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A respectful crowd of about 75 people gathered outside the Old Courthouse on Carlisle’s Square on Saturday afternoon for the Carlisle Unity Rally, a first-time event initiated by two Carlisle High School students.

“This is largely a symbol, a gesture, really, to let everyone know that Carlisle supports them and especially with students taking the lead, it sends a message that people can be a part of the community no matter who they are,” said Carlisle High School sophomore class president Michael Smith, who organized the event with Carlisle 12th-grader Baltasar Bruno.

Smith and Bruno began organizing the event in December to fight what they perceive as an ongoing division not only in the community, but also in the nation in general.

“There’s something very present in our culture that American people need to feel that they’re on one side of an issue," Smith said. "There’s too much pressure to be on one side and nobody feels comfortable being the middle."

Joanne Shoff of Carlisle said she came to watch the rally because, “I just believe that everyone should have equal rights and not be persecuted for their beliefs, sexual orientation or whatever. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe in.”

Katherine McFarland of Carlisle attended the rally with friend Ann Sheehan, also of Carlisle. “I couldn’t make it to the women’s marches today in Washington or New York, so I came here,” McFarland said.

“I know this isn’t the same thing (as the women’s marches), but this seemed like a good alternative. I wanted to do something,” Sheehan added.

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Saturday’s speakers included Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott, Dickinson College physics professor Priscilla Law, and several Carlisle High School students. Carlisle 10th-grader Ivan Lebo opened the event with a searing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner" on electric guitar.

“This is a great honor. I’m thankful that Michael Smith had me speaking and playing here," Lebo said. "It was something small, but I poured my heart into it. I’m really glad to be unifying Carlisle."

Scott asked audience members to raise their right hands and follow him in reciting a “Unity Pledge” that included a vow to “promote respect for differences, to repudiate words and acts of hatred, intimidation and violence, and to take a public stand for equality, diversity, fairness, opportunity and non-violence.”

Law said she was “very proud” of the anti-discrimination ordinance recently enacted by the Carlisle Borough Council “with overall citizen support that affirms the rights of law-abiding citizens to be treated with respect in this community.” She added, however, that the borough, Cumberland County and local schools and colleges “need to work together ... to improve our local environment and enhance a wide range of employment opportunities.”

Bruno said he was “very pleased” with public turnout at Saturday’s event that had many passing motorists honking their support.

“I’m glad people came out and even watched this. It says a lot about the people who are here,” Bruno noted.

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