BY FAITH HARPER, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds of East Texans of different ages and from different cultural backgrounds and religions came together today to honor a great man and his message of love.
The 28th Annual Interfaith Community Program, sponsored by the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum, drew East Texans to downtown Tyler to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The celebration started in the T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza and marched down Broadway Avenue to the gymnasium of the St. Gregory Cathedral School where speakers and singers reiterated the doctor’s message.
“We did not come here to celebrate a funeral — we came to celebrate a great man who had a purpose to bring people together,” said Jeff Williams, with the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum. “We have a rainbow of people. We have people of all different ethnicities background and religions … we have found that we have lot more in common than differences and we want to bring people together to make (the community) a better place.”
Anwar Khalifa , with the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum, shared his personal story of coming to the United States at the age of eight from Egypt.
“East Texas, supposedly famous for not being kind to outsiders, was instead warm and welcoming to a Muslim, Arab, Egyptian family,” he said. “It was not always an easy ride, but there was a definite message in the air that if we work hard we can succeed in whatever we decide to do.”
He said after the events of Sept. 11, it became more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States.
“America has responded to our community with both open hearts and closed fists, and as a Muslim I’ve had to navigate these difficult waters trying to showcase the normalcy of our community…” he said. “I also realize had it not been for the great suffering of the black people of this country and ensuring peaceful, at least from the minority side, civil rights movement of the 1960s we as the Muslim community would have it a lot worse now. I want to thank all of those who lead the way for us.”
Khalifa emphasized the need to ban together as a community to ensure no child goes to bed hungry and no one is without a roof to sleep under. He said no matter the doctrine of religion, God called on his people to serve and help.
“Part of my vision for America is giving back — not because of some cliché or because it feels good — but because giving back is what makes this country great,” he said. “It is what we are all commanded to do by God Almighty. We all know we are at our best when we are there for one another and part of being there for one another is being there no matter the color of your skin, your country of birth, your gender, your religion, what neighborhood you live in or your political views. It means unconditional support. We give back and share our resources and love because we know that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Kalifa and leaders from the Catholic Dioceses of Tyler, Congregation Beth El, Tyler Unity Center, Greater New Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, the City of Tyler and Smith County who emphasized the need for the community to band together to love and support one another despite surface differences.
They also acknowledged the good track the count is on in accomplishing those goals.
“Let’s open our hearts, not just our minds, to live every day in the spirit of Dr. King,” said the Rev. Judith Lee Taylor, with Tyler Unity Center. “It’s been 50 years, and the spirit of the words still ring true, but we know it’s not over. We still have work to do, but it begins with us.”