WEST TOWN — More than 150 parents and their children gathered Thursday night on a West Town school's playground to rally for love and positivity after a local family who employs a black nanny was targeted in a anonymous, hate-filled letter.
The all-ages "Stand Up To Hate" play date at Talcott Fine Arts Academy, 1840 W. Ohio St., was organized by two local mothers, Maria Ippolito and Heather DeJonker, who work with nanny Ferrai Pickett.
On Oct. 16, an unknown person placed an unstamped letter in Heather DeJonker's mailbox. The author of the letter wrote that she needs to fire Pickett "because otherwise it looks like she is your modern-day mammy."
"Please take heed to the advice being shared in this letter, find a new nanny. We do not need an infestation in our community," the letter says.
First Ward Ald. Joe Moreno described the letter as "repulsive."
DeJonker, Ippolito and Pickett drafted their own letter in response to the letter writers.
"After this story came out, and I was flooded with messages of support, I thought why waste my time reading it?" Pickett said. "I can focus on the positive outcome of this [play date] and all of the nice and generous people who came out. That's what keeps me focused."
The main messages Pickett wants the children she watches to know is to, "Say no to hate" and "You get further in life when you are kind," she said.
In solidarity, Ippolito, DeJonker and Pickett wore "kindness is always cool" T-shirts, and several adults and kids participating in the play date wore red heart stickers with the phrase, "Make America Love Again."
The anonymous letter dropped into DeJonker's mailbox apparently referred to President Donald Trump, who ran on a "Make America Great Again" platform, saying it's "amusing" that the nanny's employer is "trying to rebel against the greatest leader this country has ever seen" by hiring her.
Left: Maria Ippolito, Ferrai Pickett and Heather DeJonker at the Stand Up To Hate Play Date.
Children's musician Mr. Dave donated a free concert, and parents from St. Helen's School donated candy and cupcakes, which children enjoyed while they wrote messages of love and positivity on construction paper links.
Ukrainian Village mom Pamela Hewett said she felt compelled to participate in the event with her 15-month-old son, Alder, after reading comments accompanying the story about the letter on DNAinfo.
"I had to show up. I could not believe people were doubting this and calling it a hoax. We all should be here to let people know there is no room for hate in this neighborhood," Hewett said.
West Town mom Shegu Mahbub said she was disappointed that a letter like the one sent to DeJonker, which was signed "Concerns Ukrainian Village Moms," could be written by a member of the community.
"I believe people in America can send hateful messages like that, but not in Ukrainian Village, not this neighborhood. It's all about diversity — people of color represent the neighborhood. There is zero tolerance for hate. We told our daughter that today is about love. We play here all the time on this playground, and today we're celebrating love," Mahbub said.
Amanda Pickett, Ferrai Pickett's sister, came out with her 9-yer-old son Trayvon to support her sister and Trayvon's aunt.
"Racism is not just happening here; it's happening across the world. But right now you can sense the love, you can feel it," Amanda Pickett said.
To the person who wrote the letter, Moreno said: "We don't want you in our country, let alone in our area."