IFLC is pleased to bestow its interfaith organization award this year to the Troy-area Interfaith Group.
According to TIG member Ruth Turner, the organization got its start in 2005 after a local Hindu woman, now a state assemblywoman, was rejected from participating in Troy’s annual prayer service because the prayer she wished to offer was a Hindu one.
TIG began as a series of monthly meetings looking to local respond to things affecting interfaith relations happening on national or global level. TIG has also participated and supported Habitat for Humanity projects and recently held discussions about human trafficking and the migrant and refugee crisis at the U.S. Mexico border. TIG programing also highlights the diverse populations of the local residents in the Troy area. At times, different cultural groups come to the meetings to perform songs and dances that reflect their heritage.
Several times a year, the organization hosts movie screening selections from the national organization, Not in Our Town. Not In Our Town is a project that uses documentary film, new media, and organizing to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities
TIG member Ruth Turner said that the organization continues to draw in more people with its diverse offering of programming through monthly meetings. The group’s reach goes beyond Troy as congregations from Rochester Hills, Madison and Sterling Heights have opened their doors to host programs that draw an average of 50 people. TIG’s signature programs, such as its Interfaith Thanksgiving potlucks, attract between 150-250 people each year.
Turner, a member since 2007, said Troy and surrounding towns have become extremely diverse in recent years. According to Turner, families who send their children to Troy Schools represent many countries and speak almost 90 languages. TIG has been awarded and recognized for its work by the Michigan Education Association in 2013.
Turner said the area has changed much since she was a child growing up in Warren.
“(Growing up) I never knew anyone different from me, someone who was not Christian, until I went away to college,” said Turner. “Now, people who live in and around Troy represent many nationalities and speak almost 90 languages. Members of TIG represent many religions, including Hindus who attend the Bharatiya Temple or Jews who attend Congregation Shir Tikvah. And each time we get together for a TIG meeting at whatever house of worship we meet, we have so much to talk about with each other, we are often getting shooed out with the lights going out around us long after the formal program has ended.”
One of the founders of TIG is Michigan State Representative Padma Kuppa, whose exclusion from a town prayer event inspired her to create an organization that promotes inclusion and diversity.
“In 2005, I was refused a part in the City of Troy’s National Day of Prayer,” said Kuppa. “TIG was born as people came together around this exclusion. We realized that interfaith interaction is important to dispelling ignorance and fear. My neighborhood, my city, my country, my world – today all seem torn apart by an adherence to the belief that one’s own interpretation of beliefs is the only way”
Kuppa, as she wrote in a 2008 essay that she submitted (but was not aired) for National Public Radio’s This I Believe series, said:
I believe that pluralism is the password for peace, and that it is the promise of my country and my faith. My neighbor the Methodist creates the interfaith organization’s website, my neighbor the Episcopalian coordinates an interfaith Habitat for Humanity build. I break bread with my friend the Republican Congressman to celebrate the Temple expansion, I am honored by my friend the Democratic County Commissioner with a flag flown over the Capitol. My Muslim sister enlightens me about her hijab, my Jewish brother and I walk a labyrinth together on an interfaith pilgrimage. We are each unique and yet so much more than these labels… I am eager to engage people in dialogue, sometimes getting hurt in the process, and make connections so that we do not identify someone as “the other.” I believe in a truly pluralistic society.
Kuppa, who will be present at the Oct. 29 Awards Dinner, said she is grateful for all the energy that people have lovingly invested into one another and the Troy-area Interfaith Group since then, to promote pluralism and peace.
“I am honored that IFLC recognizes TIG for our contributions to create mutual understanding and harmony in the community.”
TIG will continue its programing into 2020 and will continue to organize film screenings by Not in Our Town, and will continue fundraising drives for local charities for Troy People Concerned and contribute to local Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations.