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West Town residents ‘stand up to hate’ with play date

West Town neighborhood children enjoyed several games, activities and snacks during a “Stand Up To Hate Play Date” on Thursday evening. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

After a racist letter was anonymously left in a West Town family’s mailbox earlier this month, the recipients decided the bigoted diatribe could be used for good.

About 200 neighborhood residents and their children flocked to the playground of Mancel Talcott Elementary School at Ohio and Wood on Thursday evening to take part in a “Stand Up To Hate Play Date.”

“It took us a little bit of time to kind of process and say, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Heather DeJonker, who received the letter earlier this month. “If we don’t do anything, then the person who wrote this thinks that we think it’s OK.”

Children from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds enjoyed soccer, football, cupcake decorating and a live musical performance that featured staples such as “If You’re Happy And You Know It.”

DeJonker and her neighbor, Maria Ippolito, both employ the same nanny, who is African-American.

The letter — which the recipients noted was dropped “illegally in our mailbox — asked families to fire an African-American woman who has watched their children for several years.

“Please take heed to the advice being shared in this letter, find a new nanny. We do not need an infestation in our community,” DNAInfo reported the letter as saying.

In an open letter to the original sender, DeJonker, Ippolito and their nanny wrote: “We decided to use this letter as a ‘teachable’ moment for our sweet children who represent the future of our fractured country. We believe in this future which is why we won’t sit quietly and let hate win.”

Census data show, however, that the African-American population in West Town has dropped from about 8,300 people in 1980 to roughly 6,500 in 2015.

The white population, meanwhile, has jumped from 30,200 in 1980 to nearly 50,000 in 2015, data show. The area has seen a boom in real estate development as it has continued to gentrify in recent years.