Faith groups from throughout the central San Joaquin Valley united under the banner of a new name – Faith in the Valley – on Saturday afternoon during a forum attended by around 1,500 people representing 120 congregations.
It feels like a great awakening happening right now in our country, including in our Central Valley.
Joseph McKellar, interim director of Faith in the Valley and deputy director for PICO in California
The three-hour “LIFT Forum: Power, Faith, Community” at the Fresno Convention Center included a reading of a new “People’s Covenant” – a pledge to say no to “extraction, exclusion and indifference” and to say yes to a “new Valley economy that works for everyone.”
Faith in the Valley is part of the PICO National Network, a national organization of faith-based community organizations that work to address issues facing communities.
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“No longer are we willing to watch what’s happening to our families continue,” said Joseph McKellar, interim director of Faith in the Valley and deputy director for PICO in California. “Today we are giving birth to something new.”
Speakers addressed a range of subjects – poverty, contaminated air and water, racism, incarceration, immigration, housing and health care – and proclaimed a “new vision for the Central Valley rooted in racial, economic and environmental dignity for all.”
A number of politicians and community leaders attended, including Fresno State President Joseph Castro and labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. Fresno mayoral candidate and county supervisor Henry Perea also attended. His opponent, Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand, was invited but was unable to attend for personal reasons.
It’s a movement for social justice in the Central Valley.
Dolores Huerta, talking about Faith in the Valley
Huerta called the event an “affirmation” of social justice work being done throughout the Valley.
“It gives everybody a lot more energy and inspiration,” Huerta said, “and makes people really understand that they are not alone.”
It’s really, really important for us to ensure that no one is left in the margin, that no one remains invisible, and that’s the responsibility of every single human being.
Bishop David Rice of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin
Among the long list of speakers was Clare Dunphy of Bakersfield with Catholics in Action who took the stage dressed as the Statue of Liberty, saying she wants to see “freedom and justice and equality for all of us.”
“Pope Francis calls us to live the life that Christ called us to live, making peace in our world,” Dunphy said. “In this rich Valley, we have some of the poorest, hungriest, least educated and hurting people in our country, and that needs to change.”
These issues of incarceration, air quality, poverty, immigration – we have to have all of us in this fight together. Our hashtag for the day is #OnePeopleOneFight.
Andy Levine, executive director of Faith in Community
Andy Levine, executive director of Fresno’s Faith in Community, said the issues can’t be tackled alone.
“This isn’t just a Fresno County problem. This is much bigger than that,” Levine said. “This is an opportunity, but it’s also a humbling realization that we need to think bigger and do something more powerful than ever before across all of our congregations.”
Pashaura Singh Dhillon, education and Sikh awareness coordinator for the Sikh Council of Central California, said all people are created equal in the eyes of God.
The differences are small. What we have in common is huge.
Sharnjit Singh Purewal of the Sikh Council of Central California
“People may look different, they may come from different walks of life, but their destiny is the same,” Dhillon said.
Sharnjit Singh Purewal, also with the Sikh Council, said something similar: “The differences are small. What we have in common is huge.”
Bishop David Rice of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin said that joining together to solve problems facing all is “what the church is all about” and “where God is.”
McKellar shared a story he recently heard about a Zulu greeting that means “I see you.” The response is, “Therefore I am, therefore I exist.”
“We’ve been using that a lot because so many of our faith traditions have something to say about both those who feel and are unseen, as well as our obligation as people of faith – in adherence to that faith – to removing the covers from our eyes,” McKellar said, “like the scales in the Christian tradition, to see others in their full humanity.”