March 2011 was filled with a city-wide interfaith anti-bullying campaign in Pomona, California. The superintendent of Pomona Unified School District started a faith-based roundtable last spring. I began inviting my local interfaith friends—Baha’i, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus—to the table with predominantly conservative Christians. The Jews, Bahai’s and Muslims came. In fact, the principal of the K-12 Islamic school, Dr. Haleema Shaikley, came with other Muslim friends. When they asked us to create a project to see if we liked working together, we came up with a very comprehensive anti-bullying campaign. The City Council of Pomona presented proclamations for an Anti-Bullying Week and a month of Bullying Awareness.
We worked together to choose and write content for presentations to 3rd graders at assemblies. Skits were written and filmed with local 3rd graders acting out these skits. A video was produced. A three-hour training was put on for all 41 presenters by the school district’s psychologist. Materials were collected and packaged for each school at the City of Knowledge Islamic School. Diverse teams of presenters presented 45-50 minute assemblies in 33 schools in one week: 29 PUSD schools, 2 Catholic schools, and 2 Muslim schools. Eighteen Muslim seniors were trained and at least 12 actually were on assembly teams.
The response of 3rd graders, teachers and principals has been very enthusiastic and they are asking us to return and do other grades.
At the same time as this was going on, another team was working on an art contest for grades 1-12 around 12 themes involving moral values. There were over 350 entries and on March 29, about 400 participants gathered at a Pomona school for a reception for the principals, teachers, children and parents in the video and art contest, and the round table participants. I would say that half of those there were Muslim and half of the art contest winners were Muslim. It was overwhelmingly gratifying to see Richard Martinez, our superintendent of schools, awarding prizes to such a diverse group and to see the veiled principal Haleema speak to the assembly.
I am finding that my interfaith work is a way to meet and connect with those of different faiths but that the deeper work comes then by inviting them into the community work we are doing.