Belong: A Public Event in Affirmation of Inclusion, Support and Respect

Belong1On January 20th 2017, members of the Desmond Tutu Center gathered with other organizations at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument for an event called “BELONG”. Reverend Stephen Carlsen, Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, and Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Senior Rabbi Emerita of the Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis hosted the event.

This non-partisan event held a consistent theme of affirming inclusion, support and respect. The results of the 2016 United States presidential election gave way to a lot of reflection by many people on what direction this country is going to be headed in during the next four years. “BELONG”, occurred to unite and affirm Indianapolis as a supportive community in the midst of a separated nation.

Belong3Members of numerous community support organizations spoke at the event, advocating for the rights of groups ranging from the LGBTQ community, immigration, and civil rights. It encouraged people to take action in changing their community and to support equal rights for all. Each speaker gave greater awareness to the issues that surround this country and the organizations that exist here in Indianapolis to assist those who feel they are in danger of being victimized or discriminated against. The mayor of Indianapolis, Joe Hogsett made an appearance and was one of many to speak on these topics.

As representatives from Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky expressed, not everyone in America has access to comprehensive sexual health care, education, and information. They empowered the people at the event to make informed choices and lead healthy lives. They also offered ways to get access to reproductive information and affordable medical care.

Furthermore, with Donald Trump coming into office, one specific concern is the status of both documented and undocumented immigrants in the United States. One of the main promises of Trump’s campaign was to build a wall along the border of Mexico and greatly tighten restrictions on who is allowed in the United States. Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance was one organization that spoke about the fears these campaign promises created, promising support to those who needed it, and speaking about their efforts to increase the access to educational resources available for children of undocumented immigrants trying to go to college.

Another topic that was talked about was the experience of being Muslim in America. Misconceptions and prejudices towards Muslims and Islam as a whole persist in this country and representatives from the Muslim Alliance of Indiana spoke on dispelling those fears and misconceptions, while encouraging civic engagement.

Belong2Waseema Ali, Managing Director at the Desmond Tutu Center, also spoke at the event. Offering encouragement to those who might feel powerless or discouraged about the cause of social progress in the United States, she ended her remarks by paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights campaign in Chicago, which consisted of a series of peaceful demonstrations. During a march in 1966, Dr. King and his demonstrators faced racially fueled opposition. Dr. King was struck in the head by a rock. However, he picked himself up and continued marching afterwards. Waseema Ali used this as an example to keep fighting no matter the situation.

Other organizations that participated in “BELONG” include ACLU-IN, Exodus Refugee Immigration, Exchange of the Indianapolis Urban League, Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana Youth Group and IndyCAN. In total there were nine organizations whose representatives spoke at the event, and several more were represented by members of the audience. The “BELONG” event concluded with a performance by the Indianapolis Women’s Chorus. The song they sang was called “Peace, Salaam, Shalom”. The title of that song aligned with the event’s theme of inclusion. It empowers inclusion by using multiple languages to express the same idea throughout the lyrics. While the word “peace” is a well-known term for Americans, the song uses that term in Arabic as “salaam” and Hebrew as “shalom”. That is what the whole event was about, bringing a mutual understanding among people from different backgrounds.

By: Wesley Bryant

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