Why We Need to Build and Bridge

A talk by Eboo Patel, followed by discussion with john a. powell and Allison Briscoe-Smith

At a time of deep social polarization and division, it is easy to lose hope in the potential for positive social change and a more diverse and just democracy. But for the past 20 years--inspired by love-based activists like John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Thich Nhat Hanh--Eboo Patel has defied this kind of pessimism to build Interfaith America, an organization that promotes constructive dialogue and understanding across group lines.

In his latest book, We Need to Build, Patel writes: “The goal of social change is not a more ferocious revolution, it is a more beautiful social order. … We defeat the things we do not love by building the things we do.” He goes on to emphasize that a diverse democracy requires people of all identities to have a stake in the success of the whole, not just their particular community. Building bridges is an essential skill that everyone should hone. 

In this talk, Patel will share what he has learned about why and how to bridge differences in order to create a more just and inclusive society. He will stress the importance of not only rejecting the things we don’t like but of forming a positive vision of the things we want to achieve--then finding collaborative pathways to building them. His talk will draw on ideas from We Need to Build, which Van Jones has called “a blueprint and a guidebook for an inclusive twenty-first-century democracy.”

After his talk, Patel will be joined by john a. powell, the director of UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute and the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion, and Allison Briscoe-Smith, a senior fellow at the university’s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) and the co-instructor of the GGSC’s popular online course, Bridging Differences. Together they will discuss why it is so vital to bridge differences today, on college campuses and beyond; the challenges to bridging work; and constructive strategies for building communities centered on justice, inclusion, and belonging. Their conversations will be followed by Q&A with the audience.

This event is co-sponsored by Interfaith America and the Othering & Belonging Institute, and is supported by a grant from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. It will not be streamed live, but recorded highlights will be posted to the Greater Good website afterward.

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    Eboo Patel, Ph.D., is a civic leader who believes that religious diversity is an essential and inspiring dimension of American democracy. Named “one of America’s best leaders” by U.S. News and World Report, Eboo is Founder and President of Interfaith America, the leading interfaith organization in the United States. Under his leadership, Interfaith America has worked with governments, universities, private companies, and civic organizations to make faith a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division. Eboo served on President Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council, has given hundreds of keynote addresses, and has written five books, including We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy. He is an Ashoka Fellow and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. Eboo lives in Chicago with his wife, Shehnaz, and their two sons.

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    john a. powell, J.D., is Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute, holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion, and is a Professor of Law, African American, and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He was previously the Executive Director at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University, and prior to that, the founder and director of the Institute for Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota. john formerly served as the National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He is a co-founder of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and serves on the boards of several national and international organizations. john led the development of an “opportunity-based” model that connects affordable housing to education, health, health care, and employment and is well-known for his work developing the frameworks of “targeted universalism” and “othering and belonging” to effect equity-based interventions. john has taught at numerous law schools including Harvard and Columbia University. His latest book is Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

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    Allison Briscoe-Smith, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center and the co-instructor of the GGSC’s Bridging Differences online course. She is also the project lead on the GGSC’s Connecting Californians Through Service project, a partnership with California’s Office of the Governor to strengthen bonds between people engaged in public service in the state and the communities they serve. She also serves as the Diversity Lead of Student Life at the University of Washington and is the author of Generation Mixed Goes to School: Radically Listening to Multiracial Kids. Previously she was an assistant professor and director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute.