MOSAIC Brings Hope
Each meeting of Garden State MOSAIC keeps me hopeful in spite of what is going on daily. We live in trying times of racism, hate crimes, religious bigotry, fear of the other, demonization of the vulnerable, violent exclusion, and threats to democracy in America and globally. Yes, even in despair, I am hopeful. My involvement with MOSAIC keeps me hopeful.
MOSAIC(Mobilizing Our Students for Action to build Interfaith Community ), is a multi-faith teen education, service and leadership development project. The focus is on learning about other faiths, serving the community and enhancing student leadership skills. This is the fourth year and we are working with 62 new students from 12 different traditions as well as alumnae and 12 “ambassadors” (alumnae in leadership development). Although our faiths are different, we find common ground in our values of love, kindness, understanding, acceptance, and charity.
I find hope in the relationships I enjoy even in this diversity which displays our similarities and differences. Students come from many different traditions including Agnostic, American Baptist, Atheist, Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Humanist, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Reformed, Roman Catholic, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, and “undecided.” Eleven sessions are planned where we visit each other’s house of worship and the teens tell us about their faith, traditions, practices, and holidays. In addition, we work together in community service projects. Midnight Run is one of the community service projects. Serving dinner to the homeless in the Family Promise network in Monmouth County is another. Bringing food, toiletries and clothing to the homeless in NYC brings us together. That and bringing dinner to homeless families locally gives me hope. Many photos in the video and more information can be found on www.GardenStateMOSAIC.org.
Another project the students created was local school Teens Against Intolerance chapters where issues of intolerance and/or injustice are discussed in small groups and skits presented in school assemblies, as well as at local churches, at the local community college and other settings. MOSAIC attempts to equip students with the tools, skills and experience to stand up for the other. This makes me hopeful.
At the Closing Celebration last year one of the 8th grade students said that “MOSAIC allowed me to respect other religions as well as understand their background and theology. It has allowed me to express my beliefs and myself in ways that I could never express myself in. MOSAIC has given me the opportunities to taste foods that I would have never tasted in my lifetime and explore worlds that I have never been to. Because of MOSAIC, I have been able to leave my shell and ask questions to better my understanding. MOSAIC has given me the privilege to defend other faiths in other places so that people do not have to deal with the ignorance of others so conceded by their lack of knowledge of these topics.” The guest speaker, Mr. Sami Elmansoury, acknowledged the significance of what we are doing and thought that someday there would be a national MOSAIC and then a global MOSAIC.
A parent wrote that “Joining MOSAIC has helped my daughter tremendously in different ways. She learned about different faiths, made new friends, and participating in community service projects was the highlight of all. She got an opportunity to demonstrate her leadership skills as well. The whole MOSAIC experience has made a deep impact on her thinking and maturing.” The enthusiasm and support of both the teens and their parents give me hope.
One important outcome is the attention we have enjoyed from other groups interested in starting a MOSAIC program in other areas. We welcome visitors to the sessions to experience what is happening. We are also working on a guide to help others get started. MOSAIC can be replicated in other settings. This gives me hope.
MOSAIC has been a rewarding experience for all involved – the organizers, the students, and the parents. We have enjoyed a superb interfaith team committed to building and strengthening bridges with love, peace, and cooperation. This work gives me hope. We did not anticipate and were delighted to be recipients of the Community Interfaith Trailblazer Award at the Inaugural Shore Region Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on 5/18/16 for fostering interfaith community building amongst youth. The event was attended by over 150 community leaders in Monmouth County.
In addition, on 6/6/16, Dr. Sarbmeet Kanwal, Co-coordinator, received the Earl Thomas Teasley Humanitarian Award by the Monmouth County Human Resources Commission for his efforts in leading the MOSAIC program.
On 11/16/16 MOSAIC Co-coordinator Fatima Jaffari received the NJ Human Relations Council Unity Award for Achievement by a Faith-Based Organization for “Realizing a vision of engaging youth to understand and respect a diversity of religious beliefs, to create a more unified community by walking a day in each other’s shoes.”
MOSAIC was created by the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought and the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission. It enjoys the support of the various houses of worship where youth are enrolled as well as support from other Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations. I work with the steering committee, students and ambassadors planning community service projects and in fund raising. We build bridges of communication with interfaith dialogue, understanding and service. We enjoy community in our diversity. This brings me hope.
BPFNA Essay for the “Clothing Each Other in Hope” Series