On October 10, 2019, experts in the field of faith-based bullying came together with community trail-blazers and social media leaders in Minneapolis, MN to share problems, solutions, ideas, and initiatives. Faith-based bullying is a pervasive and increasing epidemic in today’s world: based on a 2019 sample of 5,000 middle and high schoolers across the nation, “34.3% of Muslim youth, 25% of Jewish youth, and 23.1% of Hindu youth say they have been targeted at school over the last 30 days because of their faith” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2019). The first ever Interfaith Bullying Prevention Summit, organized by the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) and powered by Facebook and Instagram, would be a space to discuss startling findings such as these and walk away with practical strategies to change them.
The morning began on a reflective note, with Shaarik Zafar of the Facebook policy team reminding us how critical it is to simply have a “network of support” – to “have each other’s backs.” Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, followed with a message that fused story-telling, policy, and research. Calling us to “be agents of this simple idea of liberty and justice for all,” he reminded us of how the social norms that our children encounter today are different than they were 50 or 60 years ago. Children today know that challenging a norm is ok, even expected and encouraged. By being empathetic and engaged figures in their journeys – understanding their unique contexts and perspectives – we can better help them navigate trials such as faith-based bullying and harassment.
Throughout the rest of the day, the summit’s keynote speakers overwhelmingly succeeded in fueling constructive and collaborative conversation both during and after their talks. Dr Nadia Ansary of Rider University reminded us that “bias-based bullying is an attack on identity that is an indignity – one that has greater psychological “cost” than other forms of bullying.” After presenting a number of the most recent statistics and findings on faith-based bullying, she ended her talk with a call to action: “Interfaith work not only creates connections but strengthens advocacy efforts…let’s continue doing it.”
Dr. Ferial Pearson, founder of “The Secret Kindness Agents,” had the room hanging onto her every word with her talent for storytelling. She spoke honestly of the conversations she had with her students as a teacher and with her children as a mother on questions surrounding kindness and discrimination. Motivated by a simple question from her son, “What if people were kind to each other all the time?”, she sprang into action. With her classroom motto of “All of us or none of us,” she and her students made a commitment to random acts of kindness and The Secret Kindness Agents was born. Becoming a Secret Kindness Agent is simple: you don’t need “any resources besides your own humanity.” Just 1) choose an agent name, 2) choose your “act” (e.g. “waving to strangers”), 3) make it consistent – a habit, 4) reflect after each assignment, and 5) think about how you might customize your act for the context.
Alan Conley, Director of the Office of Faith Based Initiatives for Chicago Public Schools, doesn’t consider himself a preacher. Instead, he likes to refer to himself as a “communicator of good news.” The mission of his Office is “not to push faith, but rather to push faith-based initiatives/partnerships.” The Office of Faith Based Initiatives has three impactful programs: 1) Safe Haven works with faith-based programs to fill student’s time outside of school. This past summer, Safe Haven was able to partner with 37 organizations and serve up to 5,000 students. 2) Crisis Support provides words of comfort, helps cover funeral and burial expenses, and bridges connections to counselors and other service providers. 3) Adopt-A-School facilitates coat drives, food drives, truancy remediation, and mentorship. Churches “adopt” and care for a school’s student body in these ways.
The Summit wrapped-up with Facebook and Instagram providing attendees with an overview of policy, community standards, and practical tools related to faith-based bullying and bullying in general. IBPA is incredibly thankful to Facebook and Instagram for powering such an impactful day and looks forward to the conversations and the connections that have begun and will continue to be strengthened as a result of the Summit.