Record crowd attends Interfaith Poverty Conference

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The Interfaith Poverty Conference attracted its largest crowd ever at its 10th annual gathering, held on May 9 at Rhode Island College, to hear the Rev. Traci Blackmon speak and to attend workshops to inspire faith leaders to fight poverty in Rhode Island.

More than 300 people representing virtually every religion in the state gathered at RIC, in Providence, for the program organized by the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty. The audience filled the Donovan Dining Center.

Maxine Richman welcomed participants on behalf of the R.I. Interfaith Coalition’s Steering Committee and outlined the accomplishments of the past 10 years. The group has successfully advocated in the state legislature for a higher minimum wage, full-day kindergarten, Head Start, child-care assistance and no-fare bus passes. Currently, it is working on reforming payday lending. Richman closed by telling the group, “there is still so much more to be done.”

Blackmon, executive minister of justice and local church ministries for the United Church of Christ and senior pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ, in Florissant, Missouri, near St. Louis, started her keynote address with a salute to the audience.

“You have certainly been busy,” she said.

The crowd listened intently as she talked about participating in protests in Washington, D.C., and her efforts – with other clergy – to keep young protesters calm in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014.

Blackmon, a sought-after inspirational speaker, believes that prayer can be a sign and an active form of protest. She also believes that “faith shifts the atmosphere.”

“We have become so accustomed to the toxicity of the time that we have forgotten that the divine resides in those we oppose,” she said.

Blackmon said no area escapes poverty, and that she believes her message resonates with all faiths.

“Relationship building is invaluable. Only where you find places to connect can we get to know each other, and we find we have much more in common,” she said. “Relationships will move our country.”

After the keynote address, participants attended workshops on housing, child care, race, poverty and fair pay.

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of The Jewish Voice.