There’s a really big difference between being kind and being nice, said Jeannette Maré, founder of Ben’s Bells, the local nonprofit that promotes intentional acts of kindness.

“Niceness might let a difficult conversation go by because you just don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable, but kindness is going to brave the discomfort to have the conversation that we need to have in order to grow and move forward,” she said. 

Maré gathered with local faith, government and community leaders to unveil a “Be Kind” mosaic, on Aug. 24, at Tucson City Hall, in the entryway to the City Council Chambers. Maré and others who worked on the project hope it will remind people to treat one another with respect and kindness.

After Maré’s young son Ben died, she was moved by people who “braved discomfort,” reaching out to her even if they couldn’t understand her grief or didn’t know what to say.

“We have to connect with each other,” she said. “We need to connect with each other. We can’t stand back and say, ‘This is scary.’ We can’t stand back and say, ‘They’re going to figure it out.’ We have to figure out what our role is in this, and that is risky.”

The project, funded by the Kaimas Foundation, cost about $2,000. About 30 volunteers, from Ben’s Bells, Kaimas and more, worked on the mosaic for a month. 

Mary DeCamp, former Green Party mayoral candidate, came to Maré with the idea a couple years ago. DeCamp regularly attends city council meetings and said she got tired of looking at the war memorial in the entryway, now across from the new mosaic.

“I’d see it, and I thought what a terrible message to subliminally plant in people’s heads that we should use conflict to resolve our differences,” she said. 

Among those who spoke at the unveiling was the director of the Jewish History Museum, Bryan Davis. He talked on the importance of the museum’s Holocaust History Center presenting “catastrophic violence of the past as a siren, warning us of the hateful path from divisive and hateful language to brute physical violence.”

“Recently we’ve seen how some of the most hateful and vile behaviors and symbols of the past are not of the past,” he said. “They remain persistently present. And that is why this work is so urgent.”

Supervisor Richard Elías talked about former Tucson mayor George Miller, who started the Tucson Civil Rights Coalition in the ’90s, when the Ku Klux Klan tried to establish a Tucson presence. 

“And we stopped that, and we changed it,” Elias said. “Don’t get caught up. Share, be kind, be smart, be Tucsonans, be proud, welcome the stranger. Welcome the stranger. This is Tucson. This is what we do.”

Mahmoud Abagi, from the Islamic Center of Tucson, talked about being a Muslim. When he is out with his mother or sister, both of whom wear hijab, he’s heartened when people tell them they’re welcome, apologize for Islamophobia or even just smile at them.

“Regardless of what’s going on in the world, regardless of the politics, our different religions or ethnicities, it doesn’t matter because we still want to know how each other are doing,” Abagi said. “The voices of racism, the voices of hate, the voices of division—there’s not many of them, but they could be loud. The ‘many’ are kind. The many want to love one another, thank one another. So let’s go out of our way to be kind.”

Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus spoke on the importance of incorporating kindness into policing, starting with creating a climate within the police department that legitimizes and celebrates kindness. He said the Tucson Police Department is giving their officers more tools to deal with people with mental illness and drug abuse in a way that de-escalates situations and maintains human decency and respect.

Right before the mosaic was unveiled, Maré said she hopes it will help make kindness trendy, that the mosaic will remind people that kindness is a skill we can foster and pass on. 

“I am grateful to be in this community with all of you who are brave enough to learn from each other, who are kind enough to allow each other to make mistakes, and to gently correct each other so we can keep growing,” she said. “It’s only in that vulnerability, in that willingness to sort of stick our necks out that we’re going to make a big change.”

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