“We need a democracy coalition worldwide,” said US Senator Tim Kaine in a meeting at his Richmond, VA, office with the International Council of Initiatives of Change who recently spent two weeks in this country. Kaine added, “Democracies are being hurt from the inside as well as from the outside.” The members of the IC emphasized the impact the current political climate in the US has on their countries. Olena Kashkarova from Ukraine said, "With your elections, I don't know if my country will continue to exist." Wadiaa Khoury from Lebanon shared with Senator Kaine how her colleagues in Lebanon are engaged in courageous dialogue across political, ethnic and religious divides. She said, "We always try to connect the people of good will in the country."
The International Council (IC) provides leadership to Initiatives of Change and exists to inject a measure of innovation and cohesion to the global network of partners. The current members are drawn from Colombia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Australia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, India, Norway, and the USA. Their visit to the US began in Washington, DC, followed by a week in Richmond, VA, seeking new perspectives, models and experiences to help inform their work.
On arrival in Washington they were given a VIP tour of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture by John W. Franklin, Director of Partnerships and International Programs. This exposure to a new telling of history made an enormous impact on the group and helped informed them of the complexities of America, a country that the world often thinks it knows. In light of the current Islamophobia and fears of terrorism Franklin said, “We like to celebrate history but not all history can be celebrated. This country invented terrorism, homegrown terrorism. On 9-11 people say terrorism and I say my people have been experiencing that from the time they came.” In conversation afterwards Stephen Kimaru from Kenya expressed what an emotional and powerful experience the museum was for him.
The group met with Imam Magid and others at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), one of the largest Muslim congregations the United States. Imam Magid is the Chairman of International Interfaith Peace Corps (IIPC). He shared with the group: "When you show love to people, you become a better person. The elevation happens to you… Until we build relationships we do not know how best to treat the other. It means going beyond treating others as we would like to be treated to the point where we treat others as they would like to be treated.”
There were two lively evening discussions with alumni of IofC training programs: the Caux Scholars Program in Washington and later in Richmond with Community Trustbuilding Fellows. The exchanges focused on how these two groups are applying what they learned in these programs where they work and live. It was also an opportunity to explore how IofC could better serve and support them and how they could engage in more intentional ways with IofC's outreach.
Rev. Tee Turner, IofC’s director of reconciliation programs, led the Council on a walk along the Richmond Slave Trail and explained the importance of healing history’s wounds and the power of a shared narrative for the community. The conversation continued with Rev. Ben Campbell, a Richmond visionary and community activist, Dr. Risha Berry, project management analyst at the City of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, and Jonathan Zur, CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, to discuss how the legacy of this painful racial history - especially concentrated poverty - is being addressed and the system changes that are being affected.
IofC USA Board member Bill Hamilton, who co-chaired the IC/USA visit planning group with fellow board member Anjum Ali, expressed appreciation to the IC for spending time to learn about the American experience and the challenges of fulfilling the guarantees of individual rights and freedoms in our democracy. Hamilton also joined IofC USA Board Chair Alex Wise in his optimism that, while both the IC and IofC USA are undertaking transitions, “the collaboration embodied in the trip served to strengthen the potential for a trustbuilding partnership between the two organizations on behalf of the worldwide IofC community.”
Photos: ©Karen Elliott Greisdorf, John Taylor