Islamophobia – a current growing US diversity issue

NC Council of Churches Governing Board and Staff are proud to stand with the banner showing us as united against racism and Islamophobia

NC Council of Churches Governing Board and Staff are proud to stand with the banner showing us as united against racism and Islamophobia

As a diversity consultant, I strive to stay up to date on current trends and issues in the diversity and inclusion field. One of the tough issues growing within our country is Islamophobia. My definition of Islamophobia is, “an irrational fear or hatred of Muslim people based on unfamiliarity or stereotyping.” FYI, Webster’s Dictionary defines stereotyping as “forming a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion.” Unfortunately, many people are judging the world’s one billion Muslims based on the actions of a very small radical visible few.

I was actually starting to plan this blog over two weeks ago, before the horrific massacre at the Pulse Bar in Orlando, which makes this entry now even more timely.

Why is Islamophobia or any phobia or fear of a group of people problematic? When we cannot all respect each other and work together within our society, we cannot be as productive as a nation as we can, and at its worst, hate and violence occurs.

I am currently on the board of the North Carolina Council of Churches, which represents 17 denominations and several independent congregations. We work to build respect and understanding across denomination and religion lines to impact our state for the good of all our residents. At our quarterly board meeting on June 7, we had a guest presenter, Manzoor Cheema from MERI – the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia.

Manzoor share several interesting (and some disturbing) information:

• Islam is not a new religion in the United States. Muslims have been present in our country since the 1830s, including Africans brought over in the slave trade (many forced to renounce their religion by their owners)
• Given that a large number of Muslim are “people of color,” racism and islamophobia are connected and intertwined.
• Myths about Islam, like that it is inherently violent, are widely propagated based on the actions of a very small minority.
• There has been a tripling of the attack rate on mosques and Muslims since Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim statements
• There are a disproportionate ratio Muslims incarcerated and expelled from school. And this statement does is not meant to imply that Muslim commit more crimes, but instead to point our the inherent bias in our justice system.
• Most Muslims do not hate women, Jews, Christians and LGBT people. For example, the MERI organization has partnered with the Jewish Voice for Peace as well as Methodist and Quaker organizations. Manzoor also mentioned addressing discrimination against LGBT people several times during his presentation.

I close with a three recommendations:Mosque photoI close with a three recommendations:

1. Visit a local mosque or attend a Muslim sponsored event.
2. Do research on Islam including viewing resources on the MERI website.
3. Connect with an actual Muslim person and ask them to tell you about their beliefs instead of listening to what other parties are saying about them.

Later this summer I hope to blog about Islam in the workplace, and the LGBT issue within Islam, but for now please do read this excellent and provocative piece reacting to the Orlando massacre by Salma Mirza, a queer-identified Muslim organizer of MERI.

An awesome global collaboration – Kenyan art in Raleigh, NC!

All four of Leah Odero's paintings grouped together at the art exhibit

All four of Leah Odero’s paintings grouped together at the art exhibit

IMPORTANT NOTE: The four paintings will be on display at the December 17th Jamhuri Day Celebration (Sertomoa Art Center Raleigh 5-11PM) coordinated by Raleigh’s Kenyan community and Raleigh Sister Cities. They can be purchased, and we will be having a raffle for one and an auction for another. Link for more information on the Jamhuri Day Celebration.

All paintings are approx. 22 inches by 32 inches

* * * *

I have some exciting news to share. As many of you know, I have been involved in community development work in Kenya. You can link here for a short summary of how I got involved in this work, and you can also read my progressive updates about ongoing progress. I posted extensive updates with photos and a video in May and January. Though my partnership with the people of the city of Mtito Andei was announced over five years ago, the work has really taken off since teaming with my new trusted partner and now my pastor (yes, I belong to a progressive open church in Kenya) Rev. Michael Kimindu of Neema Metropolitan Community Church, Mtito Andei, Kenya.

Also about four years ago, I was delighted as a long-time resident of Raleigh, NC, when Raleigh Sister Cities announced its fifth sister city – Nairobi, Kenya. (Use this link to read more about what Sister Cities International is about.) What a wonderful coincidence that confirmed that my focus on Kenya was well chosen. I got involved with the Nairobi sister city committee and then last year the Raleigh City Council appointed me to the Raleigh Sister Cities (link) board of directors.

And in 2016, Raleigh Sister Cities is celebrating our 30th anniversary with a full year of ongoing activities. One of those is an art exhibit with art from the sister cities on exhibition through July at the Betty Ray McCain Art Gallery at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in Raleigh. (See gallery information at the bottom of this blog below all the photos.)

Hearding by Leah Odero

Hearding by Leah Odero

The exhibit features 51 works created by 17 artists from Raleigh’s sister cities in Nairobi, Kenya, Rostock, Germany, Kingston-upon-Hull, UK; and Compiegne, France. The exhibited works were selected from 135 submissions by co-curators, Lee Hansley, proprietor of Lee Hansley Galleries in Raleigh, and Melissa Peden, a Raleigh art consultant.

When the Nairobi committee was having problems securing suitable art, I sent an urgent message to my community development partner and pastor in Kenya, Michael Kimindu, and through his connections he introduced me to a talented young artist in Nairobi, Leah Odero. She sent me photographs of her paintings, and four were selected for the exhibition. I and my business (Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer) sponsored the shipping of the artwork from Kenya to the USA.

I and my business are delighted to be one of the exhibit's sponsors

I and my business are delighted to be one of the exhibit’s sponsors

On June 3, I was given a private tour of gallery since I was not able to attend the opening, and including in this update are several wonderful photos. Also, all four pieces of Leah’s art are for sale, and it would great to sell them and send Leah the cash instead of shipping the art back to her. You can email, [email protected], for info and pricing, and the art can be yours after the exhibition ends later in July!

I am so pleased at how this international collaboration has worked so well and how special gifts like art that enrich all our lives can be shared globally.
Group 1
Group 2A
Group 3
The Betty Ray McCain Art Gallery is in the lobby of the Meymandi Concert Hall at Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The gallery is open prior and during events at the Meymandi Concert Hall. Link to events schedule.