Like many faith leaders in Metro Detroit, IFLC board members Stancy Adams, Robert Bruttell and Raman Singh hoped to change hearts and minds as they attended faith-based protests and vigils over the past week on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and on the grounds of the Muslim Unity Center to speak out and reflect upon the racial profiling and police brutality that most recently led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
“There was a positive presence and a prayerful nature at these events,” said IFLC President Singh, who has marched many times in her life for civil rights. “There is a time for marching and yelling, but there is also a time to reflect and be prayerful. What I learned from this past weekend is you don’t become an activist overnight. But you can be mindful. You can make changes on an individual basis and examine your own biases and behavior.”
Singh said after the marches, protesters can return to their faith communities and congregations and begin to have the conversations to “root out racism wherever it is found.” Another way faith communities can help to affect change is to partner with other civic organizations that are helping with voter registration and making sure there is ease of access to voting this November.
Singh said that the purpose of being part of a religious community is to provide human services wherever they are needed. Right now, Singh said, religious groups can stand with the protesters and service can include providing food and water. For example, the Sikh community in New York City and elsewhere came out and prepared huge, portable feasts for the protesters. Locally, Michigan Gurdwaras served meals to protesters in Detroit through Aasra Food Pantry , Seva Truck , and Khalsa Aid grocery distribution. This coming weekend, the community will be partnering Saturday with New Era Detroit to support the activists.
As a woman in her 50’s with aging parents in town, Singh is aware that partaking in these civil rights protests during a pandemic comes with risks. To minimize exposure, she said she and other IFLC members hung back from the crowds and stayed across the street from those marching on Woodward Ave. Most activists wore masks, she said.
The gathering at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills on Sunday, June 7 was limited to 100 people. Singh, who is Sikh, spoke as a representative of the Mata Tripta Ji Gurdwara Sahib. (see photograph at right).
“Over and over again in the holy scripture of the Sikhs it says that God does not recognize race, gender, ethnicity or caste,” she said. “God only recognizes the oneness of your soul. It asks Sikhs to follow this teaching and stand up for justice. Therefore, Sikhs are automatically for Black lives.”
Other religious and civic leaders who spoke included:
- Mark Crain -Dream of Detroit Executive Director and senior advisor at MoveOn
- Imam Mika’il Stewart – Muslim Center Detroit Associate Imam
- Imam Al-Masmari, Muslim Unity Center
- Rabbi Sam Englander, Community Outreach Manager of AJC/JCRC Detroit
- Pastor Aramis D. Hinds, Breakers Covenant Church International
Speaking again about taking chances by coming to speak out against social injustices amid a pandemic, Singh referred back to Crain’s words, who described the founders of the world’s great religions were “risk-takers and disrupters.”
“Whatever faith you follow, there are teachings and texts in your religion that compel us to face injustice. And sometimes, doing what is just comes with taking a risk.”