In a banquet hall full of hundreds of people Sunday, former Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins asked children, teens and college students to stand.
Hawkins, who parted ways with the college earlier this month after a national controversy over her suspension, said she has been criticized by other Christians for standing in solidarity with Muslims. She said was prevented from doing what she loves most -- teaching -- because she was vocal in her support.
But younger generations who embrace diversity inspire her to continue standing up for religious solidarity, she said.
"Tolerance, you may think, is just a mantra. But we do need to go beyond merely tolerating one another to loving one another and affirming one another," Hawkins said. "What I see in our young people is a kind of hope, and it's not a naive hope. It's a belief and an understanding that we are one."
Hawkins was among several guests who spoke Sunday during "We the People -- Know your Muslim Neighbors" at Shalimar Banquets in Addison.
More than 850 people from dozens of religious organizations registered for the first of a series of public events organized by the nonprofit DuPage United, said Meredith Muir, of Jericho Road Church in Wheaton. The "We the People" campaign aims to show solidarity for American Muslims.
"Clearly, we are acting as a part of something powerful," Muir said.
Hawkins was placed on administrative leave from Wheaton College in December for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Her Facebook posts included written support for Muslims, and she wore a hijab to "walk with (her) Muslim sisters."
She and the college later reached an agreement to permanently part ways.
Standing with other religions does not nullify her own faith, Hawkins said. Rather, her actions were intended to demonstrate love.
"That's what solidarity means -- standing with our Muslim neighbors," she said. "If we don't stand with them, we stand with no one."
During the event, attendees were asked to have one-on-one conversations with one another about religious acceptance.
"By being here today, we are taking the first step to repair a fundamental break in our society," said Joe Yucha, of Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn.
Yucha said it's easy to judge people based on race, religion, culture or other characteristics that make them different.
"We are here today because we want to focus on all that we do have in common rather than the few things we tell ourselves make us different from one another," he said. "We are here today because we are willing to replace 'us' and 'them' with 'we.'"