?" she said. "Ignoring the wounds of the past and even the present does no one any good, other than to reinforce the status quo and to continue the struggle that we continue to have for equality for all people."
Still, she said events like the civic center function held over the weekend was a vital first step to addressing — and remedying — deep-seated social issues in the community.
"I firmly believe that sitting together at the table breaking bread together is the most important way to change people's minds and to develop community," she said. "Because when you look someone in the eye and you have those shared experiences and you have that mutual understanding, you can actually have some of those difficult political conversations."
Baksh echoed Green's sentiments.
"It's up to us as individuals to try to understand each other and try to get a better feel of each of our backgrounds," he said. "If we can understand each other's backgrounds, we could live better in harmony."