Metro

Mayor Elorza hosts interfaith forum to discuss prejudice

Presidents of various Rhode Island religious groups speak about building bridges

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mayor Jorge Elorza spoke in support of many marginalized communities in the city, including immigrants and the LGBTQ community.

On Wednesday, Mayor Jorge Elorza hosted an Interfaith Forum at the Providence Career and Technical Academy to discuss prejudice, community safety and policy changes.

“Right now, the forces that are dividing us and separating us are stronger than they have been in any of our lifetimes. It’s important to constantly come together,” Elorza said to open the night. “The forces of unity take effort and energy.”

The event, which was free and open the public, featured speakers such as Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, members of the mayor’s Muslim American Advisory Board, interfaith representatives, public safety officials and representatives from various community organizations.

Elorza spoke in support of the various marginalized communities in Providence, including immigrants and the LGBTQ community. He mentioned the city’s efforts to protect minority citizens by making Providence a sanctuary city, providing municipal forms of identification and creating a new hate-crime hotline.

“Our city is already great, not in spite of our diversity and differences, but because of them,” Elorza said.

The forum was organized by Jordan van Leesten, who works in community relations for the mayor’s office. “Providence is a very diverse city,” Leesten said. “I wanted to find a way to celebrate that and showcase it in a way that’s intellectual.”

Leesten pushed for the event after seeing how various Rhode Island religious groups came together in support of a local mosque that was sent hate mail. The event also came out of meetings with the mayor’s Muslim American Advisory Board, he added.

During the discussion portion of the night, community members and religious leaders discussed their faith and filled out worksheets that asked participants to think about the various communities in Providence and the challenges they face.

“Let’s make sure we send the message that Providence is a welcoming place for all of its residents,” Elorza said.

Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris of Ward 11 stressed the importance of building bridges within the community. “We all need to be able to elevate our faith more than ever. As we watch the news and hear of the violence that’s happening daily, I look to my own faith to guide me through these troubling times,” Harris said.

Former president of the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement Imam Farid Ansari contextualized yesterday’s terrorist attack in New York in the larger trend of anti-Muslim rhetoric. “They never emphasize when Muslims do good things — what’s up with that? I am a Muslim and I am an American and I will defend that,” Ansari said.

“We at the Rhode Island Council of Churches intend to make sure we are using our voices properly and assertively and that we together will stand together against injustices,” said the Rev. Chontell Washington, president of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

“Gathering with faith communities like today — that gives me strength to step forward in these dark days,” said Rabbi Sarah Mack, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.

Missy Ottun, a student of Blackstone Academy, spoke on her experiences as a black Muslim in Rhode Island, emphasizing the continued importance of “challenging what’s in the media and asking questions.”

Lieutenant Henry Remolina, commanding officer of Districts 2 and 3, spoke on his efforts to prevent crimes that target immigrants. “Let’s first start building a relationship together,” Remolina said.

And this won’t be the last event of its kind, Leesten said. “I want to continue to celebrate the religious diversity in this city and showcase it in a productive way.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Imam Farid Ansari is the president of the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement. In fact, he is the former president. The Herald regrets the error.