The evening started with a laugh as our MC, award-winning journalist Rochelle Riley, made an impromptu addition to the silent auction offerings, after a guest said she would bid on lunch with Riley.
Riley, who co-chairs the National Association of Black Journalists’ Global Journalism Task Force, and is strong advocate for press freedom around the world, set the tone for the evening, saying to the amazingly diverse group in the room that “the work that’s being done is critical to shaping our society.”
She introduced honorary dinner chair Mariam Noland, last year’s recipient of the Visionary Civic Leader Award, who quoted Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
“Organizations like IFLC,” said Noland, “need all of our support, our time and, when possible, our money.”
Local interfaith activist Padma Kuppa introduced dancers from the Laasya School of Indian Dance, who performed an Indian classical dance invoking the divine, with two beautiful young dancers, Shradha Mulgund-Joshi and Swathi Sridhar performing the roles of Shiva and Parvathi. It is, in the Hindu tradition, a way of expressing the dynamic energy of life.
In her introduction, Kuppa said that the dance, which was a welcome, not an entertainment, was in the Vedic tradition, which tells us that “the truth is one. The wise call it by many names.” The dance, she said was to connect us to the divine in each of us.
Imam Almasmari, spiritual leader of the Muslim Unity Center and Executive Director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council delivered the invocation, followed by IFLC President, Raman Singh, who recounted a story from the life of Bhagat Puran Singh, Sikh humanitarian, writer and environmentalist. Singh was known to pick up the garbage on his street, and when asked about the futility of the act, he said “When I meet God, he is not going to ask me if I cleaned up all of India. He is going to ask me if I cleaned where I walked.”
“We should not,” said Singh, “despair thinking that we have to do everything. We have all reasons to be optimistic.”
IFLC Chairman Bob Bruttell mentioned that his own reason for optimism was the large and diverse crowd who came to celebrate the work of the IFLC. The dinner has grown to over 400 attendees, representing so many of the community’s congregations and interfaith organizations. Twenty of our local congregations purchased tables and tickets for the dinner.
Indeed, support came from many areas, including sponsors DTE Energy Foundation, Bob and Judy Bruttell, Edward C. and Linda Dresner Levy Foundation, The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Henry Ford Health System, The Taubman Center, Walbridge, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Christ Church Cranbrook, Detroit Medical Center, MGM Grand Detroit, New Detroit, Robert and Gail Katz, St. Joseph Mercy Health Center, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wayne State University, Black Family Development, Nancy Combs, Comerica Bank, Grosse Isle Presbyterian Church, Paul Hillegonds, Michael Hovey, Heminder and Raman Singh, and Leon Tupper.
“It is my hope,” said Bruttell, speaking of the IFLC’s commitment to adult religious literacy, “to get people to continually ask the question ‘how will we live together?’ We mean to turn the virtue of mutuality into a cardinal virtue.”
Very much present in the thoughts of those in the room, the evening was also a tribute to Dan Krichbaum. In a filmed tribute, Rep. Debbie Dingell called him a visionary leader and a true advocate, a tireless fighter for justice, fairness, civil rights, and equality. “There is no doubt that Michigan, and more specifically, Southeast Michigan, are better and stronger because of Dan Krichbaum.”
Kathy Straus, former President of the State Board of Education, introduced honoree Steve Spreitzer, saying “No one deserves it more than Steve. He has devoted years of his life to this. He lives and breathes this. He is indefatigable.”
In his comments, Spreitzer noted the “equal desire in different faiths to improve the world.”
“We need a lot of help to make this world a better place,” he said. “As we look around this audience, what we need is here.”
“What sets a do-gooder apart,” said Mary Gilhuly, co-founder and art director of the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, introducing honoree Brother Al Mascia, “is when he or she inspires others to do good as well. That creates a legacy. And that’s Brother Al.”
Brother Al spoke of the many different traditions represented by partners in the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace’s outreach efforts. Contributions and volunteers coming from many different faiths.
“At the end of the day,” said Brother Al, “we represent a family of religions working together to help those in need.”
“Tell me, how else are our human virtues and ethics to grow?” he asked. “How else will we be free from the terror, fright, and fear of those we don’t understand unless we try to understand them?”
In introducing honoree Shirley Stancato, John Rakolta, Jr. Chairman and CEO of Walbridge, talked about the importance of faith in her work. “While Shirley has received numerous awards,” he said, “this is the first time she has invited her entire family to join her.”
“The IFLC and New Detroit face a similar fundamental challenge,” said Stancato, “of reconciling faith and race.”
“When our differences are deepest, how do we talk to each other? Start with what we hold in common. Listen with all your senses.”
Stancato spoke of the nature of leadership, that it is, in part the process of mentoring and encouraging. She spoke of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who was shot for promoting education for girls.
“There are potential Malalas everywhere,” said Stancato. “It is our job to foster and nurture them.”
Stancato concluded by inviting the audience to join her in creating the leadership to take advantage of the opportunities of this moment in our community’s history to heal racial divides.
The evening was an incredible success, bringing together so many, from so many faiths and organizations, honoring both the individuals and the spirit that is healing and building our community, and providing support for IFLC’s many efforts to support that mission. We look forward to a year of fruitful work as a result and we hope to see you along the way and at next year’s dinner.