"We Are One Community: A Caravan of Religious Leaders for Reconciliation" kicks-off a 10-city Maryland state tour promoting pluralism this week. Sponsored by Clergy Beyond Borders, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization, which trains clergy in conflict resolution, the caravan will include imams, rabbis, ministers and other religious leaders traveling in a united front as brothers and sisters. Participants will spread a message that our diverse religious traditions have resources within them to promote justice and reconciliation. The Caravan leaves Annapolis on October 24 and ends in Baltimore on the 27th.
According to the most recently reported FBI statistics, U.S. law enforcement agencies reported 6,222 hate crime incidents during 2011. Of those incidents, 46.9 percent were racially motivated, 19.8 percent were motivated by religious bias and 11.6 percent stemmed from biases related to ethnicity or national origin. Nearly a third of all incidents took place near a place of residence – in communities where people make their homes.
"I believe that unity and interreligious dialogue are a matter of national security," said Imam Yahya Hendi, president, Clergy Beyond Borders. "If peace is to prevail at the national and international level, we must first find a way to embrace our common humanity and ideals, and that cannot happen if we do not take steps to reach out to one another."
The Caravan has two main goals: 1) to create a visible series of events with multi-faith participation highlighting a statewide commitment to pluralism and diversity in order to prevent interreligious and racial conflict and to address conflict where it has emerged, and 2) to initiate "Rapid Response Networks" in communities the Caravan will visit. A follow-up meeting to create a statewide network is planned for December in Baltimore at the University of Maryland School of Law. It will compare plans, brainstorm further programs, and establish a network of religious and community leaders prepared to respond and act collaboratively in alignment with shared objectives.
Rabbi Gerry Serotta, spiritual leader of congregation Shirat HaNefesh in Chevy Chase, emphasized that, "We are trying both to educate folks about the resources that exist within religion for resolving conflict as well as to organize networks of individuals who will respond to acts of hatred and discrimination on a local and statewide basis."
The scheduled stops for the Caravan in order of appearance include: Annapolis, Salisbury, Easton, Sunderland, College Park, Frederick, Hagerstown, Cumberland, Rockville, and Baltimore. Program specifics for each location will depend on the needs and history of the communities to be visited, but may include special presentations, panel discussions and more. Sponsored by Clergy Beyond Borders, The Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland School of Law, the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office and the Central Maryland Ecumenical Center.
On Saturday, October 26, the group will honor Frederick Police Chief Tom Ledwell and Frederick Mayor Randy McClement at a ceremony, taking place at the Frederick Police Academy, from 12:30 p.m. until 2:00 p.m.