Finding peace focus of address

The keynote speaker for the Columbus Human Rights Commission’s annual dinner plans to bring a message of reconciliation when he comes to Columbus later this month.

As president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati travels the country to encourage Americans to strive for peace in their relationships with people of different cultural backgrounds, particularly in their relationships with Muslims. When he travels to Columbus for the annual human rights dinner May 19, he’ll encourage local residents to support policies in their community that promote peace and inclusion.

While Muslims in America lead generally successful and thriving lives with access to career and cultural opportunities, their counterparts in other areas in the world live in cultural ghettos, Al-Marayati said. The only way to reverse that trend, he said, is for Americans to shift their frame of mind when it comes to Islam and the religion’s role in the United States and across the world.

“Where does that frame need to be shifted to recognize who (Muslims) are and opportunities for reconciliation in competing ideologies in the world?” he said.

Al-Marayati’s speech at the annual dinner will explore ways for local residents to encourage reconciliation between Muslims and other cultures in the United States through legislation and policies, he said.

Aida Ramirez, director of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, said Al-Marayati was selected as the speaker for this year’s dinner because of the growing tensions between Muslims in America and other United States citizens.

“Because of the climate of the nation as a whole, we thought it was timely to bring in a speaker to discuss Muslim-Americans in the United States,” she said.

In addition to his speech, Al-Marayati also will field questions from the audience during his presentation.

The human rights dinner also will honor Marwan Wafa, the former vice-chancellor and dean of IUPUC, and his daughter, Ala’a Wafa, who will receive the 2016 William R. Laws Human Rights Awards for their contributions to human rights in Columbus.

“What really stuck out was the commitment they had to the community,” Ramirez said. “What really struck the commission was their commitment to diversity in the community and all of the work they’ve done to spearhead dialogue on a variety of topics, such as poverty and interfaith issues.”

In addition to the Laws award, winners of the Benjamin M. King Essay Contest and J. Irwin Miller Art Contest for students will be announced at the annual dinner.

This year, fifth- through 12th-grade students were asked to creatively respond to the question, “Is Bartholomew County a welcoming community?” Each of the six winners — three for the art contest and three for the essay contest — will receive $75 and a copy of a human-rights related book, Ramirez said. Additionally, their work will be featured in the Human Rights Commission’s annual report.

If you go

Columbus Human Rights Commission annual dinner

  • When: 6:30 p.m. May 19
  • Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St., Columbus
  • Includes: Presentation of 2016 William R. Laws Human Rights Award, and announcing art and essay contest winners
  • Who: Featured speaker is Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council
  • Cost: $30 per person
  • Tickets for the annual dinner are available and can be purchased by visiting columbus.in.gov/human-rights/, calling 812-376-2532 or visiting the commission’s office at Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.
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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.