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Not In Our Town local organizer Mike Matejka, left, speaks to local leaders during a brainstorming session Friday at Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington. 

BLOOMINGTON — Twin City leaders want to do more to show their commitment to tolerance through Not In Our Town.

Bloomington-Normal is among five communities in NIOT's Gold Star Cities pilot program, an effort to showcase communities that make a concerted effort to end hate, fear and violence.

Interested communities can choose from a variety of goals based around "safety, respect, and diversity for all" to become certified by the national NIOT program, which plans to offer special city welcome signs and to profile successful communities on its website and publications.

Though Bloomington-Normal has been part of NIOT, which started with a 1995 PBS documentary on local response to hate crimes in Billings, Mont., for 21 years, the pilot offers officials a chance to "take our efforts to the next level," said local organizer Mike Matejka.

"We're considering how we can work as a community and where we can go together," he said.

Goals include forming a committee; holding events in diverse settings; raising money; organizing multicultural leadership training; creating an interfaith group; bringing NIOT into schools, including bullying prevention; working with law enforcement; and sharing anti-hate messages publicly. 

Bloomington-Normal has a solid foundation in those goals already but can still do more, said NIOT founder Patrice O'Neill. She singled out getting NIOT into schools — it's already in more than a dozen McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 schools — and buy-in from local government and police departments as successes.

"(Bloomington-Normal) needs an ongoing structure. There needs to be a commitment (to NIOT)," she said. "More awareness is another key thing."

Officials kicked off the effort with a brainstorming session Friday at Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington. Civic, business and public safety leaders shared their ideas after hearing a presentation from O'Neill on the program.

"When something horrible happens, we show up, and that's a great thing. We have each other's backs. ... But can we do something to change the perception that we're a little bit more preventative (rather than) building the community and strengthening connections so that these things don't happen," said Jill Blair of Bloomington. "That's really what we're about. ... 'It never happens here,' not, 'We react when it does.'"

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Normal and McLean County Reporter

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