Ari Ballaban — In Conversation
Festival of Faiths Envisions Cincinnati as a ‘Beloved Community’
Years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a “Beloved Community”—an all-inclusive community where love and trust trump hatred and fear and where conflicts are resolved without violence. What would it take to bring that concept to life in 2019 Cincinnati? That vision was at the center of the 2019 Festival of Faiths, a celebration of interfaith understanding and collaboration now in its second year. Nearly 3,000 people filled the Cintas Center at Xavier University in September for the event. People from 30 faith communities were represented through 100 faith-based exhibits, featuring musical and dance performances, diverse vendors, conversations about compassion, and much more.
The Jewish Community Relations Council is a proud sponsor of the Festival of Faiths, and our professionals are members of the steering committee. This event reinforces our ideals of community, inclusion, and justice for all through mutual understanding and respect. As we work to bridge the divides between faith communities throughout Cincinnati, we are grateful for the partnership of the other members of this organization who share these values.
Prior the festival, JCRC board member Penny Pensak helped organize a community-wide event on Implicit Bias at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to drive home the significance of MLK Jr.’s vision. She shares her reflections here:
“Implicit Bias has become one of “those phrases”—the kind you hear all the time, think you get, and are pretty uncomfortable admitting that you can’t define. That signaled to us it was exactly the right topic to explore as a kickoff event for the Festival of Faiths. We understood just enough to know that implicit bias presents a roadblock to achieving a Beloved Community, the theme of this year’s festival.
Implicit bias is a universal phenomenon, not limited by race, gender, or even country of origin. Furthermore, implicit bias involves all kinds of subconscious feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes that we’ve all developed as a result of prior experiences, influences, associations, and feelings. Priya Klocek and Tammy Bennett, facilitators who work in the diversity/equity space led participants through an interactive presentation which helped unpack this difficult concept. Attendees then had the opportunity to process the information in small groups. There seemed to be a general consensus: if this was an “ah-ha” moment for me, and I consider myself a non-biased person, then how can I help others better understand this concept, and how can we find forums to continue this conversation?”
Following the pre-festival workshop was the festival itself, where the JCRC hosted a booth led by JCRC Board Member Julia Weinstein and JCRC’s Hebrew Union College Fellow Madeline Anderson. They each share a reflection of the day’s events below:
“I thoroughly enjoyed talking to people from every religious background who stopped by the JCRC table to learn more about who we are. Some had questions about what to see in Jerusalem on their upcoming Christian tour. Some wanted to know more about what we do for the community, and others were pulled in by the interactive refugee-based activity we had at our table, discovering how we’re involved in supporting our local refugee neighbors. All of these questions and more led to interesting conversations and a mutual sense of gratitude to be in fellowship together at this event.” —Julia Weinstein
“I am so thankful to have taken part in the Festival of Faiths. Serving on the steering committee and volunteering at the JCRC booth gave me the opportunity to see how strong our multi-faith community is. This event proves that when we work together, and take the opportunity to learn about each other, we have the ability to create spaces of tolerance and understanding. I believe that this festival is a step towards combating hate in our Cincinnati community, and I look forward to continuing to participate for years to come!” —Madeline Anderson
During the festival, a Beloved Community Interfaith Mural was created, designed by local artist Lizzy DuQuette and painted by attendees from every faith community represented at the event. The mural’s imagery depicts the Beloved Community as a thriving garden. It shows the journey required of all members of the human family. Its colors reflect the vibrancy and complementarity of our human differences. And the mural, itself, represents a faith-inspired pledge: a commitment by Cincinnati’s interfaith community to pursue inclusion, equity, compassion, peace and justice for everyone. Throughout the year, it will travel to different congregations and faith organizations, celebrating the rich religious diversity of Cincinnati.
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