Interfaith Rally Draws Hundreds To Take Stand Against Racism
The rally was held around the original site of the 1901 Pan- American Exposition as a reminder of how racism plagued the country during the 20th century.
"In commemoration of the centennial celebration of the Pan- American Exposition, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on the past 100 years," said U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott, chairman of the National Conference for Community and Justice, an organizer of the event, which featured many religions. There were Sikh turbans and Muslim veils, including an American flag-styled veil.
The rally was scheduled to take place behind Albright-Knox Art Gallery, but Sunday's rain forced the event across the street to Buffalo State College's sports arena. Yet the rain didn't dampen enthusiasm.
"This strategy takes a grass-roots approach to stopping the spread of racial indifference," said Lana Benatovich, NCCJ executive director, adding that the rally took months of planning. "We want to get to the heart of every individual in our community. We need people to understand the effects racism and bigotry have on the welfare of the Buffalo Niagara region. Cultural racism is very much a concern, as well as the solidarity of our community."
Before singing a powerful song of peace, Cantor David Goldstein of Temple Beth Zion noted that "racism -- in its purest sense -- is horrendous. It should be eradicated." And Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the American Muslim Council, used the Quran to support the idea that racism is sinful.
The rally was born out of the national Faith Leaders Initiative, chaired by NCCJ President Sanford Cloud Jr., at the request of former President Bill Clinton. Cloud gathered faith leaders to sign on to help eradicate racism, declaring it a sin and a problem of the heart. About 30 local faith leaders showed their support by signing a pledge to fight racism on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
"Western New York was the first community to duplicate this national effort on a local level," said the Rev. James A. Lewis III, co-chairman of the rally and the Faith Leaders Initiative. Lewis, pastor of J.W. Loguen Memorial AME Zion Church, conceded that some may view the evil nature of racism as a given, "but to have to keep saying it -- we learn by repetition."
Invoking the many names of God, the Rev. Cameron Miller, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, said, "Racism is a problem of my heart and your heart."
The Rev. Thomas H. Yorty, senior pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church and co-chairman of Banners Against Racism and Faith Leaders Initiative, said there "was a time when all we asked from one another was tolerance. Today, we expect more. We expect people to embrace one another -- not endure one another. We expect people to respect and learn our differences, similarities and our shared experiences. Today, we declare as a faith community, we are taking action against the evils of racism. Together, we declare that racism is a sin."
Keynote speaker Henry L. Taylor, director of the University at Buffalo's Center for Urban Studies, addressed the nature of racism in Buffalo before his address:
"We have had much progress on the attitudinal side of racism but little progress on the institutional side," he said. "We're in a state of denial. We see the success of black entertainers, including athletes -- the absolute talents -- and don't pay sufficient attention of other manifestations of racism, for example, white opposition to affirmative action.
"We celebrate the racial progress we've made in Buffalo -- and we should -- but segregation today is worse than it was in 1935. Today racism is reflected in quality of housing, the high unemployment rate, the dilapidated schools. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. We have made progress, but it pales with the distance we have to travel."
Sunday's rally also included an explanation by Tuscarora Chief Leo Henry about the Native American belief that an action taken today, if it is passed on from parent to child, will have an impact for seven generations.
The musical lineup at the rally included the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, St. Martin De Porres Church Choir, the New Beginnings Choir and the Westminster Church Choir. There was also a Muslim call to prayer, and prayers of peace from the Bahai, Buddhist, Sikh and Unitarian faiths. Eighth-grader Keisha Adamczyk sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
Banners from many churches and faith organizations lined the arena. Faith leaders will continue to work with their communities to carry out their message of inclusiveness: Each cleric plans to dedicate at least one service to the subject of racism.
NCCJ, founded in 1927 and first called the National Conference of Christians and Jews, is an organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and racism in America. NCCJ promotes understanding and respect among all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education.
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