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The Killing of Deon Gilbert (15) and the Unmasking of Violence

Blog Post written by Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana for

Fifteen year old Deon Gilbert was killed in the south side of Chicago on the night of November 7th by a single gun-shot to his abdomen. This promising young man attended Ellis Avenue Church almost every Sunday since he was about 3 years old, had hopes of playing football and studying architecture perhaps at Florida A &M. The church which attracts a good number of African American young people has the question of urban violence regularly brought to its attention during prayer time by these young people who seek prayer for a neighbor, a classmate, a relative or friend who has been shot or killed. But this time, it was not one that we did not know. It was one of our own children. The worship on Sunday was somber and mournful. It was not yet time to think of hope and resurrection. It was just time to mourn.

On Saturday morning, November 8th, shortly after receiving the news of Deon’s death, I spoke to the Religious Educators Association (a professional organization of scholars and professors of religious education) at their conference in Oak Brook, on the question of Unmasking Violence. The insights for my presentation came from the present SCUPE class I am teaching together with Dr. Clinton Stockwell on Public Issues in the City.

In that class, we talked about Sudhir Venkatesh’s book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (Penguin Books, 2008). This is the story of a University of Chicago sociology Ph.D. student’s immersion in the gang culture in the Robert Taylor Homes – one of the poorest housing developments in the country at the time. We used it as an example to understand the principles of ethnography, to understand the limits of our knowledge and our methods of acquiring that knowledge.

We recalled that those buildings, which non-residents usually called “projects” and residents called “community,” did not automatically appear – they were created, as a means of warehousing people away from mainstream society. These massive buildings housed some 1000 families each, and there was no economy in the immediate neighborhood to support jobs for all the people who needed them. To find a job, the residents had to travel to the suburbs. Imagine the difficulty for a young mother, who needed to travel two hours each way by bus, train and bus, only to have to pay half her earnings to the child care worker! Naturally, an underground or informal economy sprang up.

Some informal economies are illegal as well. This was the case with the drug trade. The income was small. For a foot soldier in a gang, it would be less than $20,000 a year. But the costs in terms of risk to life and limb were very high. This too was the case with prostitution. Police are as corrupt, says Venkatesh. They are often paid off by the gangs, and often have sex with the women they arrest. The buildings are patrolled and secured by gangs. If you want to be safe, you need to pay the gang to look after you. They have guns and will be brutal with those who will harass those they protect. Even though Robert Taylor Homes is no more, the illegal underground economies flourish particularly in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, as is the case in some communities in the south and west sides of Chicago. Much of the gun violence in our communities is a part of this informal economy. Click here to continue reading on 

November 20th, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Celebrate Compassion in Chicago’s Pre-Parliament Event with Arun Gandhi and a Faiths Fest

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is coming home. For the first time since 1993, the largest, most historic global interfaith summit is returning to the United States in October 2015. We are honored to invite you to experience a taste of this life-changing gathering on November 13, 2014. Join us in the Parliament’s home city by hosting your own table or purchasing tickets as together we look with great excitement toward our 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah!

A celebratory, pre-Parliament event, benefitting the Parliament of the World’s Religions:

        5:30pm:  A Festival of Faiths Reception

        6:30pm:  Benefit Dinner and Program

        8:00pm:  Dessert Reception

        Chicago Cultural Center, Sidney R. Yates Gallery, 78 East Washington Street, Chicago

For Tickets: Chicago Pre-Parliament Benefit on Eventbrite

This vibrant evening of learning and celebration will be a glimpse of the Parliament to come! At the Faiths Fest Reception you will rediscover the unique and varied gifts of our gathered faith communities. Two dynamic new videos, produced by Baha’i Media Services will be premiered, showcasing our rich tradition and pointing us toward a bright future.  Over dinner, you will be engaged and inspired by our brief program including a call to action from Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, and rousing performances, bringing the spirit of the Parliament directly to you. And, the most compelling aspect of the evening will be your opportunity to pre-register for the eagerly anticipated 2015 Parliament!

We hope that you will be with us on this momentous evening! If you are unable to be physically present, please consider a generous donation. As we move boldly towards our long awaited 2015 Parliament, your support and presence helps us step with confidence into our future. Thanks to you, that future is here.

September 30th, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Interreligious Leadership Award Honors Three Distinguished Chicagoans

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel congratulates Rabbi Schaalman on his Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago’s Interreligious Leadership Award at a ceremony June 19. Schaalman was spokesperson of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC) presented its inaugural Interreligious Leadership Award recognizing the distinguished His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Ilene Shaw, and Rabbi Herman Schaalman in a downtown Chicago ceremony June 19.

Of the honorees, Rabbi Schaalman, who was the spoksperson of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, is remembered for helping to mobilize a worldwide interfaith movement rooted in Chicago.

President of the CRLMC and Parliament Board Vice-Chair Rabbi Michael Balinsky says, “Schaalman is a respected and beloved voice on the Council whose very presence and wisdom fosters an atmosphere of interreligious cooperation. He is looked to for guidance and wisdom on the issues facing our city and the role the interreligious community can play in fostering activism and healing.”

In a Chicago release, the JUF echoes this statement describing Schaalman as “one of the most respected Rabbis to serve Chicago’s Jewish community.”

According to the CRLMC, Cardinal George has served the council for 17 years, and honor Shaw recognizing her support to the Council’s educational efforts. In its report, the Council states, “Mrs. Ilene Shaw, who, under the auspices of the CRLMC, “has made possible the production of an InterFaith Calendar featuring 17 different faith traditions describing their basic tenets, beliefs and observances. The calendar is recognized nationally as an excellent vehicle to promote interfaith understanding and respect,”

To read more about the ceremony and its address by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, please read more by visiting the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. 


Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago Commemorates Parliament of the World’s Religions Anniversaries

Dear Members and Friends of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions:

As Mayor and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I am pleased to welcome all of those gathered for both the 120th & 20th anniversary celebrations for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

It is truly exciting to know what an important role Chicago has played in the 120 years since the inaugural Parliament of the World’s Religions was held here, and then 20 years ago in the second – the 1993 Parliament. The 1893 Chicago Parliament opened the door for the interreligious movement and that event brought together thousands of people from all over the world. It marked a pivotal moment for many different religions and spiritual communities from the east and west coming together around a common commitment to justice and peace.

In 1993, the second Parliament introduced a Global Ethics Initiative that maintains a vision of people living peacefully together and sharing responsibility for the care of the earth while identifying the common commitments that come out of different belief traditions. In Chicago, we know there’s a need for this important work. When religious and spiritual communities combine their strengths and commitments, a more just, peaceful and sustainable world is the result.

These special anniversary celebrations and benefits represent an ongoing commitment to thoughtful, enduring work. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions not only unites people of spirit and faith to engage with the issues of our time, but also mobilizes efforts to combat bias and hate. I offer heartfelt congratulations on this auspicious occasion and recognize all of those

I am confident that Chicago will continue to be a central meeting place for the Council for a
Parliament of the World’s Religions. Best wishes for much continued success.


Rahm Emanuel


Save the Date for Parliament of the World’s Religions Anniversary Benefit

Come celebrate with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions!

We are gathering to commemorate the birth of Interfaith in Chicago, the 1893 and 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, and to honor the passion and work of new interfaith leaders today. Join us as we honor old friendships and build new ones for a bright and peaceful future!

Questions? Please contact Molly Horan,

Praying for Justice at Parliament’s Interfaith Anniversary Kickoff

Associate Pastor of Congressional Life Joyce Shin of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church delivers a prayer at the 20th Anniversary Celebration Kickoff of CPWR, May 11, 2013 at the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago

Taking time to mark twenty years of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on May 11, the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago opened doors to the interfaith community of Chicagoland to kickoff the anniversary year’s celebrations. Speaking from a Christian community, Joyce Shin of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church offered reverence to a God whose world is failing to live up to his image, asking for strength to be stronger and to cultivate peace. Praying for justice, Shin’s words mirror the mission the Parliament follows moving forward in Presbyterian-religious terms.

Great is your Word, O God, and great are your works.  Each day we breathe in what you breathed out.

We take in the goodness and beauty of your creation, the love you have for it, and your command to care for it.

With heads bowed down and hearts broken, we confess to you, O God, the sorrow we feel for the great mistakes your world has made.

Together we bear the consequences of a creation marred by sin.  Your truth has been twisted and your providence perverted.

Anger has been sown and violence spread.  And when violence is committed in your name, we shudder with shame.

For the way things are, we are sorry, for we know your world has fallen short of your creation.  We see the scars on both friend and stranger.

We have condoned ignorance and allowed injustice, and we have made others to suffer for our mistakes.

We do not take lightly, great God, the damage done, the lives lost, and the grief immeasurable.

When we fear that the world is beyond repair, remind us that you have created us to be in your image.  We are not sure what that means.

 Compared to you we are fallen, frail in strength, and fickle in conviction.

At most, God, we hope that, if we imitate you all the days of our lives, we will come to embody what you have in mind for us:

that our bodies will bear the grooves of daily service and that our faces will reveal lines of compassion;

that our souls will be strengthened to speak out for those whose voices are ignored and to stand up against forces that keep people down.

Then when you look upon us and the world you have created, most merciful God, we pray that you will see some semblance of your image:

a world in which just priorities are pursued; the young are educated; the elderly cared for; the vulnerable protected; the hungry filled; the homeless safe.

Do not let the needs of your creation overwhelm us, Lord.  Though the world’s needs are great, your power is greater.  Amen.


Welcoming All To 20th Anniversary Interfaith Kickoff | Chicago May 11 | Looking Back to Move Forward

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is pleased to welcome all to a kickoff Interfaith celebration of our 20th anniversary! Partake in spiritual music, prayer, and conversation to look back on the 1993 Parliament of World Religions and move forward to a harmonious interfaith future! Attendees are welcomed to share in Langar (a meal) directly following the celebration.

When: Saturday, May 11 | 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. (Meal to follow)

Where: Sikh Religious Society | Palatine Gurdwara Sahib | 1280 Winnetka Street | Palatine, IL 60067

Hosted by: CPWR & The Sikh Religious Society

Cost: None!


Marching with MLK and Mahalia Jackson: Our CEO Remembers

“We’ve gotta tear down those walls. We’ve gotta TEAR DOWN those walls. WE’VE GOTTA TEAR DOWN THOSE WALLS!”

Depicting a 196o’s summer rally, Dr. Mary Nelson, CPWR’s Interim CEO, relives a historical moment. For her, this is a personal story of joining her neighbors to protest housing discrimination against people of color. Committing to march for the civil rights cause, Mary worked passionately for this open, “beloved” community.

Leading the civil rights movement to the North, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had journeyed to Chicago to launch what would become a summer-long effort. His Saturday marches concentrated on those neighborhoods that were the most bitterly opposed to integration.

Nelson says, “King preached the night before [the first march] that we had to tear down the walls of racism, of economic injustice, and the way to tear down those walls was to peacefully just make a witness and be strong. We had to have some training in non-violence and how to do that.”

It isn’t a pretty piece of history, and Nelson doesn’t gloss over the raw and gritty reality of what it was. But it was also an exciting time to change the system. Rabbis and Christian clergy together answered King’s ecumenical call. Black Muslims who were beginning to add their voice to the movement often took jobs as King’s bodyguards.

Dr. Nelson had joined an interfaith force for change, and was ready to take to the streets.

Trekking together down Cicero Avenue, pastors marched in front linking arm-in-arm to King. Singing “We Shall Overcome” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” their chorus wouldn’t be thrown, even as bystanders littered the march trying to impale everything about it.

Lining their path, the sidewalks were overcrowded by epithet-screaming opponents. Nelson says in that time, “if you were to label them, they’d be rednecks.”

Par for the course, they prepared to encounter danger and would enact a non-violent response. Through the sounds of firecrackers that burst frighteningly like gunshots, Nelson was walking behind Mahalia Jackson, the gospel singer who’d sing at King’s rallies.

Jackson had brought the marchers to their feet the night before singing, “Joshua fit The Battle of Jericho and those walls a’come tumblin’ down…,”

Nelson was stumped in her tracks with everyone else as a disturbing scene unfolded. “One man with just hate filling his face, a fantastic visual of hate, did a big glob of spit onto Mahalia’s cheek,” Nelson cringes to recall.

Planted in place, Mahalia turned and stared her bully straight in the eyes, peering into him. All watched Ms. Jackson as she wiped away the man’s spit and offered him the words, “God Bless You My Child.”

“The power of nonviolence had made this big, bully man and all his hate just shrivel up, like Judas, and he understood that his power was nothing compared to the power of being able to bless him in the midst of that,” Nelson says.

It was the first time Nelson says she viscerally experienced the power of non-violence. From that point, she would march each Saturday that summer while King took residence in an impoverished West-side Chicago neighborhood.

Preaching to break down barriers and make room for everyone in a beloved community, King dispatched his wider vision for equality that would change Chicago and the nation. These shared convictions would also guide Nelson through decades of leadership in community organizing. Now at the helm of our global interfaith council, Nelson tirelessly dedicates each day to justice, and happily shares stories that drop the jaws of those around her.

Like the story of marching with MLK, which Nelson more aptly calls, “My Mahalia Jackson story.”

And really…, it is.

Bearing The Light: Honoring our Spiritual Foremothers

An image of the Rockefeller Carillon, to be played at the Bearing the Light concert at University of Chicago, an event put on by the Women’s Task Force of the CPWR. Photo from University of Chicago website.

On November 3rd at 7:30pm, the University of Chicago’s majestic Rockefeller Chapel will be filled with the dynamic sounds of West African drumming and the ethereal 12th century chant of Hildegard of Bingen. As the combined chants of many different traditions reach a crescendo, the chapel will be bathed in light and the ringing of the Rockefeller Carillon, the second-largest musical instrument in the world.

An hour of music and readings honoring women across time and traditions, “Bearing the Light: Honoring Our Spiritual Foremothers” will feature the all-women’s percussion ensemble Diamana Diya, directed by Helen Bond and Amy Lusk, and acclaimed sopranos Laura Lynch, Jillian Krickl, and Alessandra Visconti, as well as classical Indian dance and the soulful sounds of chant from Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and other spiritual traditions.

“Bearing the Light: Honoring Our Spiritual Foremothers” marks the inauguration of the Women’s Task Force at the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion. The Women’s Task Force seeks to assure that women’s voices are heard at the vital nexus of women’s issues, religion, and spiritual leadership. “This is a night to celebrate the courage and wisdom and love of the women who have gone before us, and to inspire one another to speak from the deepest truths of our lives today,” explained the Rev. Dr. Anne Benevenuti, co-chair of the Women’s Task Force.

This event is free and open to the public, and takes place at Rockefeller Chapel, at 5850 South Woodlawn Avenue on the campus of the University of Chicago. A dessert reception follows with spirited conversations.

Come join us for an uplifting evening of world music and interfaith spirituality in Chicago, marking inauguration of the Women’s Task Force at the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion!  RSVP at

The Sharing Sacred Spaces Project


Chicago has served as the site of a nine-month pilot program designed to foster interreligious dialogue and understanding, using a resource most religious and spiritual communities already have at their fingertips—spaces to gather.

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) “Sharing Sacred Spaces” project conisted of “open house” type events at eight spaces of local religious and spiritual communities, with the intention to “deepen appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual traditions by focusing on the spaces that are sacred to these communities.”

A final, culminating event, “Sacred Solidarity,” took place in downtown Chicago, at which representatives from the eight participating communities gathered to sign a pledge committing to work to maintain the ties of trust and friendship built during the last eight months.

“At a time when hatred and violence erupts over religious differences internationally, [this] quiet collaborative effort in Chicago has forged alliances and fostered new friendships across religious lines”, said Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the CPWR.

View photos and learn more about Sharing Sacred Spaces