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Unity Conference Highlights

14 April 2012 No Comment

The 2012 MIRA / SCLC 6th Annual Unity Conference, Stand With Us: Uniting the Interracial Interfaith Communities of Color in Mississippi, was a huge success! Activists and faith leaders from across the state and nation joined us for a series of dialogues on Islam, social reform, immigration reform, immigrant youth activism, and current legislation in Mississippi.

Among those in attendance was Father Jerry Tobin, a priest with a predominantly immigrant congregation in Carthage, Mississippi. He commented that this years’ conference was one of the best that MIRA has hosted. He particularly appreciated that Imam Ali Siddiqui linked Islamic theology with concepts of social justice common to both Christian and Jewish faiths, and said that the Imam’s “masterful use” of American idiom put his highly diverse audience at ease.

Okolo Rashid, Director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures, was also present at the conference. She was part of the driving organizational and planning force for this year’s conference, and hoped that the conference would offer Mississippi’s diverse Muslim community an opportunity to form alliances with groups like MIRA and SCLC. After the weekend’s events, she said that she was very excited about the relationship that was begun between the different groups, and felt that the opportunity for Muslim communities to build partnerships with actively engaged organizations like MIRA is very significant. She said that she is “very hopeful” about the future of this new alliance, since the groups are all facing similar challenges and may work together in the future to galvanize support.

WJTV in Jackson covered the conference. Click here for a story and a video from Friday night’s feature news story.

These are some of the most significant moments from this year’s conference:

Panel: “A Serious Look at Islam: Its Promotion of Social Reform and Global Unity.” Led by Okolo Rashid, Director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures, the panel included Fahd Ahmed of DRUM; Rev. Fred Hammond of the Unitarian Universalist Church; Imam Ameen Abdur-Rashied of Masjid Muhammad; Minister David Muhammad, Nation of Islam; Judge Ali ShamsidDeen, Municipal Judge; and Roberta Avila, Director of STEPS Coalition.

Tour of the IMMC. After the panel discussion, Okolo Rashid, Director of the IMMC, led conference-goers on a guided tour of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures.

Legislative Outlook Panel. The Friday afternoon panel, “Legislative Outlook in Mississippi: Killing HB488, and Local Ordinances Good & Bad” was moderated by Mississippi State Representative and MIRA President Jim Evans. MIRA extends a special thanks to panel members Mississippi Senator Derrick Simmons, Jackson City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, Reverend Rims Barber of the Mississippi Human Services Coalition, and Bill Chandler of MIRA.

Overview of One Nation Indivisible by Susan Eaton, Research Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Susan shared her initial work of this new initiative to find and share the human stories  of the varied efforts  in communities across the country to expand opportunities and break down racial and cultural barriers. She also shared her recent article about immigration issues in Mississippi, which you can read here: Same New Struggle- Building a Better Southern Strategy in Multiracial Mississippi.

Friday Awards Dinner. Friday evening was one of delicious food, lively entertainment, compelling stories, and messages and prayers that created real impact in the hearts of listeners. Montage Dance Theater, a company based in Jackson, Mississippi, that has been invited to perform in the 2012 London Olympics, presented two vibrant pieces during the evening. After the dinner, Imam Ali Siddiqui spoke on Islam’s relationship with other major religions in the context of current society and events, addressing differences and similarities between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. He shared verses and prayers from the Qur’an, speaking the quotations first in Arabic, and then offering English interpretations.

The final event of the evening was the presentation of the Courage Under Fire Awards.

MIRA is proud to congratulate this year’s award recipients:

David Hampton: Profile in Courage Award. SCLC / MIRA Unity Conference 2012 bestows upon David Hampton, Editorial Director of the Clarion Ledger this Profile in Courage Award for supporting through his writings the effort to make Mississippi a fair and just society.

Hampton is the longtime editorial page editor of the Clarion Ledger daily newpsaper in Jackson. He has produced thousands of thoughtful editorials, and has invited many guest editorials from MIRA and other progressive community organizations.

Nsombi Lambright: Outstanding Leader Award. SCLC / MIRA Unity Conference 2012 bestows upon Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, this Outstanding Leader Award for her dedication and commitment to defending liberty and fighting against biases of all types for all Mississippians.

Lambright is the executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. Under her leadership, the Mississippi ACLU carries out a program of public education, legislative activity, and litigation on voting rights, race and criminal justice, freedom of speech and religion, and reproductive rights and gender issues.

Mississippi Senator Alice V. Harden: Lifetime Leadership Award. SCLC / MIRA Unity Conference 2012 bestows upon Senator Alice v. Harden, Ms Senate District 28, Hinds County this award of appreciation for a lifetime of leadership and excellence in the chambers of the Mississippi State Senate. For introducing and championing legislation that supports all human beings in their quest for freedom, justice and equality, we salute you!

Harden began her career as a classroom teacher, and rose to the leadership of the Mississippi Association of Educators in their struggle for decent education. In 1988, she was elected to the Mississippi Senate, where she has consistently stood up for education, public workers, and immigrants’ rights.

White House Roundtable Discussion. Saturday morning began with a discussion on Immigration Reform, led by L. Patricia Ice of MIRA and Monami Maulik of DRUM. After opening remarks by Maulik on legislative principles, conference attendees broke into small groups to discuss equitable immigration reform. President Obama has called on leaders and community members across the nation to participate in this discussion, and the results of the dialogues will be submitted to the White House Immigration Reform Team.

Youth in Action. We heard inspired presentations from Rafael Samanez of Vamos Unidos in New York, and from Sarah Del Castillo (a student at Millsaps College), Angela McKay of Southern Echo, and Victor Palafox of Alabama DREAMers for the Future on the ways that young people are participating in the struggle for immigrants’ and workers’ rights.

Conference Special Thanks MIRA extends a special thanks to Okolo Rashid for her inspired work in helping plan, organize, and direct this year’s conference. Through her influence and support, we were able to unite with Muslim faith leaders from around the country. MIRA also greatly appreciates Okolo’s presentation of a guided tour of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures.

MIRA would also like to thank its generous sponsors: The International Museum of Muslim Cultures, Southern Echo, UNITE HERE Local 2262, Leadership Conference Education Fund, Chokwe Lumumba Attorney at Law, United Auto Workers, St. Moses the Black Priory, Action Communication and Education Reform, Inc., Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee, Dr. Anne Marie Ice MD, Pamela E. Ice, Aladdin Mediterranean Grill, Southern Poverty Law Center, Mississippi State Conference NAACP, ACLU, El Torero Mexican Grill, Carniceria Valdez, STEPS Coalition, Classic Printing, The Jackson Advocate, Sir Speedy, La Noticia de Mississippi, and The Mississippi Muslim Association.

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