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Interfaith Engagement: Sharing stories in living color

  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

It’s an idea so good that Pitt’s Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement was recognized for its proposal alone.

Beginning Monday, Jan. 18, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and continuing through Black History Month, the office is creating a space where anyone from the Pitt community and beyond can share their experiences with intersectionality.

“We’re encouraging anybody, no matter their race, culture, religion or worldview, to participate, because our unique intersectional stories need to be told, heard and shared,” said Emiola Oriola, director of the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement. “We want stories about your personal experiences at this intersection and what you have learned.”

The project, called Interfaith in Living Color, was honored this fall with the Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Award from the Interfaith Youth Core, a national nonprofit organization whose “We Are Each Other’s” campaign aims to support interfaith leaders responding to current national crises.

A surge of commitment

The idea for the initiative started to take shape for Oriola when he attended two interfaith conferences, one in 2019 in Chicago and the other online during 2020.

While listening to the other attendees’ stories, Oriola was reminded of “In Living Color,” a 1990s sketch comedy show created by Keenan Ivory Wayans and starring multiple members of the Wayans family, as well as then-rising stars like Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey; Jennifer Lopez was introduced as a member of the show’s Fly Girls dance troupe.

“It brought a lot of people of color, specifically Black people, to the front at a time when they hadn’t always been there. And I liked it because of how it shook stereotypes of public narratives,” said Oriola.

Share your story

Everyone is encouraged to submit their stories to Interfaith in Living Color. You can do so using this webform.

Besides appearing on the site, some stories will be highlighted on the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

Participants are asked to remember to respect each other and refer to the Community Agreements for more guidance.

Oriola, a poet and itinerant minister, saw an opportunity to combine the sometimes-subversive power of storytelling with a format akin to the Humans of New York social series.

“The idea is that Interfaith in Living Color will be short, first-person narratives about observations or experiences that have happened to people at the intersection of their faith or worldview and the race or ethnicity they identify with,” he said. He hopes that this will enable a dialogue about the unique challenges of those moments and their outcomes — and reveal some of the friction that may occur.

Oriola also hopes that the project will help people re-engage with a certain sense of community that has been restricted by the pandemic’s social isolation. “You never know how much you need something until it’s taken away. You never know how much you enjoyed mass or the gathering at a church,” he said.

He believes that longing has inspired a surge of commitment, reminding people to see community as something precious, as well as a sense of wanting to connect and share.

“That’s what this project is for — creating a virtual space where people can be vulnerable and share experiences they’ve always wanted to share, and hopefully make connections with each other, contact each other, create new relationships that will extend beyond the website and the pandemic,” he said.