Content to let the nature of God remain an unknown mystery, new IFLC board member John Silveri wondered if, as an agnostic, he was a good fit for the organization.
Raised Catholic, he attended Catechism as a youngster in Lincoln Park, but had his doubts.
“I always questioned everything they were telling me,” says Silveri. “Part of my inquisitive nature was born from having friends of other faiths. The burning question in my mind was always, ‘how do I know that what the Catholic Church is teaching is more right than what other faiths are teaching?’ I always believed in a higher power. But I never embraced the teachings of any one religion.”
As the superintendent of Waterford Schools, Silveri learned about IFLC when Program Director Meredith Skowronski approached him about participation in Religious Diversity Journeys. The 37-year veteran educator had served five Metropolitan Detroit area school districts as a teacher, counselor, principal, human resources director, assistant superintendent and superintendent. He immediately saw the potential and the need for such a program.
“I have an understanding of kids and their view of the world, how they interact with other people, the biases they develop, which they pick up from friends and family members,” says Silveri, “You could see the transformation. At an early age, kids could care less about other religions and ethnicities. I would see how the walls would start to come up as they get older.”
Silveri went to a couple of journeys and was impressed with the impact it was having, not just on students, but also on parents and staff members.
“Seeing in reality what other religions stood for, what other religions believe in, and that no matter what religious beliefs people held, they were people just like them. It tended to take away any fear, and false beliefs based on what they heard from others,” says Silveri. “Very quickly, I was able to see how the program would break down that wall. I think that’s very powerful in terms of having those kids go back to their schools and their families and share those experiences.”
The beauty Silveri saw in RDJ was that participants didn’t just see the differences between the religions. They were able to see the shared values and the commonalities.
“It creates the opportunity for people to look at each other with more of an open eye, to see diversity as an asset,” says Silveri. “I think the benefits are immediate and long-lasting.”
Silveri recently retired from Waterford schools, and is now consulting for the Michigan Leadership Institute, which helps public schools develop and support leadership.
He attended the IFLC annual dinner and joined the education committee, which, he says, “hooked me in a little bit more.”
“I became enamored of the purpose of the organization and what it was seeking to accomplish. Conciliation, connection and education really spoke to me in a lot of different ways.”
But when he was approached about being a board member, he wasn’t sure that his own beliefs made him the right fit for the organization.
He attended a board retreat, and after spending the day with IFLC leadership, he says he came away committed.
“None of these people are doing this for any but altruistic reasons. It’s just a group of people who are interested in the betterment of their local community and the community at large. They have such a high level of respect for each other,” says Silveri. “It just really speaks to me and part of it for me is that I see these folks interact with each other, and I wish everyone could view others the same way these folks do.”
With much of the organization’s focus on education and religious literacy, Silveri is looking forward to “rolling up his sleeves and digging in.”
“I think any time you can bring a different perspective and a different voice to an organization, it can benefit the organization,” says Silveri. “It’s hard for me to say exactly how I will be able to be of benefit, but I think in part it is a journey for me right now. As I continue to attend events, I will be seeking opportunities to use my experience to be of service and assistance to the organization.”
The IFLC is very proud to welcome John as one of the newest members of our board!