The Day of Religious Pluralism is a unique example of how the collaborative efforts of civic, community, and religious leaders, along with an international base of dignitaries, can create significant strides in thought leadership. Francisco Ortega, Director of HCIDLA convened the event, where the theme of this year was partnering to foster resilient communities. In the opening prayer, Rabbi Mark Diamond from Loyola Marymount University stated that the Day of Religious Pluralism is a day “when all people in the City of Angeles appreciate the sacred bonds that unite us” and collectively prayed that we “build bridges of understanding, celebrate the rich diversity of Los Angeles and work together to bring hope and healing for God’s children.”
Los Angeles is the city that pioneered the Day of Religious Pluralism highlighting the inclusive mindset that is woven in the fabric of our city. In the opening remarks, Los Angeles City Council member Mitch O’ Farrell emphasized the importance of combating intolerance and stated that “this is a city we all belong in, this is a country we all belong in, and there is room for all of us”
Understanding how we can come together while building concrete strategies of unification is where we can continue to build resilient and tolerant communities. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer explained how significant it is to reach out to each other across lines of faith because “what we feel as a nation about each other when it comes to our faith traditions is deeply tied to whether our nation will hold together.” He further emphasized the importance of changing cultural norms at a young age which will impact generations and transform how society integrates with each other.
Many of these principles transcend geographical boundaries and rely heavily on encouragement from the world of philanthropy. The Conrad Hilton Foundation and the American Red Cross were among those represented at the Day of Religious Pluralism. International nonprofits and philanthropy organizations play a vital role in impacting change at a global scale from a grass-roots level.
Globalization has significantly underscored why cultural tolerance must be a universal value. Peter Laugharn, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation noted that philanthropy needs to raise its voice to speak out against hate but also to find solutions, to bring discussion and foster dialogue. Laugharn mentioned that the “Global Center for Pluralism in Canada defines pluralism simply as an ethic of respect for diversity. Whereas diversity is a fact, pluralism is a choice.” In order to be effective change precipitators, many organizations must be fluid and dynamic. Such that they incorporate pluralism as an integral part of their mission.
Brie Loskota from the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture moderated the panel discussion that focused on opportunities to bolster faith-led resilience. Faith is so intimately related to a community’s sense of values that it is a significant component in building resilience. She emphasized that “pluralism is what happens when diversity builds relationships. When our relationships have structure that’s when they build muscle.” She stated that Los Angeles is, in fact, the most religiously pluralist experiment.
The three panelists included Mandy Pifer from the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team, Heather Laird from the USC Center for Muslim Mental Health and Islamic Psychology, and Shelley Wang from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. Resilience depends on building psychological safety nets, incorporating a sense of togetherness, and offering tactical tools to combat trauma. Religion and faith communities play a pivotal role in developing this. Laird pointed out that culturally, many communities still have a great stigma associated with receiving mental health treatment; therefore, incorporating trusted faith members and clergy into the discussion can move the needle in developing a sense of resiliency.
Panelist Mandy Pifer knows from personal experience what the importance of resilience is, following the San Bernardino shooting. She spoke about the four goals that are mission-critical to the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team. The first is to provide comfort and immediate support at the time of crisis; second is to activate a support system of friends, family, and clergy; third is to act as a liaison between emergency personnel, the local government and the victims of the crisis; finally, to provide continued resources and follow-up after an incident occurs. Panelist Shelley Wang mentioned that sometimes the most important thing to provide victims following victims of trauma and disaster is just to “listen.”
This panel discussion was followed up by Veronica Hendrix from the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, who spoke about how the city is partnering for resilience. Over the past six years, there has been an ongoing dialogue for emergency readiness. The City has activated a step response plan for emergencies and has provided access to a multitude of resources to prepare for natural and man-made crisis situations. As a community, she said, we must work together and connect with the City’s resources.
A breakout interactive group session was facilitated by Aziza Hasan from NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. She started the discussion with a personal example of how she was faced with a situation that required resiliency, and how she harnessed a sense of strength and comfort during hardship. This activity was particularly important in learning about personal experiences from different attendees. This connection with interpersonal bridge building enabled creative thought processes and allowed us to brainstorm different techniques to structure tides of change and foster resiliency.
Closing remarks were given by Aaron Gross, Chief Resilience Officer, Officer of Mayor Eric Garcetti. He stated that there is an incredible overlap between resiliency and sustainability. As a city and a larger community, he noted, we must rebuild so we can function better, connect communities and continue the conversation to create sustainability.
The final prayer was offered by Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez, who emphasized that as humans we are more similar and interconnected than we are different. The Bishop added, “We must never betray the sense of loyalty [to humankind] in order to honor God in God’s creation.”
Ultimately, while we continue to need systemic change, Los Angeles is a beacon of hope. Beautiful things can happen, and change is within our reach if we seek to be more understanding, tolerant, and compassionate.