Local Interfaith Initiative Aims to Dispel Prejudice

By Kate Chance, Interfaith Manager.

This opinion originally appeared at San Jose Inside.

You may have heard the term “interfaith” in recent years. Maybe your house of worship engaged with another of a different tradition for a potluck dinner, or maybe your neighbor belongs to a local interfaith council you occasionally hear about.

But as the political, religious and cultural tensions in this nation appear higher than ever, the term “interfaith” likely appears more and more on your radar.

For us at San Jose-based nonprofit Islamic Networks Group, interfaith means working together across lines of religious difference for personal enrichment and the greater good. Interfaith work encourages individuals to engage in dialogue and discussion as a means to remind our nation’s citizens of how many values we hold in common despite the differences that often divide us.

While the term “interfaith” is not new, the Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters program is. This program was originally launched at the White House in 2015 to focus on civil rights policy. Now with nearly 90 national partners, it launched its first grassroots campaign in June of this year, aimed at empowering individuals to engage their communities for the well-being of every person.

At this critical juncture in our history, Know Your Neighbor advocates a simple model for effecting social change: working at the grassroots level in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, houses of worship and civic organizations to model the civility and respect we want to see upheld by everyone.

We offer easy-to-use yet impactful tools and resources for reaching out to build mutual understanding and respect among all of our fellow Americans. Studies show that all you need to dispel stereotyping and prejudice is a 10-minute non-confrontational encounter with a person from a different background.

And as the divisive language of hate groups mushrooms in our nation in the wake of Charlottesville, we need to recognize and combat the detrimental impact of dangerous, exclusionary rhetoric on our nation’s school-age youth. While incidents of bullying are not unique to the current generation, the current escalation of hateful language and actions against religious and ethnic minorities is unprecedented.

Our first major social media mobilization, which focused on sharing stories of welcoming and faith identity, garnered over 3 million views in July. Fresh from that success, our second mobilization was launched Sept. 7 and will run through Sept. 15. The Know Your Neighbor Back-to-School Campaign shares best practices to help educators, students and parents counter hate and bigotry at school and create more inclusive classrooms and schools.

We invite you to participate in this campaign by sharing your best practices, favorite resources or concerns for countering bias and bigotry to create more inclusive classrooms and schools.

Working together across lines of difference and making an honest effort to engage each other in the project of building a stronger America, we hope we all come to know our neighbor. Please join us.