A crowd gathers at Waverly Park before the rally Friday evening.
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Last week John "Jake" Raynard was alone in a dark alley being chased by men, one armed with a brick, who shouted slurs at him.
This week Raynard stood in the sunshine at Waverly Park, surrounded by more than 1,500 people holding signs, waving flags and cheering him on as he spoke of overcoming violence and hatred in hopes that it would never happen again.
Raynard said he was overwhelmed by the community’s response through Unity in Our Community, a rally held Friday evening to support him after the attack early last Saturday. The attack left him with 15 fractures to his cheekbone, a broken eye socket, a broken jaw and a broken upper palate.
"It surprised me quite a bit. I wouldn’t have anticipated this…my worst fear was that no one would show up but I’m glad the community has shown up in droves," said Raynard, smiling at his sister Jackii’s side. "I have no idea how to respond to it except with love and a lot of thanks."
Jackii Raynard said the event has been able to unite the community because everyone has been a victim or has known a victim at one point. She said she hopes that by Raynard speaking out, other victims can come forward.
"I think all too often people that are victims of these crimes are ashamed and try to hide from their attackers and the community at large," said Raynard. "I think they probably try to hide from themselves as well…we can’t have an open dialogue about these kind of things and try to really heal and recover from them without talking about them."
After an initial speech by Raynard, the crowd walked from Waverly Park, down Camelot Street to North Cumberland Street where the attack took place and up Red River Road back to the park.
Dennis Godin came to the rally to march with four friends. Godin said he was shocked when he first read about the attack.
"I wanted to show support (for Raynard)," said Godin. "I think it was a real surprise for everybody to see the support downtown and the support of the honking cars."
The event had eight speakers including Raynard. They ranged from union leaders to church ministers. Speaker Louise McKissick said it’s time for Thunder Bay to undergo a transformation.
"Anger transformed into action can change things," said McKissick. "We need a community where diversity is not just tolerated but celebrated."
Raynard said the next step for him after resting and healing is to advocate for several initiatives including an increased police presence in the North downtown core.
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