The Good Neighbor Conference was held at the Jepson Center on Saturday night, holding sessions to combat issues including racism, homophobia and hate in Spokane and the United States.
The event was organized by Spokane Faith and Values (FAVs), Spokane Interfaith Council, Spokane County Human Rights Task Force and the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies.
Tracy Simmons, a lead organizer, executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com and journalism professor at Gonzaga University, said the event was to have “all sides to come together; the conservative and the liberal sides, to discuss and learn the tools about how we can move forward as a community.”
“We owe it to Spokane, and we owe it to our community to be proactive in the face of discrimination,” said Skyler Oberst, president of the Spokane Interfaith Council and organizer of the event. “We want to be proactive, and not reactive.”
Oberst later said it is not enough for people to simply talk about their problems, but rather need to focus on what they have in-common.
“Making change is all about making connections,” said Dean Lynch, director of the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force and organizer of the event, before asking attendees to make one new connection with someone.
“If you make that connection with someone in this friendly environment, it’ll be that much easier to make that connection with someone you don’t know, who may not be so friendly,” Lynch said.
The conference consisted of speakers from local organizations, seeking to raise awareness to current issues.
One speaker, Arsalan Bukhari of CAIR-WA, addressed Islamophobia through statistics explaining why it has been on the rise recently. One factor, Bukhari mentioned, was how two-thirds of media coverage on Islam associated it with extremism.
Bukhari provided a resource sheet to attendees, listing ways citizens can combat Islamophobia including visiting a mosque, meeting Muslim neighbors and hosting “interfaith gatherings.”
Jan Shannon, Assistant Pastor of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ and member of the LGBTQ community, provided attendees a list of “gay-friendly” churches. These included Bethany Presbyterian Church, Salem Lutheran Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
Simmons addressed hate speech online, encouraging people to talk offline on what they witnessed and approach hate speech online “with a gentle demeanor,” rather than anger.
“We’re forming our opinions off of false headlines,” said Ozzie Knezovich, Spokane County Sheriff, addressing how fake news has shaped public opinions to be more hateful.
When asked how to resolve hatred in the United States, Knezovich said citizens need to “drop the old hatreds and suspicions and realize we’re all Americans.”
Knezovich mentioned if people only divided into hostile groups, no problem would be solved.
Other speakers included Ben Stuckart, Spokane City Council President; Phil Tyler, NAACP Spokane; John Lemus, Spokane Human Rights Commission; The Dreamer Coalition and Spokane Chase Youth Commission.
Nearly 300 people attended the conference, consisting of students, teachers and locals.