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Clergy, professors denounce racist and anti-Semitic hacking incident

The signs dotting the landscape near NW 23 and Blackwelder Avenue focused on love, hope and unity.

Jay Williams was at Oklahoma City University and happened to see a live stream post Sunday on Facebook showing about 50 people holding or erecting the signs on the street that runs parallel to the campus.

He immediately joined the crowd, thankful for their impromptu response to a hacking incident that occurred during Oklahoma City University's commencement the day before. The university, which is affiliated with the United Methodist denomination, Saturday held a virtual graduation ceremony, which was interrupted Saturday when a hacker displayed the N-word and a swastika on viewers’ screens.

Hate wouldn't have the last word.

"I was overwhelmed with joy," Williams said.

The hacking incident was particularly troubling to the religious studies major.

It occurred right after Williams, who is black, shared a prayer as one of several graduates asked to help lead the program. Imad Enchassi, OCU professor, said people were waiting to see the names of the religious school graduates come up on the screen but it went blank instead. Then the racist slur and swastika appeared.

The religious studies major said he'd felt hurt and robbed of a commencement ceremony that was already far different from the in-person gathering that graduates had expected before the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was heartbreaking," he said.

Williams said seeing supportive people gathered with signs promoting love and positive affirmations really lifted his spirits. And he wasn't surprised to see members of the OCU and faith community show up to show OCU graduates and the world signs of hope and unity.

"Honestly, I wouldn't imagine anything less," he said.

Meanwhile, two United Methodist ministers who know Williams personally coordinated what they called the "Signs of Love" campaign to respond to the hacking incident.

The Rev. Elaine Robinson, co-pastor of Village United Methodist Church, said Williams served as an intern at her church for about three years. The Rev. Scott Spencer, senior pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church, said Williams is currently associate pastor at his church. Williams hopes to become an ordained minister one day.

Robinson, on faculty at the St. Paul School of Theology, said they made sure the sign campaign was OK with OCU leaders and they were pleased when the university's president Martha Burger came out to plant a sign along with several OCU professors. Burger issued a statement denouncing the hacking incident shortly after the commencement.

"I want to be clear, OCU stands against racism and racist behavior," Burger said in her statement.

Robinson said Monday she believes any kind of racist incident should be responded to. That's why "we invited people to come and plant signs of love so that love would have the last word," she said.

Spencer said he felt much the same way.

"It was two-pronged. We wanted to show support for Jay and we wanted to have a counter witness to show that those who want to do harm aren't going to have the last word. Elaine and I are both involved with anti-racism efforts but obviously it hit home because we both know Jay," he said.

Enchassi, OCU professor Islamic studies and senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said Williams was one of his students and he was watching the commencement. He didn't hesitate to join Robinson and others who wanted to counter the hate-filled incident.

"My involvement is beyond me being a professor at OCU and beyond me being clergy and beyond Jay Williams being one of my students. My involvement is simply to stand up against bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism," he said.

Enchassi said the virtual graduation had been going along beautifully, considering the current pandemic, and the desecration of the "holy platform" was a "double dagger to people's hearts."

"However, our mission as people of faith is we want to meet hate with love," he said.

Speaking out

The Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City also came out against the hacking incident that marred the commencement.

"Sadly, someone chose to hack that ceremony to spread racist and anti-Semitic words and images," Robert Clark, the Jewish Federation's executive director, said in a statement.

"Hateful actions must always be responded to in timely and appropriate ways. Good people — and good organizations — must stand up and speak out against all forms of hatred. Hateful words and actions must never be met with silence; these incidents must always be responded to with more words — good words and good actions."

Clark praised Burger for quickly condemning the hacker's actions.

"President Martha Burger deserves commendation for her swift, thorough and appropriate response to the hateful action. OCU’s swift messaging and positive role modeling is appreciated by many; a true Oklahoma Standard," Clark said.

Related Photos
<strong>Jay Williams uses his phone to take a picture of an anti-racism sign on NW 23 outside Oklahoma City University. The sign was posted in response to a racist and anti-semitic incident that occurred during OCU's virtual commencement. [Joshua Robinson/OCU]</strong>

Jay Williams uses his phone to take a picture of an anti-racism sign on NW 23 outside Oklahoma City University. The sign was posted in response to a racist and anti-semitic incident that occurred during OCU's virtual commencement. [Joshua Robinson/OCU]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2e8711098f12f8118f20f1e9568995cd.jpg" alt="Photo - Jay Williams uses his phone to take a picture of an anti-racism sign on NW 23 outside Oklahoma City University. The sign was posted in response to a racist and anti-semitic incident that occurred during OCU's virtual commencement. [Joshua Robinson/OCU] " title=" Jay Williams uses his phone to take a picture of an anti-racism sign on NW 23 outside Oklahoma City University. The sign was posted in response to a racist and anti-semitic incident that occurred during OCU's virtual commencement. [Joshua Robinson/OCU] "><figcaption> Jay Williams uses his phone to take a picture of an anti-racism sign on NW 23 outside Oklahoma City University. The sign was posted in response to a racist and anti-semitic incident that occurred during OCU's virtual commencement. [Joshua Robinson/OCU] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e161e0b7ccef8599b51067fab6e3794e.jpg" alt="Photo - Liz Willner, chair of the education department at Oklahoma City University, holds up a sign on NW 23 in front of the OCU campus. [Josh Robinson/OCU] " title=" Liz Willner, chair of the education department at Oklahoma City University, holds up a sign on NW 23 in front of the OCU campus. [Josh Robinson/OCU] "><figcaption> Liz Willner, chair of the education department at Oklahoma City University, holds up a sign on NW 23 in front of the OCU campus. [Josh Robinson/OCU] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5545309983b3b7768d295de5a4a42f9f.jpg" alt="Photo - Imad Enchassi, Oklahoma City University Islamic studies professor and Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City senior imam, and the Rev. Joseph Alsay, rector of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal church, holds up a sign outside OCU as part of the "Signs of Love" campaign. [Josh Robinson/OCU] " title=" Imad Enchassi, Oklahoma City University Islamic studies professor and Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City senior imam, and the Rev. Joseph Alsay, rector of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal church, holds up a sign outside OCU as part of the "Signs of Love" campaign. [Josh Robinson/OCU] "><figcaption> Imad Enchassi, Oklahoma City University Islamic studies professor and Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City senior imam, and the Rev. Joseph Alsay, rector of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal church, holds up a sign outside OCU as part of the "Signs of Love" campaign. [Josh Robinson/OCU] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-683b2970d959ee965cb31ed17542d35c.jpg" alt="Photo - The Rev. Elaine Robinson takes a picture of "Signs of Love" signage erected along NW 23, between Blackwelder and Kentucky avenues. [Josh Robinson/OCU] " title=" The Rev. Elaine Robinson takes a picture of "Signs of Love" signage erected along NW 23, between Blackwelder and Kentucky avenues. [Josh Robinson/OCU] "><figcaption> The Rev. Elaine Robinson takes a picture of "Signs of Love" signage erected along NW 23, between Blackwelder and Kentucky avenues. [Josh Robinson/OCU] </figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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