Building Understanding and Peace in Our Pluralistic Community

             Five years ago, 25 people representing 12 faith traditions came together in Winston-Salem and asked themselves a question:

            How can we build understanding and peace within a community that reflects the pluralism of the world?

            Their answer was to form an organization that would bring neighbors together – children, youth and adults – to learn about each other’s traditions and build relationships beyond the walls that divide us.

            That organization is Interfaith Winston-Salem.  This year we celebrate five years of achievements while entertaining the sobering thought that there are miles to go before we can rest.

            During the last five years we have sponsored more than 200 events and activities to build peace through understanding. More than 7,500 people have participated at no cost because of the generosity of our volunteers and our donors.

When the beloved community has suffered violence or threats of violence, we have stepped forward to offer support and bring healing.

Ø  A shotgun blast shatters the sign announcing a new temple for the Hindu Community.  We gather during a Hindu worship service on the site to demonstrate our concern and our support.

Ø  A disgruntled alumnus verbally attacks Imam Khalid Griggs and an anonymous individual places a bucket of urine at his door in the Chaplain’s Office at Wake Forest University.  We write letters to university leaders and meet with Imam Griggs to let him know we are with him.

Ø  The criminal justice system is failing our young people. We collaborate with Valerie Glass to organize Triad Restorative Justice, which will offer restorative principles in our schools and begin to reduce suspensions that often lead into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Ø  Venom spills from a meeting in Kernersville as one man cries, “Kill all the Muslims.”  We work with leaders of our three local mosques to open their doors to the community to invite questions and comments and demonstrate that the mosques have nothing to hide.    

When fear of the “other,” of those who don’t match someone’s idea of who belongs, we have set a place at the table for everyone.

Ø  The Winston-Salem Foundation works to build a strong community. The foundation presents its ECHO Award for building social capital to Interfaith Winston-Salem for offering programs that bring together people from different segments of the community.

Ø  After eight years in prison, a Muslim man returns to his community.  We invite him to share his journey at one of our monthly “Journeys” breakfast gatherings.

Ø  Two terrorists who claim to be Muslims explode bombs during the Boston Marathon.  We join our Muslim neighbors at their mosque for a shared meal to show them that the heinous act in Boston will not shatter our relationships.

Where there is ignorance, we work to bring knowledge and understanding.

Ø  Children are curious, eager to learn. Each autumn, we entertain more than 200 children with arts, crafts, music, dance and other activities that teach about other traditions at our Festival of Faith and Culture.

Ø  Some people say that religion is the primary source of wars and conflicts. As part of our Carlton D. Mitchell Interfaith Series, we invite Dr. Charles Kimball to trace the history of religious extremism.

Ø  Racism continues to be a blot on relations between white and black citizens. We invite Terrance Hawkins, a strong advocate of social justice, to join us at a monthly Conversations gathering and help us explore the causes of racism and how it infects the least suspecting of us.

As Interfaith Winston-Salem enters its second five years, we are building on our accomplishments and seeking new ways and new collaborations in forming a more peaceable community.  Community volunteer Karl Yena has helped us prepare a new strategic plan, and alumni of Leadership Winston-Salem will guide our implementation of the plan.

Ø  Working with educators and faith leaders, we have presented a proposal to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to introduce a World Religions curriculum into high schools that would improve the knowledge of other traditions.

Ø  With the leadership of students at local high schools, we are assisting in the formation of Interfaith Service Clubs that feature three core components of interfaith cooperation: respect for religious identity, mutually inspiring relationships and common action for common good.

Ø  We are providing a bridge between churches and the Muslim community to begin a series of gatherings that build relationships and understanding.

Ø  Reaching across several faith traditions, we have organized a Good Neighbor Team in coordination with the World Relief agency to help a refugee family resettle in Winston-Salem.

Much still needs to be done.  Many volunteers and supporters recognize that it’s a task that all of us must accept. We are dedicated to take the lead in meeting that challenge.  You can help us by making an online donation here.