Building Bridges to Community
03 February 2007

The 40 participants in Initiatives of Change's Los Angeles Forum included educators, professionals, business people and students representing various ethnic, racial and faith communities.

'Building Bridges to Community' was the theme of a regional forum convened in Los Angeles by local Initiatives of Change volunteers on 3 February. Held at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), which made its excellent facilities available free of charge, the forum coincided and was linked with the university’s annual Bridgebuilder Award, given this year to conductor Zubin Mehta for his work using music to bring together people who have been engaged in conflict. Philanthropist Navin Doshi, whose generosity made possible the LMU Bridgebuilder Award, and Rajmohan Gandhi, who had been invited to speak at the award ceremony, dropped by the IofC forum, along with Usha Gandhi, and Rajmohan spoke briefly, fully identifying with the goals and values of the forum.

Many participants were moved by the stories and commitment of four young panelists: African-, Latino-, Muslim- and Indian- Americans. Three had lived lives marked by economic hardship, violence and struggle. Michael Spelte spoke of the “hopelessness” he had experienced, to the point of being “broken inside”, but of an “internal hunger” that had driven him to “push out” and stick with his studies, so that he is within reach of graduation from UCLA. Currently engaged in mentoring and in medical work in the Latino community, he plans to enter medical school after graduation. All were reaching beyond the boundaries of their own community to give to and learn from others.

The forum gave its own “Bridgebuilder Awards” to two grassroots activists, “Sweet Alice” Harris, noted nationally for her work building trust and understanding between the African American and Latino communities in Watts, among other things, and Father Martir Vasquez , a priest whose church includes Palestinians, Nigerians, Hispanics and Caucasians and whose ministry extends well beyond the boundaries of his church community.

Don Cowles and the Rev Sylvester “Tee” Turner, from IofC in Richmond, told about mentoring programs in which they are engaged which are based on “listening and learning, relationship-building, and showing up without agenda and in a spirit of service.” These programs have grown to include several churches and faith communities, providing books for libraries, summer camp experiences, and advocacy for the students and parents before the school board.

Donations from a number of people, including several members of the Indian Jain community, together with registration fees, completely covered the costs of the event. A March showing of the new film, The Imam and the Pastor, was announced as a follow up activity.

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