By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI) will be part of a pilot project to hold “sacred conversations” inspired by a yearlong reflection on structural racism and racial justice, executive director Leslie Kilgannon said. The conversations project is an initiative of Gamaliel, a Chicago-based network of social justice organizations that includes QCI. She made the announcement during a QCI fundraising breakfast last month in Davenport that drew 220 people, the largest gathering of the annual event.
This week Kilgannon is in St. Louis with other Gamaliel-affiliated organizers “talking about the things we can do to facilitate these kinds of conversations,” she told The Catholic Messenger. In the months since a black, unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a white policeman in nearby Ferguson, Mo., “a lot of St. Louis organizers have been having these kinds of conversations … it’s about bringing people of all races together,” she said.
The conversations project is among several QCI undertakings in 2015 that Kilgannon identified during the fundraising breakfast on St. Ambrose University’s campus. An assembly has been scheduled for February for QCI members to talk about and identify new issues for the next two years, she added. Congregations are working on developing issues around restorative justice – breaking the cycle of incarceration with alternatives to sentencing and addressing barriers to getting meaningful work for those returning to the community.
QCI, a recipient of funds from the Davenport Diocese’s share of Catholic Campaign for Human Development, is a community-based nonprofit coalition of 23 congregations and groups. The organization works to “combat the root causes of systemic injustice in our region by uniting people of faith in transforming our community,” Kilgannon said. “We also train leaders to become more effective and powerful in their congregations and in our community.”
She noted that the organization had chosen as its theme for this year “We’re not a flame, we’re a fire.” The audience echoed the theme, as Kilgannon repeated it with emphasis, like a leader at a rally. “I’m a fire, on fire for justice and on fire for this work to build community,” she said, pointing out examples of community building and collaboration:
• QCI’s Jobs Equity and 100 Ready Workers campaign. QCI worked with the Illinois Department of Transportation on bringing the Highway Construction Careers Training Program (HCCTP) to Black Hawk College in Moline, Ill. The tuition-free program, open to students in Iowa and Illinois, seeks to bring more minorities and women into the highway construction field. Recent HCCTP grad Rick Sisk spoke about his positive experience.
• The commitment of St. John Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Ill., to support QCI’s work in creating a pipeline of ready workers for rail and bridge projects and to enter into local trades apprenticeships.
• An initiative to prepare immigrants in their journey to become Americans. It is a collaboration of QCI, International and United Commercial Food Workers Union Local 431, the Diocese of Davenport’s Immigration Office, the Center for Worker Justice and immigrant groups.
• Organizing people of faith to engage with public officials on issues such as unaccompanied minors at the southern border and fixing outdated federal hiring regulations that no longer reflect the diversity of the workforce.
Two champions of civil rights and social justice also were honored with awards during QCI’s fundraising breakfast: the Rev. Ron Stewart, past president of QCI, and Judith Morrell, retired director of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission.
In accepting his award, Rev. Stewart spoke of an imagined conversation with his young granddaughter Emma, when she is older and has questions about the injustices people of color have suffered. He said he’d tell her: “Emma, this is what people of faith do; they try to set things right.”
Morrell praised the namesake of her award, Msgr. Marvin Mottet, a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport and longtime social justice activist who attended the Nov. 13 breakfast. “Just to have my name linked with Msgr. Marv Mottet is an honor,” Morrell said. In her work with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, she said she’d come to recognize that “QCI is out there on the frontlines.”