By Nasreen Iqbal, Special to The City Sentinel
About 150 people gathered on April 7 at the Tower Hotel in Oklahoma City for The Dialogue Institute Oklahoma City’s eleventh annual Friendship Dinner and Awards Ceremony. The institute formed in 2002 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to uniting Oklahomans of different faiths, cultures and backgrounds through open dialog and community service.
Alexander Scott, the dinners keynote speaker, an associate professor and the director of a Catholic-Muslim Studies Program, greeted the diverse group of guests appropriately with a welcome phrase tailored to each demographic.
“To my Jewish brothers and sisters, shalom. To my Muslim brothers and sisters as salam alyakom. To my Christian brothers and sisters, happy Easter, He has risen,” Scott said.
Scott and several other presenters including former Oklahoma Governor, Brad Henry, continued the event by describing the impact The Dialogue Institute has had on Oklahoma City and identifying those individuals who have made equal contributions to the community.
The Institute granted a Leadership Award to Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, a Lifetime Achievement Award to Paul Sechrist, president of Oklahoma City Community College and a Community Service Award to Louisa McCune-Elmore, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
“These awards recognize those who have made a lasting impression on the city; who have forever contributed to breaking the barriers of ignorance and bringing people together for the common goal of making this a more peaceful world to live in,” Scott said.
Henry echoed Scott’s sentiments towards The Dialogue Institute of Southwest Oklahoma City.
“The Dialogue Institute of Southwest Oklahoma City is doing great work and I applaud them for it,” Henry said. “This organization places a much needed emphasis on tolerance, a message that is perhaps needed today more than ever.”
According to the institutes’ website, the mission of the organization is to promote mutual understanding, respect and cooperation among people of diverse faiths and cultures by creating opportunities for direct communication and meaningful shared experiences.
“That is exactly what this event is all about,” dinner participant, Joan Korenblit, said.
“Today there is so much prejudice towards Muslims by those who have never taken the time to get to know a Muslim. Once someone gets to know another person of a different faith, that person’s understanding of that faith increases dramatically.”
Joan and her husband Michael Korenblit created The Jewish-Muslim Film Institute which aims to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between Muslims and Jews.
The Koremblit’s friends and dinner participants, Rabia and Ray Shaik, both Muslim faith, are proud of their friends and attribute the Korenblit’s efforts to the warm welcome they felt in Oklahoma after moving to the city five years ago from Michigan.
“We were nervous when we first moved here,” Rabia Shaik said. “We realized that Oklahoma is not as diverse as Michigan. This is a smaller community where everyone knows everyone. But we soon realized how friendly people are here. We pushed ourselves to get out and get to know people. That’s what brought us here and that’s what sparked so many of our friendships here.”
This year’s dinner raised funds to support YWCA programs and services benefiting victims escaping domestic violence.
To learn more about The Dialogue Institute Oklahoma City visit www.dialogueok.org.
NOTE: Nasreen Iqbal is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected] or at 405.919.7678.