In the midst of international social unrest, it is often difficult for those who differ religiously, culturally, or politically to come to a place of understanding. But there are certain organizations and groups that work to promote inclusion in order to achieve a more united and socially aware global community.
The Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, a nonprofit multi-cultural, multi-faith advocacy organization, is one of those groups that uses education and communication to “eliminate or reduce false stereotypes, prejudices and unjustified fears” concerning various cultural and faith groups.
“Once people get to know more about each other, and share each other’s culture, the biases and prejudices will go away,” said Mehmet Oguz, Dialogue Institute San Antonio regional director.
In April, the Dialogue Institute will host its 11th annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner, which fosters peace and intercultural understanding by gathering a diverse group of community members and leaders together to share a meal and discussion. The Dialogue Institute looks to the way those from ancient times used meals to connect with family, neighbors, and oftentimes strangers.
Mayor Ivy Taylor will give the keynote address at the dinner in line with the theme of the evening: “Colors of San Antonio: Shaping our Future with Diversity.”
“Mayor Taylor holds up good values for our city, and brings a high level of competency that can help move us beyond prejudices toward women and African-Americans that we have often seen in society,” said Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Dialogue Institute advisory board member and UIW professor of religious studies.
This year’s Dialogue and Friendship Dinner will be held on Thursday, April 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the UIW Rosenberg Sky Room, 847 E. Hildebrand. To purchase tickets, click here.
“Gathering around food is a time that people get to know each other more … and is a time that builds friendships and also builds communities,” Kirk said. The Dialogue and Friendship Dinner always bring a diverse group of people, she added, which is part of what makes it so special.
All proceeds from the event will be shared between the Dialogue Institute and the local nonprofit organization Inner City Development, which offers the near Westside community educational, recreational, and emergency support through its programs.
“Day after day I see how (Inner City Development) is feeding the hungry, how they have a wonderful after school program for children, and how they’ve developed houses and cultural centers,” said Kirk, who lives in the neighborhood where Inner City Development is located.
Especially in the midst of a mass exodus of Middle Eastern refugees to other countries, including the U.S., Kirk added, dispelling preconceived notions and fears concerning those refugees, and maintaining a respect for their basic human dignity, is essential. She hopes events like the Dialogue and Friendship dinner help people to see that “refugees are human beings and that they help build diversity and bring talent and skills to our culture.”
Beyond sharing a meal, that will feature Kosher and vegetarian options, three local organizations and community members will be honored with awards for their work of service, education, and inclusivity in the community.
Inner City Development will receive the Dialogue Institute Community Service Award, Institute of Texan Cultures Executive Director Angelica Docog will receive the Education Award, and The Rivard Report will receive the Media Award.
Docog, Kirk said, will be recognized for her commitment to providing accessible education about Texas cultural heritage to thousands, and the Rivard Report will be recognized for “affirming different points of view in our community.
“Often those points of view don’t have the money or power to get into mainstream media,” she said.
The Dialogue Institute, which was started in 2002 by Turkish-Americans, offers other programs and events besides the Friendship Dinner including international trips, art contests, and conferences. Since its inception, it has grown to include chapters in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and eight Texas cities including Houston where it is headquartered. Its San Antonio branch is located at 4337 Vance Jackson Rd., Suite #203.
For more information on the Dialogue Institute or the dinner, click here.
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*Top image: A diverse group of community members and leaders gather for the 2013 Dialogue Institute of the Southwest Dialogue and Friendship Dinner. Photo courtesy of the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest.