'We ain't going back': High hopes, harsh truths at World Peace Day service in Naperville
A crowd of about 400 people gathered Sunday at Wentz Hall on North Central College's campus in Naperville for the 2020 World Peace Day Interfaith Prayer Service.
The theme of the service, "2020 Vision: Seeking a World Where Everyone Belongs," was displayed as the audience chanted "everyone belongs" in response to a series of affirmations based on the U.N. General Assembly's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, delivered in a range of languages including Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese and German.
But sobering words from the keynote speaker, Regina Brent, founder and president of the nonprofit Unity Partnership, provided a grim reminder that the vision of an all-inclusive society is still far reality.
The program celebrated the community's rainbow of faiths, with presentations from representatives of the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Latter Day Saints, Christian Science, Baha'i and Sikh communities.
The diverse musical performances included Angela Presutti, of First Church of Christ Scientist in Naperville, singing "O Gentle Presence," and Bhai Mohinder Singh and members of the Sikh Religious Outreach Society performing a highly percussive rendition of the shabad Aval Allah Noor Upayah.
Abdullah Mitchell, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations in Greater Chicago, said, "As I look across this room, I see the diversity for which this conference was organized. I see people of different races, ethnicities and religions coming out of their silos and separate neighborhoods, different social and economic backgrounds to come together, to stand for this concept called peace."
Amid the celebration, however, Brent, of Aurora, whose nonprofit works to build relationships between police and minority communities, engage youth and conduct outreach, threw the cold water of recent events over the proceedings.
She reminded the audience of the reality of racial profiling, homophobia, sex trafficking and the plight of detained immigrant children. She touched on religious intolerance, mentioning the defacing and burning of churches and the stabbing in synagogues worshippers kneeling to pray.
She also noted the paucity of African Americans in the audience.
"Yes, we have a rainbow coalition of many different races," she said. "But where are my people? And I blame them for not coming to join us today because they needed to be here."
Brent alluded to two racially charged local incidents during her speech, one involving students at Naperville Central High School and another occurring at a Buffalo Wild Wings.
"Black children and brown children are being tormented at the hands of white children, placing their pictures on Craigslist as slaves. Our black men have been cited for not taking care of their children, but then when they take their children to a restaurant to treat them for winning a ballgame, they are asked to remove themselves and sit on the other side of the room, as if we are living in the days of the African apartheid."
At the end of her speech, though, she sounded a note of hope by recalling the countless hours spent by her partnership to rebuild relationships with law enforcement.
"Colored folks had to deal with Jim Crow," she said, "but as African Americans, we have seen Barack Obama. We ain't going back to those days where fountains were labeled colored or white.
"And we ain't never going to ever sit again on the back of a bus. Because different races came together back then in the '60s, and we need to come together again in 2020 and say, 'no more.'"