Demonstrations for social justice sparked by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery continue across New Jersey.
Cranbury Township presented something different to unite the community when resident Eman El-Badawi spearheaded an idea for creating a sand mandala at the tercentennial fountain in Heritage Park.
A sand mandala is an ancient art form of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks use dyed sand to create each mandala which range in size, colors, shapes and design. The process is considered meditative and involves many participants. Once completed the mandala is wiped away.
Cranbury’s mandala would be secular in nature and not as intricately designed as the Tibetan monks, however it expanded around the center of the fountain designed for children and adults to freely participate in the evening promoting social justice.
“We are at a crossroad where we are battling within ourselves. We need a connection and a reason to connect. What a better reason than through this evening. It invited the children and the parents without being a political or partisan event,” El-Badawi said. “I am very multi-racial and wanted to figure out how I can bring in my people and I thought of the mandala.”
She added that she did not know what to expect in the form of attendance but was encouraged to see more than 30 people who gathered to be part of the evening.
“There are a lot of local residents and a lot of people I do not know. It means that they wanted to be here, whether it was the mandala that moved them or people’s need to connect to humanity,” El-Badawi said. “I hope tonight was our own personal pledge. We all bear responsibility and not necessarily to the negative but how we react to it.”
With nine volunteers including children and adults a mandala diagram was created in 40 minutes prior to families and residents filling in the mandala with spoons during the June 9 social justice event.
People either filled in the sand mandala with dyed powder or chalk as they made their way around the fountain.
“Tonight speaks to what our country should be and can be due to the fact that being an American should not be based in theory on color or religion. It should be based on the idea of freedom and religious freedom and the ability to be a part of a community,” Mayor Matt Scott said. “Our politics has lost the language of love and that is really important.”
For Scott, he said he is excited to see the level of energy not only in Cranbury but nationally for action on social justice, but said he does not want to see that energy dissipate as has happened in the past.
The evening event also included speakers El-Badawi, Mayor Matt Scott, Rajan Narayanaswamy, and author Robin Black.
“This is such a crazy and tumultuous time; it is nice to see so many families come out here tonight. The spirit of love, inclusion and hope that was presented here tonight was a positive message for our town and for our society,” Deputy Mayor Mike Ferrante said. “For me hearing all those speeches from religious leaders from different religions reminded me that the theme across all religions is all about loving your neighbor and treating each other how we would want to be treated.”
The fountain located near the entrance of Heritage Park on South Main Street was surrounded by residents and families of every age, race and nationality.
“This was an easy decision to be out here and a part of this. Cranbury is a community committed to everybody and hopefully we can learn to treat each other as human beings and just appreciate the differences people bring to the table,” said Colleen Raymond, a Cranbury resident. “I think it is important for the children because they have an opportunity to educate the adults. They can open our eyes and our minds.”
Cranbury resident Jeff Grundy added that he did not know what to expect from the evening.
“I had not anticipated that there would be a spiritual element in terms of people speaking on us being together and the focus we had when whomever was speaking. It is a question of holding on to the words and acting on them in way where I can say that I can be a part of change,” he said.
The filling in of the sand mandala and the speeches given are not the only event focused on social justice taking place in Cranbury for June. When June 14 arrives a candlelight vigil will commence at 7:30 p.m. in Heritage Park in honor of Floyd and other victims of police brutality.