By Ruth D. Anderson, PhD (Originally Published in The Greensboro News & Record)
Executive Director of The Servant Leadership School of Greensboro and on Program Committee for The Guilford Nonprofit Consortium RDAnderson@triad.rr.com
At a time when the evening news tells stories of conflict between cultures and faiths, Greensboro and FaithAction International House are sharing positive stories of new neighbors and friendships in the midst of our diversity. Recently FaithAction held its Ninth Annual Multicultural Thanksgiving, where over 200 people representing over a dozen cultures and faiths shared food, music and fellowship.
Faith Action International House, a nonprofit center for cross-cultural learning, service and advocacy, answers the question: Who are You? with the following reply:
We are people from America and around the world working together, serving each other through this center for cross cultural learning, service and advocacy. We are Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Unitarian. We are native born Americans and we are refugees and immigrants from all parts of the world. We speak many different languages. We are black and white and all of the colors of the human family. We are your neighbors, and very possibly we are part of your family.”
FaithAction provides consistent opportunities for Greensboro’s diverse cultures to come together and connect to form a united community of many cultures. When this happens, all benefit from the new understanding and partnerships that occur. David Fraccaro, new Executive Director for FaithAction, says: “We believe that our Piedmont Triangle region has a choice to make – Will we fear or embrace our new immigrant diversity? FaithAction serves our newest immigrant neighbors by building bridges across lines of culture and faith. Greensboro’s history has shown that good things happen for all of us when we choose to embrace our diversity.”
This fall FaithAction received a grant from San Francisco – based, Active Voice to screen a documentary called Hawa’s Dinner Party, about a small town in Tennessee that is changing with the arrival of new Latino immigrants and Somali refugees. Many diverse people from Greensboro – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Latinos, Africans – come out to Zaytoon’s for this community-building event. Zaytoon’s—a local, well-respected Muslim-owned Middle Eastern restaurant—along with partnerships with distinguished local religious institutions of Church World Service, the Islamic Center of Greensboro and American Friends Service Committee were key to creating an inclusive and welcoming event. After watching the documentary, participants spoke in small groups about how the small town of Shelbyville responded to their new neighbors. Then the conversation turned towards Greensboro and people responded to the question: How are we changing with our new cultural and religious diversity? The event was so well received that a second event was planned.
In addition to the service and community building work, FaithAction conducts numerous workshops and keynotes in our community which focus on the intersection of faith and immigration. The workshops help participants reflect not only on the politics of the immigration question, but perhaps most importantly on what our faith asks of us on this important issue in our midst. This fall FaithAction spoke at several Sunday school classes, and Shabbat services.
Also FaithAction hosts weekly language classes in French, Spanish and Arabic, and provides opportunities for conversation clubs. The Language Exchange Program pairs English speakers with speakers of foreign languages. The pairs meet weekly in a neutral location and spend half of their time together conversing in English and the other half conversing in the foreign language. The free program is ideal for those who have the basics of the other language and wish to improve their conversational skills. Every Fall and Spring semester, FaithAction International House offers a series of foreign language classes for community members interested in improving their ability to communicate across cultures. Each class includes a total of 18 hours of instruction over 9 to 12 weeks for a cost of $65.
Every Monday from 7:00pm to 8:30pm, FaithAction International House sponsors Club de Conversación en Español. The new conversation club leader, Angie Kapely, recently graduated from UNCG with extensive experience with Spanish from her time spent abroad and in her undergraduate studies.
FaithAction, actively involved in aiding immigrants and refugees, advocates for justice, fair treatment and reform of our immigration laws. Some of FaithAction advocacy campaigns include: Monitoring 287g in Guilford County; paired testing of rental housing to monitor compliance with federal Fair Housing laws; power-of-attorney workshops for undocumented immigrants; assistance with wage-theft and other employment-related discrimination; assistance with fair housing violations; public events on immigration reform; local coordination with the NC Religious Coalition for Immigrant Justice; and “Know Your Rights” workshops on such topics as housing and employment.
David Fraccaro outlined a new plan for FaithAction in 2012: “We are hoping to build a new Immigrant Resource Center in early 2012, where new immigrants and refugees can come to FaithAction and use donated computers for employment assistance, after-school tutoring, computer literacy, and language skills. We hope to have numerous trained volunteers on hand to assist clients with their particular learning needs.”
FaithAction International House provides the hospitality of an extended family to people from all over the world and invites us all to come to the table together.
Learn More: Guilford Nonprofit Consortium: A collaboration of organizations in Guilford County that fosters mutual assistance and support within the nonprofit community to create more efficiency and effectiveness. www.guilfordnonprofits.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
FaithAction International House: To volunteer or participate in programs or to receive their e-news 336-379-0037 or www.faihouse.org