This has been another week of activity at Tanenbaum, but Wednesday (November 9th) was particularly exciting for me. That evening, I attended a wonderful panel discussion at the Judson Memorial Church, The Power of Empathy in Social Change hosted by the Muslim Consultative Network. The speakers were three leaders in the peacebulding field, Anya Cordell, a noted speaker, writer and activist, Farah Pandith, Special Representative to the Muslim Community for the US State Department, and our very own, Joyce Dubensky, Tanenbaum’s CEO. The audience was mixed and engaged.
Within the walls of the beautiful church, the speakers shared touching stories about personal encounters with religious and cultural biases. The speakers also their work – painting a picture of each woman’s background and revealing the lens through which they wish change the world. The women presented three distinct viewpoints on religious prejudice and then offered actionable suggestions for combating bias in communities, from local, individual interaction, to large-scale, global change.
I was struck by several things in their remarks and in the Q & A that followed.
When Joyce spoke about the ways individuals can step up, she reminded everyone how they could use the materials we created for Prepare NY. But she also talked about the importance of having allies, being an ally to those who are targeted, and actively supporting and empowering one’s allies.
An audience member talked about his concerns on the portrayal of Muslims in America. He described how his children are exposed to negative imagery – not just violent images, but consistent visual messages that display people appearing Middle Eastern as evil.
He wanted to know how these biases could be challenged so that his children could make a better future for themselves. The response from the panelists pointed to the power of education and Joyce and Farah both talked about the importance of providing factual information to debunk ignorance. Both also talked about how misinformation and stereotypes are in texts and school books across the globe, and can be about Muslims, Jews and others. Joyce also spoke about Tanenbaum’s Education work, and how it is important to prepare students to combat religious prejudice and teach them that “different” does not mean “bad.“