HFCC Presents the Building Bridges of Understanding Conference
On April 5th and 6th, Henry Ford Community College hosted the Building Bridges of Understanding Conference.
The mission of the conference was to address the conflicts within and between religions, while simultaneously
promoting freedom of and from religion. The conference also addressed specific major conflicts labeled “religious”
and facilitated and offered conflict resolution methods.
A core committee of conference organizers from HFCC and neighboring institutions have been working for a whole
year to make this conference happen. The HFCC religious studies program has hosted similar conferences each year
since 2010, but these organized by an outside nonprofit agency, the common bond institute. This year’s conference
was totally “homegrown” and aimed to galvanize our campus and our very vital Detroit interfaith community. The
conference was hosted by the HFCC world studies program and the council of World Cultures.
Conference leadership included William Secrest, director of the World Studies Department, Lauren Scribner from
the Religious Studies division, and Dr. Nancy Owen Nelson, English Instructor and conference secretary. Dr. Jeanie
O’Connor, director of Service Learning, orchestrated the participation of scores of HFCC students and Cassandra
Fluker, director of Student Activities, engaged student clubs for the event. The program was supervised by Dr.
Adnan Salhi and Rosalie Rishavy, English instructors. Registration for the event was handled by Janice Gillian of
the Math Division. Lastly, students Fauzeia Hussein, Kelcie Bourquin, Amir El-Aswad, Zaid Hussian, and Gloria
Leedy participated in the coordination as well. John Carroll, the chair of the Council of World Cultures funded a
yearlong Building Bridges of Understanding lecture series that preceded the conference and featured many of its key
The three the keynote speakers, Imam Hassan Qazwini, the leader of the Islamic Center of America, Rabbi Dorit
Edut, a congregational rabbi for Temple Israel, and J. Robert Dubois, a former Navy SEAL and author of Powerful
Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War, emphasized the importance of having people
from diverse backgrounds interact with one another to increase communication and understanding. “Here in Detroit
we are a microcosm of the world, especially between the Jewish and the Muslim communities that are directly
connected to things going on in the Middle East […] we are all communicating sincerely face to face.” Rabbi Dorit
Togetherness was a focal topic. Rabbi Dorit stated that “We tend to think of peoples as “the other […] thus, putting
up the walls. We have to break those walls down. It takes special events such as this to do that.”
Beyond the thought provoking lectures from the key note speakers, the conference also featured fourteen breakout
panel sessions. The conference attendees were able to select from a wide variety of stimulating panels such as
Buddhism in Detroit, Hinduism in Detroit, the Islamic view of terrorism, the Jewish/ Israeli viewpoint of the Arab/
Israeli conflict, African American religious experience, Humanism and the role of reason among several others. In
addition, the HFCC chapter of Amnesty International hosted a panel about the role of religion in the fight for human
Although religion was an integral aspect of the conference, it was not the only basis of conversation. Fred Pearson,
director of the Wayne State University Center for Peace and Conflict Study, and some of the centers graduates
hosted a plenary session covering techniques of conflict resolution; be it racism, bullying, or simple disagreements.
The conferees were also treated to five delicious meals as well as entertainment from HFCC’s fantastic Full Circle
Dance Company and local peace songstress Julie Beutel- the Joan Baez of Detroit.
William Secrest, a conference coordinator, summed up the spirit of the conference, “Right here in Detroit we have
the freedom, the opportunity, and I don’t know if we all realize this, but we also have the mandate. There is an
Ancient Jewish Maxim “Olam Tikkum.” It is the duty of every human being to repair the world. It is not for one to
finish the task, but neither may one desist from it.”