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Stay connected to your community and your beliefs

Ed Wolff, Community Voices • Mar 2, 2018 at 8:00 AM

In a previous article of "Community Voices," where I attempted to focus on our nation's soul, I asked the rhetorical question, "What is the true soul of our nation or what will it become?"

The question arose out of my thoughts summarizing some of the darker moments of our nation's history: slavery, Bacon's Rebellion, the Trail of Tears both for Native Americans and slaves, genocide of Native Americans, child labor, and interment of U.S. citizens whose ancestors were Japanese. Yet, I believe all of humanity, down deep, yearns to love and be loved. It is inherent in all ethnic peoples, all nationalities and all cultures. As one spiritual author said, " 'Evil' is what happens when human beings become 'tortured' with this desire for goodness that they cannot experience."

I keep working to be grounded in optimism that the culture of our nation, with its ethnicities, nationalities, religious, and cultural diversities, desires goodness, fairness, and social justice for all peoples. With that in mind, I began to inventory what organizations have arisen in this beautiful, friendly area of Northeast Tennessee that positively nurtures the "soul" of our local region.

Approximately 15 years ago, United Religions Initiative-Northeast Tennessee Circle was organized. It's purpose is to promote awareness, respect and cooperation among the diverse religions of Northeast Tennessee. Several shared storytelling events, gratitude dinners, interfaith prayer services, and prayer vigils have been held to fulfill this purpose.

Women Matter has identified their mission as advocating for women's interests and raising awareness of issues that impact the lives of women in our community. The group says, "If it concerns women in East Tennessee, it concerns us, because we believe that Women Matter." There is heightened interest lately because of a multitude of reported sexual abuse incidents that have stretched from Hollywood to the halls of Congress. The organization meets monthly.

Green Interfaith Network Inc. believes that Earth is sacred. It works to promote practices that protect and enhance our relationship to all Earth's lifeforms and natural systems by engaging faith communities and the people of our region to support sustainability, accountability and equity (justice). Events are scheduled to lift up awareness and actions that impact the earth's ability to nurture life in all its forms.

Neighborhood Reconciliation Services Inc. is economically, constructively and developmentally effective in our community. This organization works with courts, schools, institutions of higher learning, law enforcement agencies, churches, correctional institutions, various organizations, and neighborhoods to introduce the practice of Restorative Justice to the community as an effective instrument of conflict resolution.

In our area, there is a local chapter of Moms Demand Action, created to demand action from legislators (state and federal companies) and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms. Demonstrations, such as a march through downtown Johnson City and prayer vigils after mass shootings are scheduled. In addition, educational events are scheduled. There are also educational presentations in the school systems. Notice that their purpose is to establish common-sense gun reforms, in other words improve gun safety.

Last summer, a new organization, Community Alliance United for Social Equality arose to inspire social change by engaging people and communities to become actively involved in the process of creating positive social, economic, and political equality. The organization is a forum for information and public awareness advocating for issues that impact the lives of minorities and inner city communities.

An informal, multi-cultural group from East Tennessee is called Be a Good Human. It's purpose to foster community and building bridges between all people in the Tri-Cities. There are several hundred members.

Over a year ago a small group of individuals met to develop Black/White Dialogue. This open group is for anyone wanting to share and/or discuss their various concerns about race relations in our community. Each meeting is voluntarily led by various group members and involves stimulating dialogue on current issues. The goal is to gain awareness of personal experiences of people of color, recognize white privilege, and encourage better relationships among citizens in our community.

The recognition of these groups reveals a deep yearning for people throughout our area to be connected with one another because of, what I believe, to be our dream for a sustainable environment, to promote social justice, and experience spiritual fulfillment for all people. There are other groups in the area, I'm sure, that are not listed. For those groups, I offer my sincere apology for not being aware of their existence and favorable contribution to our local culture.

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