Tuesday, June 17, 2014

“We have a right to tell our own story”: Detroit speaks out to set the record straight about its commitment to fostering interfaith and interracial cooperation

We’ve probably all observed examples of how bad reputations are hard to live down; there is often a significant time lag between when the reputation of a place catches up with what is truly going on there, especially when major changes for the better have gradually been developing off the radar of the mainstream media.

It was pointed out at the most recent meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) that the impression of Detroit as one of the most segregated cities in the United States is becoming obsolete. 

There’s no doubt that Detroit still has racial tensions and areas of segregation, but the city and its surrounding suburbs are slowly taking on a new character as fertile ground for interfaith dialogue, pulpit exchanges, and the integration of some of the region’s historically most segregated cities—including Dearborn, Warren, and Detroit.

Dedicated individuals and over two dozen organizations throughout southeastern Michigan are working hard to shift the paradigm toward one of acceptance and hospitality across diverse communities, and it’s become a major goal of theirs to garner as much publicity as possible to attract mainstream attention and support of their efforts and to celebrate their successes so far.

One major success is the coming of the annual NAIN Connect conference, the yearly gathering of the North American Interfaith Network. Now in its 25th year, NAIN is the first and oldest organization of its kind on this continent; before NAIN, there was no unified interfaith movement. The organization has come a long way since its origin in coffee networking groups of college students in Wichita, Kansas, said Judy Trautman of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, who represented NAIN at the MPC meeting.

NAIN as a whole only meets once a year now, inviting representatives of its various satellite organizations, as well as any interested individuals, together for what Trautman described as an interfaith “family reunion.”

This year’s reunion being held in downtown Detroit on August 10 through August 13 is thanks largely to the efforts of Gail Katz, who presented about Detroit’s thriving interfaith community at the NAIN conference in Toronto a couple years ago. Katz was even more determined to bring the conference to Detroit after the response she received from a rabbi at the Toronto gathering, when telling him about the idea of hosting NAIN in the Motor City.

The rabbi recoiled in surprise, and asked if bulletproof vests would be handed out during the tours.

That is precisely why Detroit needs to host such an event, to help set the record straight.

“We have a right to tell our own story,” veteran journalist and college professor Joe Grimm stated, echoing the sentiment of many Metro Detroiters who are tired of mainstream news only paying attention to Detroit when something embarrassing happens, then blowing it out of proportion like that’s all there is worth saying about Detroit.

We have the right to tell the insider truth about what’s really going on in southeastern Michigan in terms of racial and interreligious cooperation, “not have Time Magazine come and rent a house for a year, or New York Times reporters fly in when we go bankrupt,” Grimm continued.

The NAIN Connect conference is one of the ways for Metro Detroit “to show ‘we get along better than you think we do,’” said Terry Gallagher, one of Read the Spirit’s online columnists.

There may or may not be data yet to support our claims, stated Allan Gale, Associate Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, but there are several tangible examples we can already see, even if they’re not yet considered mainstream newsworthy: “Jews are intermarrying in record numbers, African-Americans are moving into Warren, there are pulpit exchanges,” and so on, Gale described.

The conference will feature several tours, workshops, and plenary sessions, designed to “bring out the best in local interfaith groups,” Trautman said, “to share best practices, and share problems and solutions.”

Among the featured events will be bus tours, one of which will be conducted by the mayor of Dearborn, and include a stop at a hospital with a great chaplaincy program which serves people of various faiths, demonstrating the interfaith community’s recent alliances with the healthcare field. Another bus tour will stop at both the Arab-American Museum and the Holocaust Memorial Center. Sharon Buttry, Christian minister and member of Hamtramck’s Common Word Alliance, will lead a tour of Hamtramck’s cultural and religious landmarks, including a stop at a Jewish cemetery. You can read more about the NAIN Connect conference on the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) Website and ReadTheSpirit.com.

300 attendees are expected for the NAIN conference, with registration available through July 15. Journalists are encouraged to attend the tours and write about them. David Crumm, MPC facilitator and Read the Spirit co-founder, gave advice for journalists to navigate and get the most out of the NAIN conference. If you are a journalist and would like more information, Crumm can be reached at readthespirit@gmail.com.


This post originally included a commentary about the 51st Annual Convention of the Islamic Society of North America – In 2016 I revised and moved that content HERE. 

Image: “Fox Theatre Sign viewed from I-75” by Karla Joy Huber; Colored pencil

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