Mayor Joe Baldacci’s remarks at the church service for Charlie Howard, murdered 33 years ago in Bangor because he was gay:
I first want to thank all of you and the important work being done that reverberates with hope all across our community.
It is important for all of us, as human beings, to remember, to learn from, to never forget, to struggle against the multitude acts of injustice which take place everyday in our world that diminishes us all.
And so it is with the death of Charlie Howard. It has been 33 years but our memories should never forget the horror of his death as well as the injustice done to millions of people since the beginning of time solely on account of who they love.
Why? Why should we never forget? Why should we struggle against the injustices done to others?
As was written in the Bible and as we know from daily life man is a fallen creature. From dust to dust, from ashes to ashes all of us share in the imperfections, the sins, the mortality of a being a human being in this world.
At the same time we share the impulses to raise ourselves higher and closer to the example of our Creator. The ancient lesson of love thy neighbor and to treat others as we would like to be treated is not merely something to be embroidered on a quilt it is to be a reality, a way of life, a necessary function of our want not only to survive but to thrive.
What these ancient lessons should teach all of us is not only tolerance and justice, hand in hand it also instructs us on humility, love, respect, kindness. It is when we, in our humanly imperfect way try to live by these values and not merely give them lip service that we can move forward together as a people.
What we have learned from all of human history is that when we stray or abandon these values the consequences for all of us can be tragic.
As it was centuries ago; so it is still here and now. We are being tested just as prior generations were.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr.declared that, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never can we afford to live with the narrow, the provincial, outside agitator idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered anywhere in this country.’
So let us all remember that for well or I’ll what we do here in Bangor does matter and does send out reverberations of hope or hate to the rest of the world.
And Charlie Howard’s death reverberated not only in Bangor but all around the world. I was a 19 year old delegate to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. I didn’t hear about this tragedy until I woke up the next day in California and it was on the front page top story of every paper. I was personally ashamed of my community. The tragedy rocked Bangor and Maine out of our collective slumber from the hate and degradation too many people had accepted as a ” normal” way to deal with people who are different from us.
In many ways Bangor, thankfully, is a different city than it was 33 years ago. We have passed anti discrimination laws, we have welcomed same sex marriages.
But we are all well aware that we can never rest, never forget, never just sit back in self satisfaction.
Charlie Howard’s senseless murder, continues to reverberate with shame and horror. And we are gathered here to remember and send forth even stronger waves of hope, of love, of justice and tolerance. Because I still believe that hope and justice, that love and tolerance will always ultimately triumph over hate.
I have always believed in the idea that one person can make a difference, that we do does matter to others, that we can choose to be examples of light or darkness to the rest of the world. Just as you have chosen I choose the light.
In today’s world our values of basic human decency toward others are under attack. Human decency is as radical as the Old Testament and as relevant as the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobic fears that we see too often in power when reason, respect and tolerance should be in the lead.
So I have come here not only to thank you but to ask you to fight even harder. And I need your help right here in Bangor, Maine.
I see a City that is strong and proud. That is both prosperous and progressive. I see a City that welcomes people of all Nations, all faiths, of all different backgrounds who all share a common love for America and for working and living together in peace and love with each other.
I see a City where Love Thy Neighbor is a daily reality. I see a City where we come together from all different walks of life and viewpoints and can still work together to build a stronger community for all.
And what each and everyone us does will decide if those hopes. become reality. I am fully confident that this is what Bangor is and can become. Because I have seen it happen before.
I am the grandson of Italian and Lebanese immigrants who came to America to escape the poverty and persecution of the Old World. My father’s parents started a restaurant that ran for 75 years. My mother’s family started a small grocery store on Hancock Street when Hancock Street in Bangor was a melting pot of immigrants and tenement houses. I have seen the kindness and support of so many. I hope our family has returned some positive contributions to Maine and America. And today it is no different: immigrants strengthen and enrich America.
And it can happen again and again.
In Bangor building a Maine Multicultural Center here is not by itself enough but it is a very important step forward. We have to continue to build and reinforce our ancient values of tolerance, respect, justice as an accepted ethos of how to build a stronger community for all.
So I ask for your help in building a Multicultural Center and in making the idea of Bangor as the most welcoming of cities a reality.
I ask each of you to be bright lights of positive energy to overcome the dark so our common humanity can advance.
The legacy of Charlie Howard and of all of those attacked, beat upon, discriminated against should not only be for us to never forget the hate but to keep spreading the love and mercy and justice that will overcome the dark.