Building harmony

For more information about the second annual Call for Unity, click here.

Like it or not, it’s here again. It’s the anniversary of a date—September 11, 2001. Forever etched in our brains: the planes, the towers, the collapsing, the awful horror of the mass deaths. Many people believe America was changed that day, and it’s hard to disagree with them.

Our sense of security as a nation and our civil liberties have been transformed radically since 9/11. The image the world community holds of the United States has mutated, too, especially with President Bush’s launch of a pre-emptive war in Iraq. Indeed, it seems clear that fear and then aggression have been our nation’s chief responses to that awful day.

But the same is not true here at home.

In Sacramento, the events of 9/11 were taken as an opportunity to react without fear as a community and to embrace the obvious truth that we are all in this together. Bill Moyers wrote that 9/11 was what educators like to call a “teachable moment.” Somehow, in Sacramento, we managed to learn.

Last year, SN&R helped produce a local event, A Call for Unity, with this in mind. Thousands of us joined together in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium and were moved by interfaith music and speeches about peace and diversity. There were Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Russian Baptists and Christians of all denominations—all under one roof, all promoting unity.

Indeed, the interfaith goodwill that was built that night gave birth to the Building Unity project, wherein SN&R joined forces with Habitat for Humanity, the Interfaith Service Bureau, Rebuilding Together, Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope Academy, Lauren Hammond’s Renaissance Project and many other such groups to help create safe, affordable housing in Oak Park, one of Sacramento’s most underserved neighborhoods.

Plenty has occurred with the project this past year. Seven lots in Oak Park were donated and approved for building, and the city of Sacramento has made positive changes to its permitting and fee processes that better allow the group to promote infill housing. Also, since that night a year ago, a wide array of local organizations—religious, corporate and governmental—have committed to physically building and refurbishing houses.

Now it is time for the second A Call for Unity. The near sold-out event will be held September 13 at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and will benefit the Building Unity project. Along with music and speakers, the first-ever Building Unity Award will be presented onstage that night to Metwalli B. Amer for his outstanding contributions to interfaith understanding in the Sacramento community. Amer, a California State University, Sacramento, professor and founder of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, has worked for 20 years to promote unity in Sacramento’s varied Muslim communities and to promote cooperation among the greater faith community.

Interestingly, some members of the international press—Egyptian TV, a pan-Arabic broadcast station, Al Jazeera, Pakistan Link and others—have heard about A Call for Unity and have expressed an interest in covering the event.

Perhaps this tells us how desperate the world outside is to hear that at least some Americans didn’t react to the tragedy of 9/11 with fear and division. Thankfully, some communities responded with a call for unity.