2018 Perspectives from the Field
Throughout the 2018 seminar year, the LNJ staff will ask class members to reflect on their experiences following the monthly two-day seminars. The perspectives will change each month to include a wide spectrum of view points and expertise.
For more information visit our website at http://www.leadnj.org/
E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One
Seminar on Embracing Cross-Cultural Diversity
April 12-13, 2018
By: Valeria Galarza
What a year to dive into an LNJ session on “Embracing Cross-Cultural Diversity”. The growing tension in our society is impacting everyone making many feeling overwhelmed, angry, fatigued and hopeless. However, for the LNJ Class of 2018, we were able to devote two days of learning about and embracing each other’s differences.
Our session began at the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in Monmouth Junction which was the first time I visited a Mosque. Not only was it a beautiful building but we were welcomed with open arms and great hospitality by Imam Hamad Ahmad Chebli who shared some learnings of the Muslim religion—as a close second to Christianity. Imam Chebli was joined by panelists, Sarah Slaiman Chebli and Hesham Tamraz, who shared personal experiences of what the Muslin religion meant to them and their family as well as the hurtful and difficult experiences they have faced frequently in their community. We learned about how the South Brunswick community has embraced Islam as part of its fabric. The South Brunswick School District was the first district in the nation to observe Ramadan by closing its schools. Iman Chebli addressed the misconceptions of Islam and Muslim religion by stating the culture and religion are misrepresented by the small percentage of people who have acted against the true meaning of Islam–peace.
We shifted to another misunderstood and fast growing religion—Sikhism or Sikh. Sikhism is the 5th largest religion in the world which started in North India. Most Sikh, about 90%, wear turbans which serves as a religious observance and covers uncut hair which is a symbol of obedience to God. We heard from NJ Attorney General, The Honorable Gurbir Grewal, the first Sikh Attorney General in US history and oversee the NJ Department of Law and Public Safety.
The day became even more thought-provoking when we participated in “The Privilege Walk” exercise. Throughout the privilege walk, the statements are read by a facilitator and the participants are asked to take a step forward or backward based on their responses. This activity forces participants to confront the ways in which society privileges some individuals over others. It is designed to get participants to reflect on the different areas in their lives where they have privilege as well as the areas where they don’t. Towards the end of the exercise, my classmate and I were so far towards the back of the rest of the group that we were unable to hear the last few statements.
Day two was dedicated to “Against Hate in the Garden State” with two panels; one on anti-Semitism and immigration and the other on bias crime. Among the panelists was Adrianna Abizadeh, Executive Director of Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). Adriana spoke about highlighted LALDEF advocacy efforts including access to health care and education, and advancing cross-cultural understanding within the Mercer County region. Their critical work towards preventing human rights violations and educating immigrants about their rights and responsibilities while fostering their integration into the civic fabric of our communities could not be more needed as it is today.