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EXCLUSIVE: Gilmer community shows outpouring of love for woman who was subject of offensive Facebook post

The Facebook post criticized Ruwan Alkam for wearing a hijab to Yulefest. In the aftermath of the post, the Gilmer community showered her with support.

GILMER, Texas — An East Texas woman is receiving an outpouring of love after an offensive social media post reportedly made by a Gilmer businesswoman.

Ruwan Alkam took her 3-year-old to Yulefest in Gilmer last week. 

"I read that it had rides, and my three-year-old son, Musa, he pretty much, he lives for those rides," said Alkam, who lives less than an hour from Gilmer. "So as soon as I saw that this event had rides I jumped [at] the opportunity."

Alkam says while there, she had a wonderful time at the event, especially the people she encountered.

"I had such a great time at the festival, and everyone was so courteous and sweet," Alkam remembered.

While there, a Gilmer business woman, identified as Lisa Gaines (owner of The Market Bistro and Ladyfingers Cakes), reportedly snapped a photo of Alkam and proceeded to post it to her Facebook page. The caption on the post read: "Look what showed up in Gilmer at the Yulefest. We have been infiltrated."

Alkam says she first saw the post while scrolling through Facebook.

"I saw that somebody had shared a post saying, talking about a woman who had posted a picture of a woman in the hijab and that she captioned it with the racist comment. And she sent it to me, and lo and behold, it was me. It was a photo of me," Alkam explained. "I was just shocked that somebody would go out of their way to take a photo of me, without my consent, and then post a really nasty comment along with it." 

Alkam says while the post upset her, it is the first instance of someone being offensive toward her because of her hijab. 

"I mean, you know, sometimes people would make like snide remarks or just dirty looks or any and stuff like that, but no one has like been blatantly racist to me at all," Alkam said.

Brandy Ferrer, a Gilmer business owner and chairwoman of this year's Yulefest, was outraged by the post. She says the it does not represent the people of Gilmer.

"We want everybody here," Ferrer said "We don't care about race or religion or nationality.  And we wanted everybody to be able to enjoy it."

Ferrer says she and other area business owners are making plans to show their support for Alkam and anyone else who were offended by the post.

"We wanted to band together to show this family and everyone that we want you here, and this is not our viewpoint. This is not how we feel," Ferrer explained. "We want people to feel comfortable here. We want you to come and enjoy our community."

Already, several people in the Gilmer community have come together to donate gifts for Alkam's family.

Alkam says she is humbled by the outpouring of support from those in the Gilmer community.

"On my post, I had stated that I felt afraid to go out, and I didn't want that my boys to ever be exposed to this kind of racism again," Alkam said. "But honestly, I just don't have that fear anymore after getting all of these comments and everyone, all around me, everyone in my community and people all over the world have just been so supportive and standing by me and defending me. And when you see that there's no way you can feel fear, when you just feel that safe with everyone around you, defending you and standing by your side."

On Wednesday, CBS19 tried to reach out to the woman who made the post. However, her Facebook account has been deactivated and when we went to her businesses, it was closed.

Alkam says while she was upset at the post, she wants others to not turn to hate themselves against the woman.

"I don't feel like that woman deserves so much hate that she's receiving," Alkam said. "I mean, people make mistakes. I'm sure she really regrets it right now."

Alkam and her family are currently working on a community event that will focus on educating people about different backgrounds and cultures.

On Thursday, the Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce terminated the Gaines' membership.

The organization released the following statement to CBS19 concerning their decision:

“The Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce sincerely apologizes to Ruwan Alkam and her family for the behavior of a chamber member. The Gilmer chamber does not support the exclusion of any race or religion nor do we condone or control the beliefs or actions of the members of the chamber. In no way does this reflect the views or the beliefs of the chamber. After discussion, the board of directors have decided to terminate the business owner’s membership in accordance with Article II of the chamber bylaws. After careful consideration Gilmer chamber has decided to schedule a diversity training workshop for its members and the community.”