California,USA: Yolo County’s Multicultural Community Council (MCC) held a forum on Muslims and Sikhs on Thursday — the first in a series of public forums aimed to foster understanding and appreciation of local cultures. The forum was held at Woodland Community College from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
National President of the American Muslim Voice Foundation Khalid Saeed spoke on behalf of the Muslim community, while Winty Singh and Harjit Kaur Grewal spoke on behalf of the Sikh Coalition about the Sikh community.
“The primary thing we hope to accomplish in these type of forums is to continue to enhance inclusion and understanding of differences in Yolo County,” Saeed said. “Having a forum like the Muslim and Sikh one is a way to show that diversity and also to share the things we have in common that will bring us together.”
Saeed said he sought to clear misconceptions and misinformation about Muslims and the Islamic faith, referencing the Quran and stating that Islam is a religion of peace.
Additionally, he discussed the rise of Islamophobia in America, using a report released by the Center for American Progress called “Fear Inc.: The Roots Of the Islamophobia Network In America.” The report found that $42 million from seven foundations has helped to fuel the rise of Islamophobia in America over the last 10 years.
Singh and Grewal spoke about the Sikh community and provided a history of the Sikh faith. They discussed their beliefs and practices as well as issues Sikh Americans have faced in relation to hate crimes, discrimination, school bullying and racial profiling.
“As volunteer advocates with the Sikh Coalition, it is very important to us that we engage with our local community to help raise awareness about Sikh Americans, their contributions to our community and to dispel any myths and ignorance that exist, particularly given the recent hate crimes that we have seen directed at Sikhs across the country,” Singh said.
The MCC was created by Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and MCC chairperson Dr. Jesse Ortiz, a professor at Woodland Community College. The council is composed of a diverse group of individuals throughout Yolo County. The group also acts as an advisory committee to the DA.
“[California is] approximately 60 percent non-white and the growing need to understand and accept cultural differences is past due. In Yolo County, people of color are underrepresented in almost all positions of influence — in particular, within the political process,” Ortiz said. “These forums, we hope, will help in understanding the need for better inclusion for people of all backgrounds. If the forum on Thursday night changed one person’s negative stereotype toward Muslim or Sikhs, I consider it a success.”
There were about 100 people at the event Thursday, including several teachers, college administrators, students and community leaders. A few notable people were Yolo County Sheriff Ed Perito; Woodland Chief of Police Dan Belline; Chiefs of Police from Davis, Winters and West Sacramento and District Attorney of Yolo County Jeff Reisig.
The next forum will be on May 16 and participants will discuss the American Indian community in Yolo County.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said he hopes events such as the forums which bring people together would help foster understanding and tolerance.
“Regarding [Thursday’s] forum, we have a mosque in Woodland, a thriving Muslim community in Davis and one of the largest Sikh temples in Northern California in West Sacramento,” Raven said. “Like most communities, at times, there is a lack of understanding and tolerance for others.”