The most renowned Parliament speech in history happened in 1893 when Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk from India, opened the frst World Parliament of Religions by calling upon his “Sisters and Brothers of America.” He was 30 years old.
On Friday, October 16, 2015 with a sixth Parliament in full swing, attendees swarmed the plenary hall and were invited by Co-Emcees Dr. Eboo Patel and Dawn Maracle to be “transported to the planet of interfaith cooperation.”
For the first time, a full major track of Parliament programming was devoted to emerging leaders, drawing upon the captivating energy and diverse gifts of rising interfaith stars. And the promises of the young adults, now re-conceiving what the interfaith movement could and should be, were incredibly convincing on the night of the plenary.
The contingent of “Emerging Leaders” (Parliament attendees under 35 years of age) represented a rising generation of interfaith practitioners whose interests dwell in religious literacy and social action, interests made evident in the robust models of diverse youth organizations like PeaceJam and Interfaith Youth Core. The principle organizing model? Diligent service inspired by faith and strengthened by interfaith.
Patel said, “It is no small thing to get 10,000 peace-loving people in the Salt Palace to practice their loving peacefulness.” It was truly a remarkable moment; almost 2,500 young adults gathered at the Parliament had a stage dedicated to their voices, perspectives, wisdom, expertise, and achievements with the full support of all Parliament attendees.
Faatimah Knight delivered a somber and sophisticated keynote on Black Churches Burning and the perspective of Christian-on-Christian crime, sharing why she, a Muslim, African-American woman, chose to raise awareness through fundraising to support these devastated communities. Knight’s keynote address helped the Parliament see a tangible expression of thought leadership, embodied solidarity, and exemplification of faith in practice.
For millennials, everyday activities can provide opportunities for interfaith realities. Mutual understanding across religious differences is especially prevalent through community service and recreational activities like sports. Yonatan Belik, a Jewish-Australian motivational speaker and member of “Peace Team,” shared the story of teens
divided by walls in Israel and Palestine but united through their different faiths, who have led by example in their peacebuilding rugby league.
In 2015, the Parliament’s breakout star was also the youngest to ever deliver a keynote speech. 14-year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney, an activist, singer, and actress from Canada’s Tla’Amin First Nation, was the face of each critical constituency (Women, Emerging Leaders, and Indigenous Peoples) and channeled the power of all three: a treasure of the indigenous communities, a sage emerging leader articulating ancient wisdom far beyond her years, and a paragon of rising feminine leadership. Ta’Kaiya was prolific across the Parliament programs and plenaries and a prime representative of the growing interest in youth leadership on the world’s most critical issues.
Dr. Eboo Patel not only contributed his dazzling charm to the Parliament by co-hosting the evening plenary, but he also spoke as the first featured expert in a customized Massive Open Online Course in Interreligious Studies, co-produced by the Utah Valley University and the Parliament of the World’s Religions for participating students.
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