Efforts are underway to form a metro-area chapter of an organization dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism, while promoting racial, religious and cultural understanding and respect.
A task force made up of local community leaders recently gathered to discuss the creation of an Oklahoma City arm of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice.
The organization currently is based in Tulsa, with donated office space in the OneOK building in downtown Tulsa.
Russ Florence, president and chief executive officer of Schnake Turnbo Frank consulting firm, said he called the group together to hear from Tulsa area leaders who are involved with the organization.
The Oklahoma organization is an affiliate of the National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Florence, chairman-elect of the center's Executive Committee, said he and his family recently moved from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, and he wanted to see the organization become active in the metro area similar to how it operates in Tulsa.
Florence said Tulsans raised enough funding to become a locally funded entity when the national organization underwent a name change and reorganization about 10 years ago.
“That didn't happen in Oklahoma City,” he said.
Florence said there are many advocacy groups that promote cultural respect and understanding for all, but the center for community and justice brings all of these under one umbrella.
“As strong as our organizations are individually, I think we are stronger collectively than we are alone,” Florence said.
“Then, you are standing on much strong ground.”
Sanjay Meshri, the center's current Executive Committee chairman, said he would like to see the center expand into the metro area because he wants people who live outside Oklahoma to know most people in the state are tolerant of the differences of others.
Nancy Day, the center's president and chief executive officer, said the organization offers several programs to promote cultural awareness and understanding, including its flagship program Anytown Camp. The camp brings high school students together for diversity experiences.
Day said the center's other programs include the Common Ground project which works to educate teachers about the role of religion in the public square in the context of the First Amendment; Ourtown Institute for adults, a retreat that promotes inclusion and diversity; Middletown Institute, an antiracism-anti-bullying program for Tulsa area middle schools; and the Interfaith Trialogue series, an annual dialogue event bringing together Christians, Jews and Muslims on a specific topic.
“We hope to make some traction and have some kind of footprint in Oklahoma City,” she said.
Meanwhile, Florence said the Tulsa business community has played a key role in the center's success in that city.
Ted Haynes, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, told those gathered that he values the center's work and has enjoyed his time on the center's board of directors. Haynes said he is especially pleased that the center's works to educate youths about the importance of respecting others.
“We can teach them when they are young,” he said.
People attending the recent task force gathering at the Raindrop Turkish House, 4444 N Classen, included the Rev. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, Orhan Osman, a leader with the Institute of Interfaith Dialog; the Rev. George Young, senior pastor of Holy Temple Baptist Church; and Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, among others.
Orhan Osman, a leader with the Institute of Interfaith Dialog-Oklahoma City chapter, said he welcomes OCCJ to the metro area because they have similar missions.
“Our goal is much the same — to bring together people of different cultures and backgrounds for dialogue and education,” he said.
“If we can get the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice here, there will be more opportunities to reach out for the common good.”
Florence said the group's next meeting will be held in about two months at Oklahoma City University.
He said he would like to see more people get involved in the effort to have a metro-area presence for the center.