Two members of the Owensboro Human Relations Commission are participants in a national leadership council aimed at combating anti-Muslim bigotry and other forms of hate.
OHRC Executive Director Kaitlin Nonweiler and Commissioner Naheed Murtaza were named among 25 municipal leaders from around the nation in May to sit on the Public Leaders for Inclusion Council, an initiative of America Indivisible.
Through a combination of monthly seminars, grant opportunities and summit in Washington, D.C., they will join a group of people representing 18 states and the District of Columbia in finding new opportunities to collaborate and support each other in addressing rising instances of hate and prejudice in their communities.
"With each seminar, we're made aware of different organizations and people that we can put in our toolkit to reach out to in times of need," Nonweiler said. "There are lots of resources, and it's been an incredible, exciting opportunity so far."
She and Murtaza are the only members of the council from Kentucky and the only two who represent the same community. According to Murtaza, they applied months ago because they each thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to build skills to address a growing problem nationally. Neither of them believed that they would both get a chance to participate.
Nonweiler says the three seminars she has participated in so far have stuck with her and have given her good ideas for implementing programs in Owensboro and Daviess County.
"What has stuck with me is the need for relationships and providing opportunities for people to develop relationships with Muslims, specifically," Nonweiler said. "People act out of fear, but when they meet someone who is Muslim and they learn about them and their faith, it takes away the fear and allows them to interact more positively and effectively."
Murtaza agreed, and she said that ways to address anti-Muslim bigotry cross gender, race and other gaps.
"It usually all boils down to racism," she said. "But that's not the end of the story, and that's what we've been talking about -- finding common ground and building on it."
Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @austinrramsey