American Civic Life

‘United We Build’ Documents Lives of Bridgebuilders in America  

united we build promo

In our nation, the dominant tenor of mainstream and social media tends to be one of divisiveness. Perhaps there are economic stakes in our algorithmic balkanization, and perhaps there are other, more insidious engines fanning the flames of our cultural turmoil. As most of us who live in neighborhoods and communities around the country know, the bluster of the media’s pronouncement does not necessarily translate into our everyday experience.  

Or, to quote Public Enemy, one of the most significant, most influential hip hop groups in the genre’s fifty-year history, we shouldn’t and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” 

As we head into an election year, Interfaith America, an organization with over twenty years of experience creating social cohesion and civic cooperation, would like to highlight the often-unheralded stewards of democratic practice, individuals who work daily to create space where others are welcome and seen.  

To bring these stories to the forefront, we are launching ‘United We Build,’ a mini-documentary series highlighting bridgebuilders nationwide. These bridgebuilders share a belief in our Potluck Nation, a country of diverse identities and divergent ideologies. That belief is often fueled by their varying faiths and rich religious traditions.    

The Buddha’s life was once threatened. He pleaded with his would-be assailant to grant his dying wish. The assailant conceded, and The Buddha instructed, “Cut the branch off of that tree.” The assailant proceeded to take his sword and remove the branch with ease. After, he asked The Buddha, “Now what?” to which The Buddha responded, “Put it back again”. The man with the sword was shocked and replied, “You must be crazy to think anyone can do that.” The Buddha, in all his wisdom, gently responded, “On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to imagine yourself mighty because you can wound and destroy. The mighty, dear sir, know how to create and how to heal.”    

The individuals and organizations whose stories we are highlighting are mighty for their ability to organize, create, and help those around them. They are regular people engaged in the civic space, attempting in their ways and parts of the country to heal the nation. They are heroes and examples of our collective strength and genius. They remind us that collectively, we are much weaker when divided.

We are excited to share their stories with you in the coming weeks.  

Watch the series!

Syda Taylor 

Syda Taylor is the founder and executive director of the grassroots social justice and holistic wellness non-profit Organic Oneness. She is a leader, organizer, and convener of people and communities who operate out of Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Syda is moved and inspired by her Baha’i faith to create a universal approach to care for oneself and one’s community. Interfaith America spent time at Organic Oneness’ 5th Annual King Day of Service in 2023.   

For more information about Syda and Organic Oneness please visit: https://www.organiconeness.org and follow them on Instagram @organiconeness  

Chloe Henry

Chloe is organizing an Interfaith Build for Unity, bringing together various religious communities, to provide more permanent housing for families in need. In doing so, she is helping to foster a space for an Interfaith community in Colorado Springs, bringing together people from diverse faiths and divergent ideologies, to create together in the civic space. 

For more information about the work of Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity visit pikespeakhabitat.org and follow them on Instagram at @pikespeakhabitat 

Sharon Stroye

We travel to Newark, NJ to visit with Reverend Sharon Stroye, as she facilitates a Black & Jewish dinner & dialogue series in partnership with The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). The year long project is on going and seeks to build bridges between those communities in and around the city of Newark. Sharon currently serves the inaugural Director of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Initiative at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

Sasa Aakil

We travel to the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) to spend time with poet, potter, painter, student, organizer, daughter, wife and devout Muslim Sasa Akil, Montgomery County’s Youth Poet Laureate in 2021, who was raised in her grandmother’s Christian home.

Sasa organizes an interfaith, inter-generational open mic and brought some of those people and stories to the Smithsonian’s Folk Life Festival last summer.

The poetic text in this episode Sasa first premiered at The National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a Black Interfaith Fellowship event in partnership with Interfaith America.

You can support and keep in tune with Sasa’s work on Instagram @sasaaakil and visit her website.