The city of Atlanta held its first Day of Religious Pluralism on Thursday, marking the 51st anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a continued mission to deepen Atlantans’ understanding of one another, and to promote a safe, respectful and inclusive city.
An official proclamation for the inaugural day was signed last month by members of the Atlanta City Council and local faith and community leaders.
Thursday evening’s celebration at City Hall, which featured faith-inspired performances, a moving art exhibit and meaningful conversations over dinner, was a collaborative effort between the city, the Aga Khan Council for the Southeastern United States’ local Ismaili Muslim community, and members of Atlanta’s diverse faith and civic organizations.
"Today is a historic day for our great city,” Murad Abdullah, president of the Aga Khan council, told attendees, citing Atlanta’s rich history of religious leaders playing a pivotal role in promoting civil liberties. “On this anniversary of Dr. King’s death, we honor those who came before us and continue to build on their vision with this inaugural Day of Religious Pluralism.”
“We live in an increasingly connected and complex world where appreciation, engagement, and respect for diversity is necessary for peace and prosperity,” council communications coordinator Farida Nurani told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In promoting pluralism, Nurani said Atlanta is encouraging dialogue across communities with shared values of compassion, service and cooperation, ultimately helping to “alleviate fear, hostility, and divisiveness arising from ignorance.”
The event’s unique art exhibit, curated by Mindy Boggs, Carlton Mackey and the Nobel Prize Museum’s Ashley Woods, reflected the theme “Beauty in Harmony” with works by local artists depicting diversity of faith.
“To start with something that is so universal as dance, or music, or art…it’s a great way to bring us all together and show our unity,” Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple said at Thursday’s ceremony.
Woods echoed Berg’s sentiments.
“My faith lies in humanity, and I think art is the best expression of humanity through colors, content, design and materials,” he said. “Each art piece in this collection is accompanied by a narrative, a personal story of the artist. This collection is as much about the art as it is about the artist and his or her faith and background.”
According to the Pew Research Center, Georgia is considered the eighth most religious state in the U.S., with 64% of Georgian adults reporting religion as “very important” in their lives.
As an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse city, bringing a Day of Religious Pluralism to Atlanta illuminates its reputation as a welcoming city famously “too busy to hate.”
“Atlanta is the ideal place for this Day of Religious Pluralism,” the Rev. Gerald Durley of Atlanta’s Missionary Baptist Church said Thursday. “Not only is this city the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, but it is also the place where we break down barriers and build bridges. We are not just tolerating one another, but actually appreciating each other.”
Atlanta joins others across the U.S., including Los Angeles, in its annual day of celebrating peace, unity and diversity in an interconnected, multifaith world.