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Interfaith requests support

Jean Gordon

September 29, 2003

Who was there
Electoral candidates who publicly committed to work with Northern and Central Louisiana Interfaith Sunday night:
Governor: Bobby Jindal, R-Baton Rouge
State Senate District 35: Bill Jones, D-Ruston; Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe
Ouachita Parish Police Jury District B: Dewey Young, West Monroe
Ouachita Parish Police Jury District C: John Baker, R-Monroe; Rod Guy, R-Monroe
Ouachita Parish Police Jury District D: Daryll Berry, D-Monroe; Don Hopkins, D-Monroe
Ouachita Parish Police Jury District E: Kim Golden, Monroe; Elizabeth Sharp, R-Monroe
BESE Board, 5th District: James Stafford, D-Monroe;
Ouachita Parish Sheriff: Joe Stewart, R-Eros; James Turner, D-Monroe; Billy Willis, D-West Monroe; Pat Willis, R-Calhoun
One week before Louisiana's primary election, candidates for local and states offices got the chance to do something that people stumping for votes don't often have time to do: listen.

The 15 hopefuls, in the running for offices ranging from the governor to the Ouachita Parish sheriff, met with more than 300 representatives from the 25 faith and civic groups that make up Northern and Central Louisiana Interfaith.

The nonpartisan assembly met at Monroe's Jesus the Good Shepherd School gymnasium, where Interfaith delegates asked the candidates to publicly commit to work in partnership with the group.

"We're not looking for specific promises beyond accessibility after they're elected," said forum co-chairman the Rev. Dale Farley, adding that Interfaith will not endorse any particular candidate.

During the two-hour program, Interfaith delegates presented the organization's action agenda - which includes goals for community improvement in the areas of public education; crime and public safety; community development and infrastructure; employment and economic development; and religious tolerance.

David Murrell, a member of Monroe's Bethel Church of God in Christ who works for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said he got involved with Interfaith because the interracial, interreligious group works to solve issues that concern the community as a whole.

"A lot of problems can't be solved because of race," Murrell said. "Here we found a group that's not biased and is looking for the good of the community."

Indeed, the diverse assembly included adherents of the Baha'i faith, Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Jews, Lutherans, Presbyterians and members of the Church of God in Christ and the Heritage of India.

Interfaith delegates also used Sunday's meeting to announce the group's plan to expand its scope beyond Monroe to work on issues throughout Ouachita Parish.

Police Juror Kim Golden, who is running for re-election in District E, said she welcomes the group's attention to parish matters.

"The Ouachita Police Jury needs the benefit from the sunshine of your attention," she said to the assembly.

Each candidate for local office was given one minute to respond to Interfaith's concerns. Bobby Jindal, the only gubernatorial candidate at the assembly, was allotted three minutes for his remarks because of his statewide candidacy.

After the candidates' responses, each signed Interfaith's action agenda, which pledged their support to work with the group.

Among its varied initiatives, Interfaith's present goals include working with community leaders to draft a plan to cover hazardous drainage ditches, establish community policing programs and develop model afterschool enrichment programs in select elementary schools.

Interfaith recently partnered with the McAuley Institute, a nonprofit housing organization in Silver Springs, Md., to develop indicators to measure the group's effectiveness - particularly in the area of racial equality.

McAuley Institute research director Virginia Seitz called Sunday's meeting "fabulous."

"They spent a really long time building up trust and partnerships," Seitz said about Interfaith members. "You can see the fruit of that today."

©Copyright 2003, The News Star (LA, USA)

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