Multi-Faith Award Goes to ‘Safety’ Creators

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Tompkins Weekly 2-16-15

By Eric Clay

Sarah Chalmers Simmons and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. have been named the recipients of this year’s Multi-Faith World Award. They are the leading forces behind the community-based play SAFETY, which examines community and police relations in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

The Multi-Faith World Award recognizes persons’ efforts to “keep faith” with others as equals through high impact or high visibility service for the common good.  Recipients bridge differences in values, politics, religion or economic class, without attempting to convert the “other” to their own identity or values, especially when the recipients’ efforts may put them at some risk of losing their standing within their original community or organization.

Area Congregations Together (ACT) and Shared Journeys chose Sarah and Godfrey for their leadership and work with Civic Ensemble in crafting SAFETY, which highlights the distinct challenges of feeling safe across diverse racial and economic groups, as well as with uniformed officers charged with law enforcement. As a couple, Sarah and Godfrey’s lives are an example of and dedication to exploring issues that foster clarity and hope in the face of prejudice and fear.

Both communities of color and uniformed officers were initially highly suspicious and doubtful about, and at times resistant to, this effort. With skill, grace and a tragic circumstance–in the timing of the killing of Michal Brown–they secured passionate, community-based participation across constituents. Their work opened up the wounds of suspicion and prejudice, as well as the longing for peace and hope from all sides, characterizing the many breakdowns in community/police relations.

The award consists of a plaque and an empty bowl.  With 37 symbols of diverse ways of life, the plaque honors the many ways people live and believe the world is and ought to be, and implores everyone to “Share the journey–Live your own–Honor all.”  The empty bowl represents a simple meal and the idea that we must feed one another, and not harm one another, whether in times peace or conflict, if we are all to thrive.

SAFETY had 7 performances in 5 diverse settings around Ithaca, and a film has been made. The Award honors quality work on a controversial and timely issue, from the lives of everyday people, with one viewer noting that the video seems destined to be screened at film festivals. Moving Box Studios of Ithaca is in the process of producing this video, and Civic Ensemble has plans to revisit SAFETY in the near future. SAFETY is intended to start discussions.

Sarah and Godfrey responded to the award:   “We are deeply humbled that ACT and Shared Journeys have chosen to give us this recognition.  As citizen-artists, it is gratifying to receive this recognition at a time when the importance of the arts in American communities can be widely undervalued.”

Civic Ensemble is a non-profit theater company serving Ithaca and Tompkins County through offering plays, after-school and in-school education programs, and civic engagement programs with community members. The company works to bring audiences and performers of different races, classes, and experiences together in a public forum on the American experiment. Godfrey notes that “participation in the cultural life of the community is the birthright of every member of our community.”

At 7:30 pm, February 23, Civic Ensemble presents “HOME: A Living Newspaper” at the Kitchen Theater Company, 417 West State Street. (Pay What You Can online at civicensemble.org or call 607-241-0195 to reserve a seat.)

Set in an unnamed Ithaca cafe, HOME addresses the issue of housing in Ithaca through the experience of a newcomer from South America. Sarah observes, “Very simply, HOME tells the story of a newcomer to Ithaca and her struggle to find safe, affordable housing. Her journey presents us with questions about how the current housing situation in Ithaca impacts real people as they struggle to find a small piece of the ‘good life’ so many come to Ithaca to find.”

HOME is timely. Nearly one-third of our permanent workforce, roughly 20,000 people (and growing), commutes into Tompkins County for work. We have roughly 42,000 units of housing in the County. We might need another 10,000 units to adequately relieve the pressure of rising local housing costs that challenge the ability of long-term working-poor residents, new hires and immigrants, alike, who try to find housing and live here.

ABOUT THE AWARD SPONSORS:

ACT builds bridges of understanding and cooperation among multiple faith communities in Tompkins County. Over 45 years, ACT has initiated, spun off or provided ongoing support for programs that serve food security needs locally and globally, persons emerging from incarceration, families and persons with young children, community-wide celebrations of Thanksgiving, ongoing conversations about science and religion, faithful responses to violence and war, and secular and religious diversity.

Shared Journeys fosters positive, informal relationships that build community across differences in backgrounds and resources, so that we can feel at home with differences, live gracefully with inevitable conflicts and become allies in overcoming injustices. Our “Communities of Care” initiative builds relational skills that make it easier to experience mutuality and community within and across our families, peer-groups, neighborhoods, religious and secular organizations, political affiliations and workplaces.

Eric Clay is the co-founder of Shared Journeys.

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