President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

By | September 13, 2019


Joshua DuBois:
Well, good morning, everyone. Oh, come on, good morning. (applause) This is an exciting day to
be at the White House, huh. I want to thank all of you for
coming from around the country to participate in this convening
for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service
Campus Challenge, the kick-off for the school year
component of this challenge. I’m so excited to have you here. My name is Joshua DuBois and I’m
special assistant to President Obama and director of
Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. We are working with a
number of other offices to coordinate this challenge. And it’s really my pleasure
to welcome you on behalf of President Obama. In fact, I was able to be with
the President briefly this morning and let him know that we
were going to come over here and we were going to have
a great day today. And he asked me to do a little
something and you all are going to have to just bear with me. I’ve been working for
him for like ten years. So, if he says I have to do
something I have to do it. If you wouldn’t mind
raising your hands, please. Sorry. In the back
there too, please. (laughter) Could you move them
like this, please? Okay. I promised President Obama I
would shake everyone’s hand at the Interfaith
Challenge this morning. (laughter) Sorry, folks. I had to do my job. So listen, I hope you sense
the — despite my joke — the gravity in this
room this morning. This is truly an
historic occasion. You all are a part
of something special. Never before in the history of
our nation have colleges and universities and seminaries
and other theological schools, community colleges, and others,
come together around the goal of interfaith cooperation through
service around the nation. You all are really a key part
of forming the ties that bind our country together and will
stay bound in the years and decades to come. So this is really
something special. We have a tremendous day
in store for you today. You’re going to hear from
the folks that put this challenge together. You’re going to hear from
the President’s top advisers, including his top adviser on
education, Roberto Rodriguez, who will be here
in just a moment. You’re going to hear from our
nation’s top national service officials and also the
President’s domestic policy adviser as well. But more importantly, and this
is one of the key things I want to leave with you at
the top of the day, you’re going to hear
from each other. Hopefully you’re going to
interact with folks from around the country who are taking part
of this — in the same process of building interfaith
collaboration. And I think you’ll
learn just as much, if not more from one another
than you will from the speakers that you hear
throughout the day. So I hope you’ll take that
time to network and form relationships and really connect
and make this a movement as opposed to just projects
separately around the country. So I’m going to tell you a
bit more about our office, about the day and about some
other key components of this convening in a bit, but first I
want to introduce a very special guest, and that is
Roberto Rodriguez. Roberto is President Obama’s top
adviser for education out of the White House. He’s a special assistant to
the President in the domestic policy council. Formerly worked as Senator
Kennedy’s point person for education issues, and has really
just been a tremendous leader in moving our entire education
reform agenda forward. So let’s welcome
Roberto to the stage. (applause) Thank you, sir. Roberto Rodriguez:
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the White House. We are so happy you’re here. I’m pleased to join you
as Joshua mentioned. My name is Roberto Rodriguez. I’m the President’s special
assistant for education. I thought it was fitting since
you all are really in the trenches working day in and day
out to help make sure that we have a great nation
of lifelong learners, that we would begin our morning
by talking a little bit about our education agenda. I’d like to just give you a
thumbnail sketch of some of the things that we’re focused on
here in our administration on education policy, might
take a few questions, and then hopefully
that will continue the conversation throughout. You’ll hear later today from
our director of domestic policy, Melody Barnes, a bit more
about some of our agenda. We really believe that
strengthening our education system is really critical to
the future of the country. The President has made education
reform and improving our education system from cradle
all the way through career, a top priority, a top
pillar of his plan to win the future, because he really
believes that in order to out build and out innovate and out
perform the rest of the world, we are in a real contest, and
education is in part the engine that helps move us forward. So there’s a strong
economic imperative here. We know that we’ve certainly
lost some momentum when we look at some of our key indicators in
math and science achievement in K-12 education. We’re losing about 30% of our
high school students who don’t cross the finish line
and aren’t successful in terms of graduating. That’s not just a matter
of short changing their own individual future. It really is imperative for our
country that we do better to really make sure that we are
providing the opportunities, each and every one of our
young people needs to succeed. So there’s a strong
economic imperative there. Just as strong and just
as important is the moral imperative, and I think that’s
something that I know you all are well attuned to in the work
that you do day in and day out. But our strength and our ability
to really live up to the most important fundamentals
of our country, in terms of ensuring equity
and opportunity and fairness, and really ensuring that each
and every one of our young people has the opportunity to
really fulfill his or her full potential and live the American
dream really rests on our ability to do a better job
of providing a well-rounded complete and competitive
education for each and every one of our kids. So, we are really focused on
this as I mentioned along the entire spectrum. We are beginning in early
childhood education. We’ve launched a brand new
competition that we are very excited about, the application
will be going out in mid-August here in just a couple of weeks,
called the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. And here we are challenging our
states across the country to raise the bar on the
quality of their early childhood education programs. We know we have about 11 million
kids that spend some amount of time outside of the home,
outside of the care of their parents before they
reach kindergarten. The quality of those
early childhood programs has to be high. We know that the achievement gap
that we often wrestle with in K-12 education in
higher education, the college completion and
college attainment that we are still wrestling with,
really begins early. It begins at age 3. We have an early vocabulary and
language gap that starts between our most affluent kids and
their less affluent peers and that persisted into a
kindergarten readiness gap. Our Race to the Top-Early
Learning Challenge says, look we really need to do a
better job of making sure that we have a comprehensive set
of standards and programs that attend not just to cognitive
early learning, early literacy, early numeracy of our children,
but also make sure that they are healthy, that they have strong
social and emotional development and that they can really begin
kindergarten ready for success. So we’re thrilled
about this composition. We have 37 states that have
expressed intent to apply, to compete for these funds,
and we are going to be moving that forward. That rests on top of some
investments we’ve made in core programs like Head
Start, like child care, other key investments in
early childhood home visiting. Moving into K-12 education,
there we’ve also launched a race to the top to really improve the
quality of our elementary and secondary schools. And a lot of that work
really rests and spans across four core areas. We are really seeking to raise
standards and make sure that the expectations that we have for
our kids and the levels of learning are on par with what
they will need in a new global economy, what they will need
to be able to succeed at a 21st century workforce. So we have a number of states
that have joined a state led effort to raise the rigor and
relevance of their standards and we are supporting that work. Secondly, we are doing a lot to
focus in on the quality of our teaching workforce. And to do more to really
prepare, develop, support, retain our most
effective teachers. And in particular, in
our high need schools. Our teachers are one of the
greatest resources that we can give our kids for their learning
moving forward and we need to be sure that we are
elevating that profession, we are supporting continued
development of our teachers. We don’t have a system right
now in teaching that really identifies our best teachers,
identifies our teachers that really need the most help and
need the most skill development and bridge that gap. And that’s what we
are seeking to do. So our Race to the Top sets up
some new systems to really look at student performance, compare
that to teacher effectiveness and do a better job to really
drive the support that all of our teachers need to
be able to succeed. We are focused thirdly on
turning around our lowest performing schools. The statistic I mentioned about
the number of students we lose every year, we have over half of
our dropouts that attend about 1700 schools in this country,
that comprises of about three-quarters of our dropouts
of color, our African-American, and Latino dropouts. So, the good news is we have
a discrete universe of schools that we know we can really — if
we double down with a national plan to improve the quality of
those schools we stand a chance to curb this dropout rate. So we have committed over $4
billion to really identify our lowest performing schools,
and to support ambitious interventions in those
schools, changes in curriculum, changes in how teachers are
supported and evaluated, changes in how the
school day looks, changes in how we approach
teaching and learning in those schools. And also changes in the staffing
sometimes in some of those cases as well. So we are taking on about 1,000
of those schools right now and we are moving forward. Our Department of Education
is administering the school improvement grant program and
we are really excited about the results that we are going to be
able to see in those schools. It really is a new
beginning, a new day for many of those schools. And then finally, we are
focused on using data to improve outcomes across the K-12 system
and standing up some data systems that will help make
sure that our schools have the information that they need to
better respond to student needs and instruction. We are doing a lot on
higher education as well. You’ve heard a bit about the
debt ceiling in the past couple of days. (laughter) Joshua DuBois:
Just a little bit. Roberto Rodriguez:
Just a little bit. That includes fortunately some
dollars to help sustain the Pell Grant, about $17 billion in that
bill that’s been invested to support the maximum Pell
Grant, 5,550 per student. The Pell Grant bill was
one of the first bills that the President introduced when
he was a Senator in the U.S. Senate. And this is a lifeline of
opportunity now for over 9 million students. We’ve been able to increase
the Pell Grant by $819, the maximum grants over
the past two years. We’ve seen over 2 million more
students take advantage of Pell to be able to better
afford college. This is critical. We have a goal here that the
President has set for us to lead the world by the
end of this decade, by 2020 with the highest
proportion of college graduates. And that means we have to go
from 9th in the world today to first in the world where we
have about 42% of our students graduating from college,
completing their degree of our young people. We need to get to over 60%. So that requires an all-hands-on
deck approach and certainly here at the federal level we need to
do a better job of addressing affordability shoring
up supports like Pell. On the backend we are doing more
to make sure that as students graduate from college
their loans are manageable. We’ve made more generous the
income-based repayment program. That means that borrowers moving
forward will be able to peg their repayment of their loans
at 10% of their monthly income. And we’ve added an incentive
there for students who enter public service and say
that after ten years, if you keep pace with
those loan payments, the balance of your
loans can be forgiven. So we really do believe that in
order to really win the future we have to do a better job of
making sure that we are shoring up that support for our students
and we are also going to ask for your help at institutions at our
higher education institutions around the country. Help us meet this charge of
leading the world with the highest proportion of
college graduates from 2020. It means that we need
to do our part here. We are hoping that at our
institutions we’ll be able to look at better ways to deliver
instruction and support results, completion, persistence
for our students. We have persistence challenge. We know that. At our institutions of higher
education many of our students who come, in particular, our
high needs students are not always supported to be able to
succeed and cross that finish line and earn their
degree or credential. And we need to be sure that
we’re doing a better job of making sure that each and every
one of our young people who enters college is able to
be successful and complete. So, we have a robust agenda. This is not a democratic agenda. This is not a republican agenda. This is an agenda to really
help move our country forward. And we believe that education
is a key lever to do that. So thank you again
for your attention. We’re thrilled to have you here
and I’m happy to take — we have some time for questions. Joshua DuBois:
Maybe two questions. Any questions for Roberto about
our broader education agenda before we focus
in on interfaith? Yes, please. Could you just let us know your
name too, where you’re from. Wakefield:
Wakefield from the
University of North Carolina. I work with a church that is
involved with (inaudible) children. And one of the things that we
see is that it’s not so much what’s happening in the school,
it’s what happening elsewhere. One girl that we have worked
with didn’t get to the open house, didn’t know who her
teachers were going to be, didn’t know where to catch the
bus, was completely lost in terms of getting started for the
school year because her parents were not involved in it. When it comes to homework her
parents are not involved in any of that. So this is someone who
the school did a good job, but what’s failing her is what
is happening outside of school. I wonder if there’s a
place for addressing that. Roberto Rodriguez:
Well, I think that’s
a perfect point. You know, if you listen to the
President talk about education, I don’t think there’s one
instance where he doesn’t mention the importance
of parents in the lives of their kids. And usually he says turn off
that TV and turn off that game console and make sure you’re
sitting down and spending time with your child, reading, doing
homework, helping them succeed. You know in part we are
really trying to begin this process early. This is — we’ve made this
investment in home visiting, and expanding that program. And part of the health care bill
provided some dollars to be able to do that across the states. And that’s really sitting down
with parents and acclimating them to their child’s
development, their learning, and helping them understand
how they can contribute to that process. That has to be a process across
the entire education system. One thing we are focused on is,
we look at redesigning the No Child Left Behind Act is to
double our investment at the federal level and parent
involvement and engagement and to reconfigure that investment
so that we are really identifying some of the programs
and practices that really are effective at reaching our
families and at helping them really identify what they can do
to support their kid’s learning. So we are excited
about that redesign. We have to get that
moving in Congress yet. But it’s an important point. Joshua DuBois:
Outstanding. Well let’s give
Roberto a round of applause. Roberto Rodriguez:
Thank you so much. (applause) Joshua DuBois:
Thanks you so much Roberto. Again, I lead the Office of
Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships here
in the White House. And our job is pretty straightforward. The President has asked us
to support local nonprofits, both faith-based and secular
in their work of delivering services to people in need. This is a basic notion that
he’s had for a long time, dating back to his years as a
faith-based community organizer on the southside of Chicago that
you know if we are really going to put roofs over people’s
heads and food in the stomach of hungry people and make sure the
kids have the education they need, a lot of that work is not
going to happen in our centers of government. Instead it’s going to
happen with churches, synagogues and temples
and mosques and nonprofit organizations who are working
at the grassroots level every single day. And the job of my office is to
come alongside those groups and support their good work, to
make sure that they have the resources they need to succeed. The way we do that functionally
is that we manage 13 smaller offices across government. For example, we have a center
for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships at the Department
of Labor that can help a local congregation set up a
job training program. We have a center for faith-based
and neighborhood partnerships at the Department of Agriculture
that works with churches and synagogues and temples and
mosques and nonprofits on food and nutrition issues,
so on and so forth, that 13 federal agencies
across the government, we have a little nonprofit and
faith-based engagement office that helps local groups navigate
the federal bureaucracy and focus on serving people in need. Now when we sat down with the
President and thought about how we were going to approach the
work at the beginning of this administration, we talked
about a lot of things. We talked about job
training and hunger and homelessness and foreclosure. And then he said — he said it
completely unprompted, you know, I want you to focus on
interreligious collaboration, on interfaith cooperation. I want you to think about ways
that you can use this office to bring people from different
religious backgrounds together. Not to believe the same things. He said, you know, I’m
a committed Christian, but I have friends from
different religious backgrounds and it’s not that we have to
all believe the same thing, but we can work together
to help people in need. And he asked us to sort of
grapple with that challenge. And really everything
we are doing, everything we are talking about
today flows from the President’s commitment in this area. I think it’s important
for you all to know that. But from there we did a number
of things that helped move towards that commitment. And one of the key things was
we formed an advisory council of nonprofit and faith-based
leaders from across the spectrum who gave us some advice about
programs that we could run to advance this commitment. And the program that you all are
a part of is a key part of that advisory council’s
recommendations. You’re going to hear more
about that in a moment. There’s some folks who really
did a tremendous amount of work in thinking and, just all kinds
of commitment to bring us to this point. And I want to
acknowledge them now. First, Mara Vanderslice Kelly,
we are going to hear from him in just a bit. A senior adviser to our office
coordinated that council and was really instrumental in moving
this entire effort forward. So Mara, would you mind standing
up so we can acknowledge your good work. (applause) We also have an incredible
team working on this now. We have Eboo Patel who we’ll
hear from in just a moment, the founder and President of
the Interfaith Youth Core, a member of the president’s
advisory council and a true partner all the way
through this effort. Eboo, would you mind
standing, please. (applause) Worked closely with Zeenot
Rahman who is — we shamelessly stole from IFYC and brought her
on to the faith-based initiative who is here and then Mary Ellen
Giess from IFYC is here as well and is doing tremendous work. And there are some great
folks from our center staffs, Reverend Brenda Girton
Mitchell and Kim Bedell, who I believe has been emailing
and calling and bugging everyone here to bring us to this point. (applause) Give them a round of applause. And then John Kelly who helped
pull everything together. John is out here somewhere. (applause) Thank you. Most importantly, I want
to thank all of you. You know, the response has
really been tremendous. We were hopeful, that’s the
positive way of saying worried about the number of folks that
were going to respond to this, saying, you know, if we can just
get 100 we’ll be in great shape. We are thrilled to announce it. Over 250 schools from around the
country have committed to a year long interfaith service program. (applause) And a lot of folks helped us and
helped schools move towards that commitment, but there was a
particular commitment on behalf of college and university
presidents and chancellors who really invested in this and
made sure this moved forward. And a number of them
are here with us today. Would you all mind standing? Any presidents or
chancellors that are here? Give them a round of applause. (applause) So again, we have a
great day of events. This morning at south court
you’re going to hear from senior administration officials and
others who are going to sort of lay the ground work for
what this is all about. And then we are going to dig
into details of how the various ways that you all plan on
operating these programs over at George Washington
University but at first, just to set some of the context,
I want to introduce Mara Vanderslice Kelly who’s going
to share a bit of the history of the interfaith challenge
and the work of the president’s advisory council. We are going to be pretty brief
on even of these sections so that we can move through the
morning and then get you over to George Washington. So let’s welcome
Mara to the stage. (applause) Mara Vanderslice Kelly:
Thank you, Joshua, so much. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the White House. This has been more than a year
in the making to get to this point today. So it’s truly with joy in our
hearts for all of us that have spent hours and hours working on
this initiative to see you all sitting here today and have made
these commitments to promoting interfaith service on your
campuses in the coming year. As Joshua said, one of the most
important signature elements of our faith-based initiative is
the President’s advisory council for faith-based and
neighborhood partnerships. And based on the
President’s charge to us, to find ways to promote
interfaith cooperation, interreligious cooperation we
formed a specific task force of this advisory council that
looks specifically to give recommendations to our office
and to the President on how we could foster really a culture,
a movement of interreligious cooperation and service
across our nation. And I just want to read a
recommendation from that report which says that they recommend
to our office and to the President to initiate a public
campaign to scale and strengthen program partnerships with
federal agencies that increase dialogue and service between
people from a diversity of faith-based and secular
backgrounds to serve the common good. And specifically it proposes
that the administration seek to achieve the following
goal by the end of 2012. That it says on 500 U.S. college
campuses the White House office of faith-based and neighborhood
partnerships should convene a gathering of senior university
officials to make concrete commitments to advance
university and community interfaith partnerships. So I’m looking at Zeenot and
Eboo and others who helped write these recommendations to know
that that seed that had been planted with the advisory
council report has truly come to fruition today. And since the recommendations of
this report we had a gathering with many of you last June,
where a significant amount of your feedback from colleges
and universities and seminaries across the country helped put
into sort of — the shape of this initiative
began to take shape. And it was really over the
course of all of the last year that many of our staff worked
with White House officials, worked with the office
of the President, worked with the
President himself, worked with education advisers
and our service advisers, the Department of Education,
the corporation for national community service to pull
together this initiative. And just for your all’s
background and knowledge it takes a lot of work to pull
together a presidential challenge that’s going to be
issued by the President to institutions of higher
education across the company. And we have a limited number
of staff in our office. We have about three or four
staff that worked in the White House office. So I just want you all to be
clear about what a significant commitment our office has made
to this particular initiative. We put in hours and hours
of time with folks from the Interfaith Youth Corps
helping on the back side, Zeenot Rahman and I were on the
phone every day for, you know, weeks at a time trying to
pull all of this together. And it just goes to show you all
what a commitment our office, because of the President’s
leadership and Joshua’s leadership have made to getting
this challenge on the table. So we know that you all now are
going to be putting in hours and hours of work, you already have
in putting your plans together, and well be dedicated to this
as you roll out your interfaith service programs
throughout the coming year, and I just want you to know
how much we stand behind you. We’ve made this a
really top priority, we look forward to working with
you throughout the coming year. So thank you so much. (applause) Joshua DuBois:
Great. A key part of this interfaith
service challenge is the involvement of our national
service structure and apparatus in this work. Americorps and Senior Corps and
other key components of national service really helped inform
the way that we approached this work, and Clay Middleton
was a key part of that, and I want to thank Clay
for his tremendous work. Let’s give him a
round of applause. (applause) With that I want to
introduce Paul Monteiro. Paul is in the Office of Public
Engagement here at the White House, and he’s the Religious
Outreach Coordinator for OPE, and has done a lot to
bring us to this date. So Paul, do you want to
offer a few remarks, please? Paul Monteiro:
Well, good morning, everyone. Audience members:
Good morning. Paul Monteiro:
Again, my name is Paul Monteiro,
I work in the Office of Public Engagement as the liaison that we
have to the religious community. The basic function of our office
is to connect grassroots leaders like yourselves with the
business of the White House. That’s it. But if you think about
it, you know, my staff, I don’t know if Si’s in
the room, my one intern, that’s my staff. (laughter) And as Mara mentioned, I mean,
the White House staff isn’t the largest in the world. And even if we had, you know,
hundreds or thousands of people working in this building,
it’s a big country, and there are so many people out
there who would otherwise not hear anything about what
the White House or what the President does on a daily
basis, and more importantly, how it affects and is
relevant to their life. So our job and our value is
basically in as much as we can empower people like you. A lot of what we do in the
White House Office of Public Engagement is trying to
create a narrative as well. Whether we’re talking
about, you know, the debt limit or immigration
or any other issue, we try to humanize the story
because we’re in touch with folks to point to specific
examples that illustrate the point the President’s
trying to make. And with the religious community
the work couldn’t be more important, and especially
the time that you’re gathering right now. The time couldn’t be more
ripe for our partnership. A lot of what we do focus
on is working with the, with smaller communities,
Muslim Americans specifically, and other, other communities
that aren’t normally engaged with the White House
on a regular basis. And it’s coming up quickly on
the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, where you will
see a narrative that we want to promote to show that, you know,
the strength of this country, the resilience of this country
is often found in the work we’re doing across religious minds
to make this country safer. And if you think about last
year’s anniversary, you know, we’re hoping to beat that. I mean, last year’s anniversary
was unfortunately marked by folks who, you know, sought to
find attention burning Korans or distorting religions. And if you look at the polling,
Gallup just came out with some numbers yesterday, unfortunately
the levels of Islamophobia are higher than they’ve
been in ten years. So the time for the work
you’re doing is so important, and it’s not just about any
one particular community, but the misunderstanding that
often flows from religious differences isn’t going
away any time soon, and that was something else
that came out in the Gallup’s study yesterday. And so much of our work
is working to convene, working to inform, and working
to empower people through information and connect
them with the resources of their government. So I would love to keep in touch
with all of you and work with you as much as possible, and
on a range of issues, you know, in a nonpartisan way make sure
at the least you’re informed about what we’re doing,
what the President has said, what he’s doing,
where he’s going, and look for opportunities to
work with you and empower your members and the people you
represent to tell that story. To show this great work that’s
happening not only domestically on college campuses,
but around the world. I met a few friends from
overseas this morning on my way in, and hopefully through that
partnership and through that engagement we can tell a better
story, a more accurate story, and demonstrate the ways
that religious diversity has contributed to our
national life and promoted our national security. So thank you very much for
having me this morning. I would love — should
I do questions or — Joshua DuBois:
We’re going to keep
moving and then have some questions at the end. Paul Monteiro:
Well, I’ll see you
all later in the day. Have a good one. (applause) Joshua DuBois:
Thank you so much, Paul, you’re doing
tremendous work in OPE. Now we’re going to have a
wonderful panel of folks who are coming at this issue
from different perspectives. We have two people who are
going to share with us a bit more about the federal
perspective and then about working on the ground. Before we do that I want to say
hello to our friends tuning in on WhiteHouse.gov/Live, we’re
being live streamed now, so watch yourselves, okay? (laughter) Hi everybody. Okay. With that, we’re going to
first have Aseem Mishra. It’s really an honor
to have Aseem here, he’s the Deputy Chief of Staff
at the Corporation for National and Community Service. He’s going to talk about how
interfaith service fits into the work and priorities of CNCS,
which is the federal agency that coordinates service
and volunteerism here in the United States. And then we’re going
to Zeenot Rahman. Zeenot is the Deputy Director of
the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office at the U.S. Agency for International
Development. As I said before, she was at the
Interfaith Youth Corps where she worked on this program
before coming over to USAID, so she’s going to share a bit
about both perspectives there. After Aseem and Zeenot we’re
going to hear from Leo Lambert, the President of
Elon University, who’s doing tremendous work
in this area, and Aditi Singh, a student at the University
of Illinois Urbana Champaign. So with that, let’s
welcome Aseem. (applause) Aseem Mishra:
So I’ll be brief, I know we’ve
got a long agenda for today. Speak from there? Well, I’ll speak from here. So I’m Deputy Chief of Staff
at the Corporation for National Community Service, and what I
really want to share with you is that the work that you
guys are doing today is, really should be applauded, but
I think what should be applauded more is the work you’re going
to be doing for the next year. Because that work is truly
going to be inspiring. And the way it fits in with what
we’re doing at the Corporation for National Community
Service is that it is, it is incumbent upon us to
ensure that when the President signed the Serve America
Act over two years ago, we wanted to make sure that
people weren’t just engaged in frenetic service activity
all across the nation, that it wasn’t a service
for the sake of service, that it was service
for solutions, for community solutions. That people come together to
solve problems of different faith backgrounds, and that’s
good, that’s an important piece. Social cohesion is
very important to us, but it’s not important if people
are just doing the activity without a solution in
mind, without focusing on community problems. The Serve America Act helped
us focus on six focus areas. Amongst those are education,
so Roberto talked about turning schools around. We need folks, we need Jewish,
Hindus, Sikhs, humanists, agnostics, atheists all engaged
together in solving this crisis in our schools. We need to promote
healthy futures. We need to promote a
clean energy environment. We need to ensure that
veterans are reintegrated into our society. And all this work needs to be
done through the interfaith collaborations that you’re
going to be promoting through your schools. So we cannot do this in
the name of service alone, we have to do this for
community solutions. And that’s the main point that
I’d like to drive in the short time that I have with you. (applause) Zeenot Rahman:
Good morning, everybody. Audience Members:
Good morning. Zeenot Rahman:
How are you? Audience Members:
Good. Zeenot Rahman:
So as has been said, I’m coming
from four and a half years at Interfaith Youth Corps previous
to my last four months at the Agency for International Development. So this gathering
is just, you know, a perfect cohesion for me about,
of everything I’ve worked on in the last four and a half years,
along with the things that we’re trying to drive at the Agency
for International Development. As Joshua mentioned, I am
the Deputy Director of the Faith-Based Office, and we
work with faith communities who engage in development
work overseas. And so we know, you know,
Eboo says it all the time, but faith-based communities
have very high amounts of social capital and we know that faith
communities are the first to reach the most
vulnerable populations, whether here domestically
or around the world. And when there’s a need, they
are the first to respond. And so our office
works with small NGOs, large faith-based organizations
that are doing development work around the country,
around the world. But also an important part
of what we do is engage faith communities here and
engage people, you know, who care about interfaith
collaboration and interfaith cooperation to work
together here to achieve solutions overseas. And so I think you all are
aware that there is a wide-scale drought in the Horn of Africa
right now, and Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia are being
affected by drought. Somalia is being
disproportionately affected, the south and central region,
and there is a famine. And so last week I traveled with
the head of our Horn of Africa task force to Columbus, Ohio,
and to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to engage with Somali-American
communities to talk about what they’re seeing on the ground,
to talk about the programs that they’re doing, and to talk
about how we can connect that. Because that’s really the goal
of our office, is to connect. And as Aseem said, to not
just think about short-scale interventions but long-term
solutions so that we don’t see this type of stuff repeat
over and over again. And in speaking with these
communities, you know, USAID has this year given over
$400 million in the region. Secretary Clinton just announced
an intervention of $28 million just for the famine, the
famine victims right now. But it’s not — but the stories
that we really need to hear are from the ground, are what’s
happening to people’s families, are what people are
seeing at refugee camps. And so what, the stories that
I heard when I was in Columbus was, were stories of bake
sales, of community car washes, and not just the Somali
community but Somalis and all of their neighbors joining together
to raise money for famine victims overseas. And, you know, I heard kind of
story after story about this. I heard from young people
who are just seized by what’s happening there, you know, and
are creating Facebook campaigns and are doing things on their
college campuses to address the solution where in the next
couple of months if we don’t, you know, act and do
something, a couple million lives can be lost. And so when you think about kind
of going back to campuses and we think about, you know,
service and 9/11, you know, and we know that as Americans
we are going to do this anyway, you know, but to do it
in an intentional way, in a way where we’re celebrating
our diversity and we’re using the strength of the experience
of our Somali-American neighbors, of our faith-based
neighbors, of our, you know, secular partners, but everybody
who very much cares about people around the world, that we think
about this as a solution and that you engage with
our agency as, you know, we think about the long-term
solutions of, you know, food sustainability, of
country-led plans, but that, you know, we’re all connecting
everything we’re doing together. So I welcome you all to stay
in touch with me and continue to work on this and many
other solutions that we can find together. Thanks. (applause) Joshua DuBois:
We have Leo Lambert
from Elon University. He’s going to talk about
some of the great work that Elon’s doing. Dr. Leo Lambert:
Good morning, everyone. Audience Members:
Good morning. Dr. Leo Lambert:
Elon means oak in Hebrew. We were founded by a main-line
Protestant denomination, and we serve a lot of
Roman Catholic students from the Northeast. So there’s a little bit
of interdenomination or interdenominational
and interfaith work by way of introduction. I was asked to say just a
word about how I got involved in this agenda. One of the perks of being a
university president is that you have some incredible
house guests sometime in the presidential home, and my family
and I were privileged a few years ago to have Archbishop
Desmond Tutu as our house guest for two nights. And to experience the incredible
privilege of celebrating morning prayers and the Eucharist
with the Archbishop, and to be in a room with
Archbishop Desmond Tutu praying for the world and every crisis
in the world and every people in the world. Praying for everyone, all,
is a profound experience in one’s life. I certainly found that. Last year we had the opportunity
to return a visit to the Archbishop in Capetown and to
visit Saint George’s Cathedral, which was his seat, again, to
worship with him and to see how Saint George’s has evolved
itself as an institution into a multi-faith center. When you walk into the narthex
of that church there’s a magnificent large photograph of
Desmond Tutu linked arm in arm with a Muslim Imam and
a Jewish Rabbi marching against apartheid. And to me, that photograph
symbolizes the power of interfaith partnerships
in creating important social change. When we were in South Africa
with 28 students and two faculty members, our students had an
opportunity to think about the place of religion in society,
and to see in that society how certain mainline churches had
been used to deny basic human rights to uphold
a corrupt regime. And to contrast that with the
work of the Moravian Church, which has so many important
ties to North Carolina, and talk to many people of color
in South Africa who uphold the Moravian Church as a place where
people take seriously the charge of being Christ in the world. And as a Christian
person, to me, that’s what it comes —
that’s what it comes down to. Experiences like that for
our students, I think, get at the really important
questions of what does it mean to be a liberally
educated person and a global citizen today. And they underscore for liberal
arts universities like Elon, how important it is for students
to have religious understanding and knowledge about the world’s
faiths if they are going to go into the world and truly
act as global citizens. So what are we
doing on our campus? First, we try to be a place
that welcomes everybody, people of every religious faith,
people of no religious faith, and probably the largest
group of college students demographically today: Those
who describe themselves as spiritually seeking
but not religious. We have a lot of those
students on our campuses, and I see a lot of heads nodding
in agreement in the audience. We’re trying to make sure that
when students come to campus they feel affirmed in terms
of if they are Roman Catholic, they’re connected with
our Newman community. If they are Jewish, 7 percent
of our student body at Elon is Jewish, that they are
connected with a robust Halal community on campus. But most importantly, we are
about to break ground this fall on a new multi-faith center,
a building that we’re going to spend between four and five
million dollars on that is not going to be a trophy building. We’ve visited a lot of campuses
where there are magnificent chapels and churches
that we see empty. What we want to create is
a facility that is going to promote robust interfaith
dialogue and work, that will bring students across
religious faiths together for celebration and sharing, and
to be a place that will foster academic partnerships, research,
colloquia and so forth related to this agenda. I was also asked to say a brief
word about my role as president with regard to moving
this agenda forward, and it’s pretty simple. First, this work is an
important part of our strategic plan at Elon. Our number one goal in our
strategic plan is about diversity and global engagement,
and the multi-faith agenda is central to that. Secondly, we make this
work visible on our campus. We were delighted to have Eboo
Patel as part of a powerful panel on campus this spring
moderated by an Elon parent Brian Williams of NBC News
that included a number of other people that are addressing the
most significant problems that our generation is passing on to
the young people of generation that we are, the generation that
we are teaching in our colleges and universities today,
problems like the national debt, energy security,
environmental issues, the problems of political
gridlock in this country, the problems of decaying
public education. And to this agenda we add the
critical issue of promoting religious tolerance towards
creating peace in the world. Presidents I think have an
obligation to fly that flag. Thank you very much. (applause) Aditi Singh:
Good morning, everyone. So I’m the student voice. (laughter) So my name is Aditi Singh, and
I’m going to be a rising senior at University of Illinois
at Urbana Champaign, and I’m here to talk about
what caused me to do this kind of work. So I’ve been lucky to have the
opportunity to travel the world, having been born in India,
a majority Hindu nation, lived in Kuwait for ten years,
a predominantly Muslim nation, and now making my home
in the United States, a country that embraces everyone
no matter their faith or philosophical background. As a Christian in these places,
I not only just lived there, but engaged with the community,
building relationships with friends, teachers, and
the community itself. In my life, interfaith
cooperation was always and still is a social norm, leading
to deeper relationships and building bridges in places
where there is usually division. And as a Christian, I’ve always
been taught to not only be good to your neighbors, whether it
be in the form of charity or service, but that by cooperation
I gain something, too. I learn. Having been blessed to
go to a diverse school, high school in the
heart of Chicago, I looked forward to attending
a school of 40,000 students where the people I meet
were positively influenced and reinforced education that I
was receiving in the classroom, gaining leadership skills and
also real world experience at the same time. One of the more explicit ways
that I am learning is by being president of my campus
interfaith service organization, Interfaith in Action. That has already achieved
something tremendous by envisioning million meals
for Haiti in Spring of 2010. From that, a locally initiated
project Meals of Hope was born to address the fact that there
is a 73 percent increase in the number of households
experiencing low food security in my campus community
in recent years. Interfaith in Action in turn
focuses on Meals of Hope through fund raising and support. Because of this, participating
in the President’s challenge seems obvious. The fact that the University of
Illinois Urbana Champaign campus and its students will be
working together with the local community to address local
issues while acknowledging the diversity of culture, faith and
traditions that bring people together to do this
type of service work, ensures that it’s not just the
usual 30 students that show up but a campus-wide sustainable
administration-supported student-invested project that
bolsters the university’s public engagement. So I’m excited to be here today
to learn from everyone about the best possible ways to do so, and
excited to see how as students we have something
unique to offer. (applause) Joshua DuBois:
I’d like to invite all of
our speakers to join us for the panel, please,
that would be grade. Zeenot and Aseem and Leo. I’ll ask just two kind
of beginning questions, and then we’re going to open
it up to audience questions. As you all are
taking your seats, the first thing I’d love your
feedback on on behalf of the group is if you had to offer
one piece of advice to an institution that’s just
beginning this work this school year, if you had to distill all
the things that you’ve learned in your various areas into
one leading piece of advice, what would that be? What’s the first thing that
folks should think about as they begin an interfaith cooperation
project on their campus? Zeenot Rahman:
I would say that there is,
you’re not — you’re not starting from scratch,
that there is a lot of precedent out there. Obviously you all know that
the Interfaith Youth Corps has resources, but so do the — so
does the White House Office of Faith-Based and
Neighborhood Partnerships. We have a toolkit that you can
use to work and look at our policy priorities to see
how we can work together, but also your peers and your
colleagues in this room I think are invaluable resources
to talk about, you know, to think about what does
an action plan look like, what does a strategic
calendar look like, and that some of this work and
thinking has already been done. Joshua DuBois:
Great. Thanks, Zeenot. Yeah. Dr. Leo Lambert:
It seems self-evident, but I
think to make the planning team that’s going to chart this
work broadly inclusive is very important, and not only
inclusive of individuals of various religious backgrounds,
but various sectors of the campus as well. I would say especially
don’t forget the faculty. Faculty have an important
perspective on these issues, and it’s vital that they
be a part of this dialogue. We’ve been very fortunate to
have committed leadership in this — on this agenda for
a very long time at Elon, so this was not a difficult
place for us to get started. Joshua DuBois:
Thanks, Leo. Anyone else? Aseem Mishra:
Yeah, I would just say in
my haste I forgot to give you my call to
action before I left, but I think it fits
very well with this. I would say that, you
know, really dream big, focus your efforts,
and stick it out. So again, I reiterate that it’s
not just about doing service activity with interfaith
communities, but dream big. What do you want to
change in the community? Focus in on those areas that the
interfaith challenge directs you towards: Education, health,
veterans, disasters. Focus on those things and
really make an effort to change some thing. So don’t direct your
efforts towards many things, but focus on one. And the second thing I’d say is
something that you do very well already, which is
bringing people together, but use government tools
to help you do that. So when you have service
activities that are changing one thing and are focused on
one thing, use Serve.gov, which is the President’s United
We Serve website landing page that allows you to enroll others
into your efforts as well. So it’s a great
resource, it’s Serve.gov, and I would encourage
you to use that. Joshua DuBois:
Thanks, Aseem. Aditi? Aditi Singh:
To add to that at the same time,
I would say don’t underestimate the power of small steps,
especially going back to a campus that you may feel like
doesn’t have a strong interfaith relationship with other
organizations in the school. Building that momentum to create
that sustainable environment where this is something that you
can continue doing even after, you know, your seniors that have
been working on this project graduate are those small steps, and
those are really important also. Joshua DuBois:
That’s a great point. Leo Lambert:
I would also add never, ever,
underestimate what a committed group of 20-year-olds
can accomplish. (laughter) Joshua DuBois:
That’s right, as we see
with Aditi, of course. My second question before we
open it up to the group is, you know, what do you say to
a student who really wants to participate in an
interfaith service, but it’s also a deep value of
his or her faith to maintain the integrity of that faith and to
sort of not water it down or to maintain strong
theological beliefs, what would you say
to that, Singh. Aditi Singh:
I guess I could take
that one, I’ve had many a conversation around this. A lot of people when they come
with that question I always respond that for me personally
I’ve developed my faith and grown in my faith because I
learn more about what calls me to do this kind of work
while explaining to this person to participate. So any service event if
someone says, you know, are there going to be people
there that are going to try and convert me, I would tell them
we’ve created a safe environment for everyone to share and to
talk over what brings them there to do the work without feeling
like they need to explain themselves for it. Joshua DuBois:
So it has actually
strengthened your faith? Aditi Singh:
Yeah. Joshua DuBois:
That’s great. Anyone else want
to respond to that? Let’s say we open up to some
questions then to our Panel. I know it’s not a shy group. Come on! Any questions? Yeah, please. If you could just introduce
yourselves, too, yeah. Thanks for jumping
in the water first. Janice Butler:
Janice Butler from Bucknell
University in Pennsylvania. I’m interested in finding out
about where the Administration sees our work in public service. Certainly with the debt issues
looming large this week we have concerns about
government cutbacks. And it’s are you affected, you
know, public service employees, and certainly recession. So faith-based groups and
universities and public service institutions are called
on, we’ve got 90, 000 students now involved in
AmeriCorps and great training programs for future
leaders organizers. What are we going to do
if those any of those opportunities are threatened? Joshua DuBois:
Well, thank you. It’s a great and
timely question. I’m sure Singh is
going to speak to this. I would say, you know,
broadly, you know, we have some leading priorities. We obviously have to get
our fiscal house in order. It’s a real challenge now and
one that we take very seriously. But we also, and the
President has been very clear, that we need to maintain support
for programs that are impacting and serving folks who need
our help in this country. And we can’t, we can’t lose
focus on public service and national service as well. And he’s really been fighting
for national service programs. Aseem, would you like
to add something? Aseem Mishra:
Yeah, I would add the
Corporation for National and Community Service for those
that don’t know is a federal agency that leads programs
like AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve, and, you know,
we’re very fortunate to have, like Josh said, a
President that backs us up, a First Lady that really
cares about national service. So when those negotiations
are happening, when last year House
Resolution 1 zeroed us out, it’s because of the
President’s backing, the President’s belief in
national service as a strategy for community solutions
that we were able to retain 94% of our budget. And that was no small fete. There were some real important
folks that were really passionate that saw the economic
sense in backing nonprofits and American members that are
helping communities through nonprofits to make
changes in communities. That’s why I think it’s really
important and the work that we do is not seen as just a bunch
of people getting together improving their relationships
but not improving the community. We cannot do that. Your stories have to highlight
the fact that there was social cohesion and interreligious
cohesion built and developed, but also that community
problems were solved. If we cannot show that, the
folks that do not believe in the work that we’re doing
will not be converted; will not be transformed. We need to trans — we need
to have stories that really, really change people’s minds
about the power of service and the power of
interfaith cohesion. Joshua DuBois:
That’s exactly right. And, you know, that notion of
retaining budget and support for the Corporation for
National Service, it’s not just a
D.C.-based fight. What that means
is that, you know, seniors who are able to
participate in Senior Corp and, therefore, you know, enter
into their later years with dignity and a sense of purpose
that really impacts a community. AmeriCorps volunteers that are
supporting countless nonprofits around the country, that’s
where these budget fights really matter and that’s what
the President is really fighting for. Yes, please. Susan Murphy:
Susan Murphy, Cornell University. I’d love to hear you talk about
a point Aseem you just made about solving real
community problems. As you worked in your projects
how the community came to partner with you in the
interfaith community. I wasn’t sure you were talking
community focused problems, not just groups
working together. Joshua DuBois:
Well, I think a lot of
folks can answer that. Yeah, go ahead. Aseem Mishra:
Does someone else want
to take it first? I mean, I think our
role is, you know, our role is a national role, so
the way we’ve ensured that the folks in the community will
be solving focused problems is through our strategic plan. We’ve made sure that our plan is
actually very aligned with the focus areas that you
had in the challenge. In fact, it’s the same focus
areas and that’s no coincidence. And we want to make sure that
folks are aligned nationally, but we want to make sure that
the ideas the problems that are identified and the solutions
that are identified are local solutions and local
identification of what the actual problem is. Is it a problem of parents. Is it a problem of schools. Is it a problem of community
organizations in the fight to turn schools around. We don’t want to dictate that. We know that there
is, in each community, the problems are different
and so the solutions will be different. So in terms of what we have done
at the Corporation for National Community Service
is framed what, the ways that the work will be
done and that there will be a focus on that work. And I think ten years ago with
the corporation it was all about increasing numbers. We don’t really care about the
numbers of people volunteering. We care about the numbers
of lives that have changed. Joshua DuBois:
Aditi, do you want to
talk about how you all sort of worked with the
community on your project? Aditi Singh:
Yeah, I would say that
you have to develop strong relationships with community
leaders that are already doing work around campus. And that too many times someone
on campus decides that this is the project that they’re going
to do and then they go out into the community to do this. But if you really involve people
who are already doing work it tends to be more successful
and you tend to be identifying something that actually needs to
be done on something that you’re imposing on people. Joshua DuBois:
Leo, do you want to
speak to that at all? Leo Lambert:
I think that that was
just eloquently said. And I would echo that point. Joshua DuBois:
Great. Thanks. Wonderful. Other questions? Keiran and then
here, please, yeah. Susan Henry:
I’m Susan Henry
from Emory University. And I would like to ask Zeenot,
our work has had standing credit of international interfaith work
and how does USAID determine what situations it follows? Zeenot Raham:
So we also have a strategic
plan and USAID is an agency that works in regions but
also has technical bureaus that work on different solutions
of global health, immunization, science and technology. There is, I mean, really
if you’re doing work internationally towards
development there’s going to be a place at USAID
that it plugs into. And so I think at the Agency
for International Development the focus is very much on
development solutions and harnessing all
resources towards that. And I would say the challenge
is more to bring the value of interreligious collaboration and
interfaith to those solutions. And so to have stories of work
that’s happening whether in communities here that are
impacting lives overseas or overseas, is an important part
of the kind of ammunition that we need to, you know, always
affirm and underscore the value of faith-based communities and
of interfaith collaboration. Joshua DuBois:
And I would say there
are USA missions all around the globe, too. And it’s not necessarily a
well-known fact and so in any place that you all are making
investments there’s likely a USA mission there that we can
actually work to connect you to. Susan Henry:
I’d like that. Joshua DuBois:
We’d be happy to. Thank you. I think we’re going to go
here and then back here. Yes, please. Joan Wheels:
Joan Wheels from
(inaudible) College. My question is several of you
have mentioned the importance of gathering stories of successful
interfaith projects and community cooperation. What is your plan from the
office to communicate these stories to tell for example
the rest of the country about all the good work and the
results that are happening in these communities? Because, you know,
typically you don’t hear these kinds of things. Joshua DuBois:
Absolutely, well,
thank you for that. Well, we have lots of plans
and we’re excited about it. We hope to do some video with
you all and actually visit some sites around the country and
compile this together for the end of the year. We hope to celebrate folks
around the country at the conclusion of the school year
and provide some recognition on behalf of the President. We’re working very closely with
our new media team here at the White House to put some
of this on the web. And beyond some of those core
things we want to hear from you. If there are ways that
we can, for example, send a surrogate speaker out to
an interfaith event that you’re doing and acknowledge and
applaud that work on behalf of the Administration. If we can do a blog post. If something great is happening,
and we can do a blog post or we can tweet about it from our
White House twitter account, which is actually our
faith-based office twitter account is “Partners For Good.” Anyone on twitter
in here, by the way? Not necessarily right
now, but in general. (laughter) And feel free to
tweet now, by the way. (laughter) But it’s Partners For Good. And we’ll be sharing things
from that account as well. So lots of different strategies
both between the Administration and the interfaith youth corps. But if you have ideas
we’d love to here. This is really going to be
a communicative process. Kim Bedel and others have
already been in close touch with you and we want to keep
that going in the future. Aseem Mishra:
If I could just add — Joshua DuBois:
Yeah, please. Aseem Mishra:
— I think it’s
important with the stories, I think it’s important
what the stories are, but I think it’s also important
who is telling the story. So I think it’s great that
you’ll be channeling stories to us and that we’ll be
providing the platforms to get the stories out. But I think it’s also important
for you to get the stories out because to members of Congress,
it means a lot coming from their own districts. Joshua DuBois:
That’s right. Aseem Mishra:
So for our agency and
our budget fight that’s going to come up, yes, it’s
important that we know your stories, but please, please, do
share your stories through our platforms and your
platforms as well. Joshua DuBois:
Thank you for making that point. I actually saw some great pieces
even coming into this event from local — my friends in
Buffalo, the Buffalo News, any Buffalonians here? There we go, that covered them. And I think I saw something,
William & Mary or, anyhow — there you go — great. So please continue
to spread the word. Issue a press release. Tell them that you’re involved
in this project and really get the word out about it. I have time for two more quick
questions and then we’re going to close out. Yes, please, and
then we’ll come here. Alex Kem:
Hi, I’m Alex Kem, I’m
chaplain at Brandeis University. I’m a constant Chaplin and also
director for the faith-based organization of the oldest
interfaith organization in Greater Boston
Metropolitan Ministries. I’m wondering about two great
moments in the life of an academic here: September 11th
and Martin Luther King Day. And I’ve heard that September
11th has been framed in some people’s mind as an opportunity
for interfaith service, yet this year the legacy is in
some sense will be observed in a specialized meeting of
the tenth anniversary. I’m wondering might there be
occasions for our campuses across America to do
something collaboratively on each of those days? I know we have major
plans in Boston. But is there one being planned
plans on these occasions? Joshua DuBois:
Well, listen, yeah, we’re
definitely involved in the White House planning
around the 9/11 Anniversary. And I will say at the outset
that our first and most important task is to really
honor the victims and honor that day, that horrible day ten years
ago and that’s even before we get to other important tasks
around interfaith collaboration we’re going to focus there. The victims that came from all
backgrounds and beliefs and really, you know, that shaped
the future of this country. Beyond that, I absolutely
think that there is a role for interfaith service and this
is a uniquely-timed launch. And so we’ll be happy to work
with folks to bring folks together around that notion. If you have ideas, especially
after talking with other friends here today and you want to share
them with me or our staff at the conclusion of the day, we’d be
happy to work with you on that. Yes, Eva, please. Speaker:
Alex, to add to that,
just very quickly, we’ve just launched something
called the “Be Better Together” campaign for 9/11, we’re happy
to give that toolkit out to folks in this room and
you spread it as far and wide as possible. The big idea is that religion
ought to be a bridge of cooperation and not a barrier
or division of (inaudible). Joshua DuBois:
Thank you so much, Eva. Last question, here, please. And we’ll have plenty of
time for questions later on in the day, too. Davis Horam:
I’m Davis Horam [phonetic] with
Claremont Lincoln University at the School of Theology, at
Claremont School of Theology. I’m also a full time minister
from California and Kern County which I’m proud to say is that
I am working within because it’s the meth capital of
California and, therefore, one of the worst drug
areas in California. And we also happen to be sending
more people to life terms in prison under the three strike
law than any other place in the United States. And those populations which tend
to get those terms tend to be males, they tend to be
Hispanic, they tend to be African-American, and therefore
the populations that we’re basically incarcerating for the
rest of their lives are being removed from families and
from those communities. One of the things that I heard
one of these speakers speak about was try to focus on one
area and particularly be very good at that. But in these particular type of
communities that we work within there really isn’t a way to
target one area without having a whole complexity of other issues
that are surrounding both their socioeconomic status
and, in particular, and this is where the
question is going, with a community that is very
conservative which will not — which does not embrace kind of
interfaith kind of dialogue and is in opposition to the current
Administration where I’m working, and so those are the
persons who predominantly have control of the state and local
levels in those areas as well as law enforcement and so forth,
which seem to be — well, they’re not seeming to be,
they are helping perpetuate the problem with their
particular type of policies. So I wonder what the response
is from the Administration, from yourself, as to we can
do our job as an interfaith population but what do we do
when it is the local, county, city and state officials which
are actually causing a lot of the problems in these
communities which makes it very difficult for to us do our job. Joshua DuBois:
Well, thank you for that. I think it’s a critical question
with a lot of answers that I could give, most of them would
not be focused in the direction of interfaith cooperation but
instead on sort of the political electoral process and so forth,
and so I think it’s outside of the scope of our
conversation today. I would say, though, and just to
focus on the issue of drugs and the impact that it has on local
communities and solutions to that and I agree that the
solutions are multifaceted, this happens to be an area
where there is a fair amount of bipartisan agreement in terms of
intervening on criminal justice issues, on ex-offender reentry,
individuals coming out of incarceration and on impacting
those who are incarcerated. We’d be happy to connect you
with organizations like Prison Fellowship and others that are
actually staunchly conservative organizations but they’re taking
a very progressive approach to issues of crime, violence,
drugs and reentry. And they may be able to speak to
folks in your local community, especially those that
are more conservative, in ways that the interfaith
community may not be able to. So I know that’s a bit separate
from our conversation today but we have great relationships
with organizations like Prison Fellowship and we’d be happy
to connect you with them. Thank you. Well, friends, I’m sorry, but
we have to wrap up the Q&A portion, so we’re going to
move to our last piece of this morning’s dialogue. But let’s thank our Panel for
their tremendous contributions. (applause) And now I am excited to
introduce a dynamo of the faith-based office, the Director
of our Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
at the Department of Education, Reverend Brenda Girton Mitchell. Brenda has a tremendous history
at the intersection of religion and public life. She directed the National
Council of Churches Washington office for a while. She is an ordained
minister herself and a Baptist denomination. Has worked with folks in this
town from across the religious spectrum in an
impactful, impassionate, and empathetic way
for a long time. It’s just such an honor
to have her on our team. She’s going to close us out this
morning and provide with us some next steps. Let’s welcome Brenda. (applause) Brenda Mitchell:
Good morning, everybody. This is for tall people. (laughter) I’m going to step
around to the side. I’m really excited that
we’re at this point. I thank Joshua for his
entrusting so much of this work to our office as Mara
had to go on to other work. I told her this morning I just
kind of felt like a midwife because she really gave birth to
get this work off the ground and we got to bring it together
with your presence today. One of the things Joshua
didn’t mention is that I taught elementary school. Joshua DuBois:
The folks can hear. You need to use the mic. Brenda Mitchell:
Oh. One of the things that I —
can you all — do you all know how to make this? Oh, here. All right, we’ll make it
go down for the next one. One of the things that he
didn’t mention was that I taught elementary. I taught first and second grade. For a little while I taught
fourth, fifth and sixth. And I realized that my children
taught me as much, if not more, than I taught them. And there was an exercise
that I would do with them and their parents. And I would ask
this one question. And I’ve revised it over the
years but I’m going to ask this one question and I’ll look for a
volunteer to answer it: What can you find in common with
an egg, a peanut, a seed, and a caterpillar? Are you smarter
than a fifth grader? Anybody? (laughter) Anybody? Nobody? Yes — oh, Mara,
you can’t answer! Yes, ma’am. Speaker:
They all have a
shell they come out of. Brenda Mitchell:
Oh, that’s interesting. Well, parents would say
things like they’re small. They have potential. They’re things that grow. And my favorite answer
from children was, what you see is
not what you get. (laughter) Things are going to change. It’s going to get bigger. It’s going to be
more than it is now. And those were little children. And so today I just say as
I looked at this audience, that question came to me and as
I look at your plans I saw seeds and I saw peanuts, and I saw
eggs, and I saw caterpillars. And I know that great things
are about to happen as we try to transform the way we use our
beliefs to work together for the common good. And so our job is to just
stay connected with you and throughout the day we’re going
to learn as much, if not more, from you. So as you go to George
Washington for your workshops, please, please, be
open, share with us. There is nothing you can
tell us that we won’t learn something from. So don’t, you know, keep
your questions to yourself. If you don’t have time to
ask them, write them down. Give them to us. And know that we’re going to
shape some things together. Some of the most serious
questions we’ve had recently are around the next steps, how are
we going to evaluate and so in your workshop you will receive
a draft evaluation template. And you will get to give
us feedback on that. One of the most common questions
we got as we were getting you to put your plans
together was, August? You want us to work
on a plan in May? Do you realize
it’s commencement? What are you people thinking? Washington in August? So you get to help us make sure
we do some better stuff on this. (laughter) So, please give us,
please give us your input. And then you will receive, when
you get to George Washington, you will receive a name badge,
you will also be able to pick up a copy the most frequent
question this morning was what are the other schools,
who’s here today. Who all has signed up. So that will be
available on the website. But we decided since we got that
question so many times this week to give you a hard copy of that. You have directions. There will be interns
outside to help guide you to get over to G.W. For those of you
who want to walk, you’re just a half a mile away. You can get in a cab and be
there probably in a half hour because even though it’s only
a half a mile they’re going to take the long way around. (laughter) You can go to the Metro. You walk three
blocks to the Metro, you walk three blocks
from the Metro, so if you feel like walking
you just want to walk. So we’re going to have people
to help guide you with that. There this afternoon — let me
acknowledge Terri Reed who is the Vice Provost
— please stand, Terri — she is the Vice Provost
at George Washington University, and George Washington has opened
its campus to us today because there is another group coming
in here in a few minutes. (applause) And I was telling her one of my
biggest worries was that people, we had to move people around and
then they’re going to have to walk from one building
to another on campus. And then somebody said to me,
Brenda, that’s what we do! (laughter) We’re college folk,
we’re institution people, we know about that. So we thank her for representing
the school today and for George Washington for the gracious way
that they have supported us in pulling today’s
activities together. And so if you have questions
about how to get where you want to go, look at somebody out
there that looks confident — (laughter) — and they’ll
help you get there. At the plenary, the
plenary will start, where all of the people
will come together at 3:15 in Lisner Auditorium. But you don’t want
to wait until 3:15. Get there by 5 of 3, because
G.W. students are going to be doing very special performances
before we kick off the program this afternoon. We look forward to
being with you today. We thank God for each and every
one of you putting your hearts in this and knowing that your
words will become action and together we really can transform
the way America sees itself as global citizens. Thank you so much. God bless you; we’ll see
you on the other side. (applause)

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