“No one did anything,” Sonny Singh told us. When a group of youths tore off his turban in New York City several years ago, none of the many people who saw it happen did anything. Sonny — Sikh musician, activist, writer and educator – told us this story during a brown bag lunch “coffee hour” conversation held at the Interchurch Center of New York on Wednesday, May 18. It was an important story for those of us present – all non-Sikhs – to hear. During the conversation we also heard from Crystal Quallo, one of the original interviewers (of Muslims and non-Muslims), creators and performers of “Under the Veil” – a TE’A Project production that focuses on issues of being Muslim and non Muslim in New York, post 9/11. Crystal told us that after helping to create, and then perform in this piece, she listens to people more. She is more interested in what people have to share about themselves. It is important, this hearing each other’s stories. Listening to one another’s stories across lines of faith and culture deepens our relationships as neighbors. But what is the next step? This is the question that seemed to hover in the room as we listened to Sonny describe the frequent harassment he experiences, and how alert he feels he must always be — the diversity of New York City, and even the presence of many Sikhs — offering no protection against the many who feel free to act out their fear, suspicion, misinformation and animosity. All of us participating in the conversation began to think about what it would mean to be “active neighbors.” Children in school receive anti-bullying training – what about adults?. Perhaps the charge upon us in our anxious age is not just the security-minded “if you see something, say something,” but also the community-minded “if you see something, do something.” Maybe adults need training in how to respond to bullying: across divides of faith, and beyond. While it is no doubt true that intervening in some instances might escalate a dangerous situation, it should always be true that people who are victimized should not experience abandonment by their neighbors. Those of us who have seen any of the programming honoring the 50th anniversary of the civil rights Freedom Riders have been reminded about the power, and provocation, that lies in inter-community solidarity. Sonny told us how big a difference it would have made if someone had done something. A place to start is hearing these stories from those in our city who are experiencing active intolerance because of their religions. A place to start is learning about each other. This listening and learning can happen through Prepare NY’s “coffee hour” conversations (see www.prepareny.com). And once we have heard the stories, once we have come to deeper understanding through teaching and hearing, our connections must be given expression: we must move towards active neighboring…towards the friendship of solidarity.
— Annie Rawlings, M.Div. Prepare NY Education Director, The Interfaith Center of NY
To host a coffee hour conversation, contact Annie: email@example.com, 212-870-3518; or visit the Prepare NY web site: http://www.prepareny.com