Marshalltown NIOT efforts celebrated at National Gathering

BILLINGS, Mont. – The Not In Our Town Marshalltown Project was lauded a model for the next chapter of a national movement against hate that began 20 years ago in Billings, Mont. during a three-day National Gathering that concluded Sunday.

A delegation of five members from the Marshalltown NIOT committee attended the gathering, which included more than 200 people from 21 states and 46 communities.

The NIOT Marshalltown Project was founded in 2012 by community leaders who wanted to take a proactive approach to bullying prevention by encouraging mutual respect and understanding.

“The Marshalltown Not In Our Town campaign was a leader at this gathering that provided incredible inspiration and great ideas to people across the country,” said Patrice O’Neill, executive director of the Working Group and Not In Our Town. “Marshalltown was one of our leading stories we were so proud to be sharing.”

On Saturday, a film about Marshalltown’s efforts premiered at the Babcock Theatre in downtown Billings. The 30-minute rough cut is expected to be edited and rolled out to communities seeking proactive solutions against bullying and hate.

Not In Our Town’s inaugural documentary film debuted in 1994 and featured the community of Billings and its response to threats by white supremacists. As leaders joined the cause they coined the phrase “Not In Our Town.” The movement now has applications in communities across the country that are seeking to build inclusive and safe communities.

Marshalltown High School Principal Aiddy Phomvisay said he is proud to be a part of the Marshalltown effort.

“The exceptional work we have done in Marshalltown has had an influence and impact,” Phomvisay said. “We’re helping create environments of love and mutual respect and acceptance.”

Mike Schlesinger, publisher of the Times-Republican, said sharing Marshalltown’s story was the highlight of the gathering.

“Marshalltown stood out as a shining example of what a community needs to do to stomp out bullying and be a welcoming city for everyone,” Schlesinger said. “I was proud of our team representing our local NIOT group.”

Additionally, Schlesinger said the opportunity to share ideas with other groups and gain ideas from other towns will help the Marshalltown Project to continue to improve upon its efforts to eliminate hate and bullying in Marshalltown.

Since its inception, the Marshalltown initiative has sponsored dozens of activities to bring awareness about bullying.

The Times-Republican sponsored public service ads about the impact of bullying in Marshalltown and published the names of more than 2,000 people who signed the Not In Our Pledge against hateful actions.

The newspaper also eliminated the comments section on its website two years ago, citing an intolerance for the anonymous hate speech that often occurred.

NIOT Marshalltown Project has funded anti-bullying training for students, free community films and hosted a community rally in which more than 1,000 people gathered at the Marshall County Courthouse to stand up to bullying.

In the past year, Marshalltown NIOT lobbied for the an anti-bullying bill at the Iowa Legislature, sponsored a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters and its bullying prevention program, provided Mentor Violence Prevention training to high school students and partnered with the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce to provide training sessions about violence prevention and harassment policies.

Abigail Pelzer is a founding member of the Not In Our Town Marshalltown Project and participated in the National Gathering as a representative of the Marshalltown. Contact her at 641-753-6611 or apelzer@timesrepublican.com