January 2016            Newsletter of Initiatives of Change
Issue No. 35


A new year always brings the possibility of change. We can meet it with anxiety and fear or we can meet it with hope and expectation. In this issue we write about people who have decided to move out of their comfort zone and be the peacemakers and trustbuilders. 
There are many across the country who are finding ways to combat divisive rhetoric and fear mongering. We carry two stories about such initiatives of crossing the divides of religion. The story about Mission:Launch tells how Laurin Hodge and her mother are offering hope to those marginalized by incarceration. The Caux Scholars Program has alumni at work on every continent engaged in the important work of conflict transformation. 

Finally, we reflect with Brenda Jones on how Martin Luther King, Jr. would combat violent extremism. 
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Standing Together
What religion is God?
By Susan Corcoran
Richmonders of all faiths and backgrounds are uniting against the increasing Islamophobia, xenophobia, and divisive rhetoric. "Standing Together" is an initiative to bring diverse groups together to speak out and stand with the Muslim community and others who are marginalized. On January 10 more than 600 people responded to this call and filled the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Ahabah, the oldest Synagogues in Richmond, VA. Under the leadership of Jonathan Zur and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, Hope in the Cities joined a coalition of community organizations and more than 50 faith leaders from across the region in launching the call.

Following a press conference at the Islamic Center of Virginia in mid-December and a full page advertisement in the Richmond Times-Dispatch signed by more than 100 community and faith leaders on December 27, Congregation Beth Ahabah asked to host the January 10 public event. Welcoming the crowd, Rabbi Martin P. Beifield, Jr. said, "This is a journey we are on, a process. We are called to travel together and strengthen our community." In response, Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center spoke of the "universal invitation to come together to serve God and to serve humanity." He urged the audience to "find common ways to stand up for justice, equality and human rights."

The Rev. Dr. John W. Kinney of Virginia Union University spoke of the need to go to the root of what divides. "Gender, race and religion become a conceptual framework for constant patterns of separation."

A panel representing different faiths picked up the conversation. Reflecting on the discrimination they or their community have experienced, Anita Elcock, who chairs the board of trustees for Tawheed Prep School, an Islamic school in Richmond's North Side, recounted a story from a Muslim woman who was followed by someone in a local grocery store. When she finally turned around to confront the person, they asked, "Are you ISIS?" She responded, "Are you the KKK?" This story was met with much laughter of recognition. Read more
Imam & Pastor at Harvard and UMAS 
Bridging divides
by Charles Aquilina
Dean David Hempton, Harvard Divinity School, Professor Jeff Seul, Imam Ashafa, Pastor James, Professor Diana Eck, director of Harvard's Pluralism Project and Darren Kew of UMASS Boston
Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye came to Boston to talk about the ways communities in the United States can help promote religious tolerance worldwide and eliminate acts of violence in the name of religion. They were invited by Harvard Divinity School and the University of Massachusetts Boston, Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance. Both Universities hosted several events including a well-attended colloquium as part of the Religion and the Practice of Peace Initiative at the Harvard Divinity School. It was hosted by Diana Eck, director of Harvard's Pluralism Project, which focuses on documenting religious diversity in the United States. 

The current tension and fear had already impacted their arrival in the country. Pastor James had to remove his artificial hand for the airport security screening and Imam Ashafa was questioned for over two hours before being allowed in. It was against the background of these experiences that they called on their audiences to overcome fear. They made several recommendations on how religious leaders can meet and work to bring the true "glory of religion" to the world. "If you do not make peace with all men, you will not see the Lord," said Pastor James.

These two religious leaders have a long history of fighting against each other when they were part of opposing well-armed militant groups in Nigeria. Both experienced great losses - Imam Ashafa, losing two of his close relatives and Pastor James, his hand. Despite this history, they are now engaged in peacebuilduing work across Africa. They call on others to do the same. "In Nigeria, we're competing to see who will kill the most. After every ethno-religious conflict, we count and we prepare for the next," continued the pastor, "trying to outweigh one another in the number of churches we have burned, the number of mosques we have destroyed and the lives we have taken."Read more

Follow this link to an interview on PRI's program,The World"
To order the DVD of the film "The Imam & The Pastor"
Community Trustbuilding Fellowship
The discomfort and uncertainty of change

Andrew Trotter
, journalist and editor, is one of the 2016 class of the Community Trustbuillding Fellowship. Here he describes the second module, "Healing history: creating a new narrative for communities." 

Does change - positive, profound human change - ever happen without discomfort and uncertainty? Both those symptoms were evident at the second session of the 2016 Community Trustbuilding Fellowship, which met in Richmond, Virginia, on December 4-6. 
For the second weekend module of the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship the theme was "Healing history" and the 23 fellows in the program discussed how change - specifically, personal healing and reconciliation on race - can be applied to healing entire communities.

As those talks became more intense, discomfort and uncertainty were never far from the surface, especially after the group visited several sites relating to the Civil War and slavery - notably the Richmond Slave Trail, a riverside walk past markers on the history of enslaved Africans in Virginia. Linking hands the group walked in silence, then continued to the site of Lumpkin's Slave Jail, where enslaved persons were temporarily corralled while the slave traders dined and haggled at a nearby inn. 

During debriefings, some individual fellows spoke about their personal or family history. At one stop, I had an uncomfortable sense that I had withheld meaningful information, so I shared about my white ancestors who fought in the Civil War-including a Southerner who owned enslaved people and Northerners who prospered from an economy enriched by slavery. Other fellows responded encouragingly, but some implied that I was being a bit self-important. Talk about discomfort!

Later, I wondered, did I "overshare" and take up too much of the group's time? Others confessed uncertainty about how much of their history, emotion, or commentary they should put before the group. Fortunately, our experienced facilitators encouraged the quieter ones to speak without stifling the talkative "sharers." Many of us realized that similar group dynamics will take place in any community conversation; we'd best be prepared for that. Read more 
Mission: Launch
Home again - what now?
By Karen Elliott Greisdorf

Laurin Hodge was a Caux Scholar in 2013 and worked with Initiatives of Change USA as a program coordinator in Washington, DC. Karen Elliott Greisdorf meets this remarkable mother and daughter team, who are offering hope to former prisoners. We print this article with permission from "Changemakers,"  a new magazine published by Initiatives of Change UK.
The founders of Mission: Launch, Teresa and Laurin Hodge, have always made a strong team. Widowed when Laurin was two, Teresa rolled the job of two parents into one. Later, after Teresa served a prison term, Laurin helped her to carry through her dream of helping released prisoners reintegrate in society. 

Laurin laughs as Teresa says that stubbornness, along with compassion, empathy and faith, is a quality they share. These characteristics stood them in good stead in 2001, when Teresa came under investigation for white-collar crime, just as Laurin was starting university at the age of 17. Three days after her graduation, Teresa's trial began. She served 70 months in prison. By January 2015, when her post-release probation period ended, the whole experience had consumed a third of Teresa's and nearly half of Laurin's life. 

In prison, Teresa had begun to focus on what life could mean for her and her fellow prisoners once they'd been released. "I was in prison with politicians and prostitutes," she says. "There were corporate executives and women with mental illness; young women in their teens and women in their 70s and 80s." Prisoners have "unlimited time to dream a big and good dream for the future. However, when you arrive home the stigma and barriers to employment, housing and basic essentials make re-entry feel impossible."

Laurin had entered university with the vision of going on to medical school, but graduated at a time of national recession when employment for recent graduates was tough to come by. She worked for a health-related charity in Virginia, but ultimately, in the autumn of 2009, found herself in a ten-month business studies and leadership development programme at Johns Hopkins University in nearby Baltimore.

"I knew my mom had the capacity to come home and do all that she's doing now," Laurin says, "but that was never really my plan." And yet, she was the one who got Mission:Launch up and running after winning a business plan competition sponsored by Johns Hopkins. Other awards and recognition followed, affirming Laurin's determination to develop the non-profit. 

Today Mission: Launch produces software to help "returning citizens" to re-enter society on their release, and to shift public opinion about incarceration. At their annual Rebuilding Re-entry Hackathon, computer programmers, returning citizens and social entrepreneurs work together to develop apps and other technologies. Read more
Caux Scholars Program in India
A commitment to peace and justice
By Cassandra Lawrence

The Caux Scholars Program in India finished just over a week ago. Despite severe floods and last minute visa challenges that prevented some from coming, 14 scholars from 10 countries completed the 3 week intensive course on conflict transformation and sustainable development. 

The scholars were able to connect and learn from each other, as well as from Dr. Florina and Dr. Gladston Xavier, the core faculty. Dr. Xavier is from Loyola College in Chennai, India. He is an expert in the field of conflict resolution. He and Dr. Florina have given workshops on peacebuilding for people in the grass roots, as well as policy makers in Asia, Europe and America. The scholars also had the opportunity to meet with several guest lecturers from the Asia Plateau conference center. 

In addition to the case studies presented by the faculty, each scholar presented a conflict where they come from, ranging from political conflicts in Ukraine, Burundi, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and others, to identity formation in Malaysia, family conflicts, and corporate social responsibility. Several of the scholars had already had some work experience which deepened their understanding of how the ideas expressed in the course could be applied in the real world.

The academic director, Dr. Xavier, writes, "It was a challenging journey but also very rewarding. The scholars' interactions were mature and fostered a clear understanding of the concepts. Since the group was so receptive, we were able to give more input from our side. Despite the long days that made them wake up early and go to bed pretty late, there was not a whimper or complaint. The group stuck together through all its challenges. All the scholars demonstrated their commitment to peace and justice and are already making a difference in their communities."

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.
We are tied into a single garment of destiny

Brenda Jones has served for more than 11 years as Communications Director for US Congressman John Lewis. She spoke about Martin Luther King, Jr. at a fundraising evening in Washington, DC, for the Caux Scholars Program in India. The theme of the evening was, "How would Gandhi, King and Mandela counter violent extremism?" We print excepts of her speech now at the time of the Martin Luther King holiday.

There is so much in this world that young people have to unlearn once they discover the truth about the human story. But the Caux Scholars Program exposes them to an elemental truth, one that will never have to be unlearned. Perhaps the man I have worked for for the last eleven years, Rep. John Lewis, says it best, "We are one people, one family, the human family. And we all live in one house, the American house, the world house. We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish as fools."

Rajmohan Gandhi_ Brenda Jones and Rev. Sylvester Turner
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would put it another way and say, "All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality." 

What would King's response be to the violent extremism manifested in our world today? He would not point the finger at individuals, regions, nations and their leaders. He would not ask us who, but what has caused such extreme commitment to violence as a resolution to human problems in our society and the world community? His message would boil down to one word: Responsibility. He would ask us to consider our responsibility in creating this atmosphere of militarism on American shores. He would ask us whether we believe it is an accident that the tools of war have landed in our backyard after we have sown the seeds of violence abroad.

We have sacrificed the people of this nation and even the American dream to give greater advantages to the few at the expense of the many. Americans find themselves in a dehumanized reality where they are cogs in a machine that barely sustains their own lives, let alone liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How do we contribute to mechanisms of this dehumanization, through our silence or our deeds? Isn't that a form of violence, of spiritual slaughter?

In Lewis's little book about his philosophy entitled, Across that Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, he quotes the words of an American Tibetan Budhhist nun, Pema Chodron, from her book entitled Practicing Peace in a Time of War. She says, "we can talk about ending war and we can march for ending war... but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other."

Violent extremism is the product of the blood that flows through the human heart to deny space for compassion, for the softening of the conscience, the release that hope for a better future can provide. At the center of all hate is the reduction of the divine, the true essence of all humanity, to a series of ugly epithets and unsavory notions: "stupid," "dumb," "sissy," "lazy," "worthless," "no count," "no good," "alien," or "illegal"... And then there are, the words we make up that imply a world full of sins:"Wops," "Nips," "Kikes," "Dagos," "niggas," "fags." And the final nail in the cross is the sanctification of the unthinkable that ties the most despicable action to the achievement of the highest of ideals. How much do we subscribe to this dehumanization? Read more
We hope you enjoyed this issue of Trustbuilders. Please share this newsletter with your friends and forward it to those you know have a passion for trustbuilding.   
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Caux Scholars 2016
Apply now for Summer 2016
Now is the time to get in your application to be part of the Caux Scholars class in 
Switzerland in 2016! 

Language: English
Program Fees: US $3800 (covers tuition, meals, lodging)
Location: Initiatives of Change conference center in Caux, Switzerland
Dates: June 26 - July 24, 2016
Participation: Limited to 20 students

Application deadline: February 19

Watch this video to know more about what the program offers

Peacebuilding Unpacked
Peacebuilding Unpacked
2016 Caux Conferences

June 29-July 3
Caux Dialogue on Land and Security

July 5-10
Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy

July 12-17
Just Governance for Human Security

July 19-23
Addressing Europe's Unfinished Business

July 19-23
International Peace-Builders' Forum

July 26-August 1
CATS - Children as Actors for Transforming Society

August 4-10
Creators of Peace
Living Peace: Celebrating 25 Years of Creators of Peace

August 12-17
Seeds of Inspiration
2015 Caux Report
More than 1400 people from all continents attended the eight International Caux Conferences in 2015, all striving for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. 

Plan on being there this year!
IofC Film Archive 
Some of the outstanding films of IofC, and before that MRA, have been collected and uploaded to an archive site on Vimeo. These films are available for free personal viewing. Licenses are required for non-profit, educational, government or commercial use. Please contact film.archives@us.iofc.org 

Most recently uploaded are:

IofC: The Crowning Experience
The Crowning Experience
Originally a play based on the life of Dr Mary McLeod Bethune, the pioneering educator and civil rights activist who became an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Give a Dog a Bone
Give a Dog a Bone
A theater play for children originally written by Peter Howard and adapted to the screen. It is the story of a dog, his master (a boy), his master's family and a man who comes from the space.

Voice of the Hurricane
Voice of the Hurricane
The story of a white family and their black cook in the colonial African context. Based on a stage play that clearly has echoes of the Mau Mau nationalist struggle in Kenya.

Jotham Valley
Jotham Valley
A story about 2 brothers in the west of the United States, who deal with hatred and griefs, leading Jotham to close the water supply for the whole valley.

Check out other titles at:


by Rob Corcoran


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Initiatives of Change, USA
is part of a diverse global network with an 80-year track record of peacebuilding, conflict transformation and forging partnerships across divides of race, class, religion and politics.  
Our vision
We inspire a vision of community where a commitment to reconciliation and justice transcends competing identities and interests. 


Our mission
We equip leaders to build trust in diverse communities through a process of personal change, inclusive dialogue, healing historical conflict and teambuilding 


Our focus
We connect core values with personal and public action with a focus on racial reconciliation, economic inclusion and interfaith understanding.


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