As winter turns into spring (and back to winter and back to spring…), the school year is drawing to a close and with it our most successful year of Religious Diversity Journeys, with 35 middle schools across 18 districts, public and private in Wayne and Oakland counties. 18 sites, including Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Jewish house of worship, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Holocaust Memorial Center hosted 650 students and 200 parents/school staff on 24 days of Journeys – that’s about 27 hours of education per student or 17,550 hours total!
Over the last four years, we have expanded from 100 students in 4 schools, and educated 1500 seventh graders and 600 parents of Religious Diversity Journeys, and we’re expanding into Macomb county in the coming school year. (For a total of 750 students and 40 middle schools!)
As outgoing IFLC Program Director Meredith Skowronski looks back on the expansion of RDJ under her direction, she reflected on the program and her hopes for it in the future:
“I was laid off from teaching in 2010 and devastated that I might never have the opportunity to return to that role. However, in 2013 I was hired by the IFLC and began my role directing the RDJ program. I didn’t realize it at the time, but not only was my role with the IFLC about to throw me back into the world of education but through RDJ I would be able to teach again in a very creative, out-of-the-box and important way.
The opportunity to spend my days partnering with congregations in helping kids and parents to increase their understanding of “the other” through the immersive RDJ experience has been life-changing for me.
I hope to see this program continue to expand further into the tri-county area as well as, eventually, across the nation.
I truly believe that there is no greater experience for students and parents than to spend the day immersed in the faith and cultural traditions of others. Engaging their senses- touch, taste, sight, sounds and smells in these new environments leaves lasting impressions that create positive ripples in the fabric of our society as our participants come to better understand the values we all share with those around us who may be different from us.”
As we review the year, we want to thank our sites and our schools for partnering on this incredible program:
Adat Shalom Synagogue
Bharatiya Hindu Temple
Christ Church Cranbrook
Detroit Institute of Arts
First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham
Gurdwara Sahib Singh Sabha
Holocaust Memorial Center
Hope United Methodist Church
Islamic House of Wisdom
Mata Tripta Ji Gurdwara Sahib
Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple
St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church
Temple Beth El
The Hindu Temple of Canton
The Muslim Unity Center
School Districts / Private Schools
Beverly Hills Academy
Great Revelations Academy
Our students wrapped up the year by sharing their thoughts about what they learned, and their feelings about their neighbors, their own beliefs, and the different faith traditions, as well as the actions they would be taking in their own lives and in their schools. Here is a sample of what they learned in their own words:
- To not try to convert people to their religion because everyone has the right to believe in what they want and shouldn’t be pressured.
- Accept people for what they are. This is important to all faiths because they all believe in different things but they are still friends and family with people in other religions.
- We all share a love for God in different ways
- Family, it’s important because they support you and care for you.
- Be kind. It’s important because if everyone believes that they should be kind there would be world peace.
- Having good characteristics like honesty and no violence is something they all had in common. It’s important because it makes you a better person. They also shared kindness and respect.
- That we all believe in the one same God. It is important because it brings us together.
- God is important because he has done everything for us. He has given us life, love, happiness, and our family. The earth, plants, air, people. There is so much God has done and is going to do and nobody can list all of it. That’s why all of the religions worship God.
- Everyone praises someone. This is important so they know there’s something bigger than themselves.
- Service is important to all the faiths because we share the belief that we need to help others.
- I learned that you have to be welcoming to everyone so no one feels left out and know that wherever you go you are welcome.
- You are God’s son/daughter.
- I feel like the big stereotypes were broken down. Thank you for the amazing experience!
- I learned that while people of other faiths present themselves differently we all hold the same basic values.
- I didn’t know so many religions believed in God or gods
- It made me think about as people get older we seem to lose hope about the world and accept things as fate. I am incredibly thankful to be here and now I know that I can make a difference instead of stand by and watch things happen. I will be reminded about experience here and try to make the world a better place.
- One person doesn’t represent their whole group
- I finally understand the religions. Before, I had them all mixed up. No matter what religion you have you can be nice. Before I came here I was nervous and I didn’t think I would make any friends, but I was wrong.
- It killed stereotypes that my friends were using.
- I find them all the same and not scary.
- I was not familiar with three of the religions so it helped me understand them better.
- I never thought that all the religions respected others, god, etc., as much as they do.
- It really opened my eyes to not only new religions but new parts of the world, too. It showed me that just because people have a different religion doesn’t mean they’re bad or negatively different.
- Only one journey really changed my view, Sikhism, because I didn’t know it existed before.
- Yes, being an atheist I knew little to none and now I have knowledge.
- I feel like if I make friends that are not Muslims I’ll know about what they believe.
- I didn’t know much about these religions and seeing them in action in-person was much more memorable than reading from a textbook. Knowledge of these religions and accepting everyone is just as important as math, science, etc.
- Now at school I know I will stand up when something bad is happening or when people are being bullied.
- It made me more interested
- It has given me a memory of something that was actually fun in school.
- It showed how much pain people have gone through just based on who they are and it showed me how I should really see other people.
- It made me think more about religious belief.
- Well now I know a lot more about the separate religions instead of just grouping them all together and calling them crazy.
- I thought people had weird beliefs but it was because I didn’t know the story behind them.
- Made me more open-minded. I am more willing to make friends with ANYONE!
- I now know more about the people in my school. My school is very diverse and there are lots of different religions and now I know why people do what they do.
- It impacted my life by really teaching me not to judge a book by its cover because what I thought about those religions in reality was completely incorrect.
- When we went to a Christian church it clarified my own religion. It gave me background information and events in the past.
- I feel like I can help guide others