The Interfaith Leadership Council welcomed over 300 guests to its fifth annual awards dinner on Oct. 25. Top honorees included Rip Rapson President and CEO- Kresge Foundation who received the Dr. Dan Hart Krichbaum Visionary Civic Leader Award; Hajj Eide Alawan Interfaith and Outreach Officer- Islamic Center of America who received the Community Service Award; and The Interfaith Scholars Colloquoy, recipient of the Interfaith Leadership Award.
Rapson humbly received his award at an evening emceed by Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press by delivering a heartfelt and straightforward keynote, where he spoke of the importance of interfaith partnership and dialogue amidst the backdrop of the last year of a political climate that in his words has been “an assault” on the values of understanding, decency and compassion that Americans hold dear.
“We have been catapulted into an existential crisis that forces each of us to look inward, to excavate the unalterable bedrock of our faith . . . of our values … of what we stand for,” Rapson said. “That is the why the (Interfaith) Council and all it does and represents is so terribly important. You are joined in your efforts … by other organizations and institutions that share an abiding belief that our every action must reflect what we believe to be good and true and just.”
Rapson said that the Kresge Foundation’s values – which include opportunities that stand in opposition to racial and economic barriers; problem solving through the wisdom of intergenerational exchange and embracing the dignity and worth of the individual regardless of race, religion or orientation, among others – can serve the Detroit interfaith community in a continued and shared mission of building non-profit and civic infrastructures.
In a climate of political divisiveness and at a time when all decency seems to be “under assault,” Rapson continued that the outreach work of faith communities – either within their own religions or partnering in interfaith efforts – is more important than ever.
“The power of places of sanctuary will only grow in importance as disenfranchised, threatened, and often deeply disempowered communities look for physical, spiritual, and emotional shelter and support,” Rapson said. “The symbolic importance of who is gathered in this room tonight reflects just how central a role our mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples already play in safeguarding individual and group expression and affirmation through the warrant of worship.”
IFLC President Raman Singh said she was happy to be in the company of many old and new friends and was inspired by the words of the awardees. A veteran in interfaith work, Singh, who is a Sikh, became involved in interfaith work early in her life because of her father’s involvement in some of the early interfaith prayer services in Metro Detroit in the 1980’s and 1990’s. She became involved in IFLC when her now college-aged son participated in the organization’s 7th Grade Religious Diversity Journeys program and was also an early panelist and regular on Interfaith Odyssey for 12 years.
“From the breadth of longevity and insight of the Scholar’s Colloquy to Alwan’s lifelong commitment to interfaith work and building coalitions to Rapson’s eloquent comment on the current social situation and his call to action, I feel blessed for us all to have been together for one evening in such a diverse, multigenerational group.”
IFLC founder Bob Bruttell describes these evenings as “family reunions.” He said that attendees were inspired by Rapson’s powerful words as well as heartened by the music provided by Dearborn’s own Lu Fuki and the Divine Presence, a Dearborn-based jazz fusion band.
“When you looked around at the diversity in the room, including the musicians performing in the front of the room, it reflected back upon the diversity of our great Detroit community,” Bruttell said. “It gives you the idea of what our interfaith family truly looks like and just how welcoming this family is. I hope the evening leaves our family energized and inspired to continue the work that’s ahead of us.”
Newcomers to the dinner included Eugene McDonald, who sits on the board of the Detroit Repertory Theater. McDonald also remarked on the evening’s welcoming atmosphere and “the overall feeling of love in the room.”
“This is my first experience with the Interfaith Council and came not knowing many people. But I felt no pretense and no boundaries as many people who did not recognize me came up to greet me,” said McDonald, whose work includes helping at-risk youth learn about conflict resolution through the world of theater. “For me it was overwhelming to see the diversity and love in the room, accepting and celebrating each other’s differences. “
George Alcser, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Marygrove College and member of the Interfaith Scholars’ Colloquy, said he welcomed the recognition of the Colloquy’s work and shares the IFLC’s vision and commitment to community and living a life grounded in respectful dialog and mutual understanding.
“We are humbled that you recognize and support our work in steadfast obligation to practice scholarship and focused, critical, and substantive analysis of the issues that unite and divide us. Our service to society is indispensable work toward a future of justice and peace.”