By Brendan Dowd
In typical Niagara fashion, two trays of freshly brewed Turkish tea made their way to our table.
Greetings and introductions accompanied the light clinking of tiny stirring spoons; mixing sugar and tapping glass.
The Honorable Roger Price, the consul general of Australia in Chicago, stopped by Niagara’s headquarters for a casual visit. No entourage, no script and no stuffy formalities.
“Call me Roger,” he insisted, as a mixed group of administrative and intern staff circled around a conference table that overlooks a stunning eastern view of the Chicago skyline.
“So, what do you guys do?” asked Mr. Price.
Niagara’s Vice President Hakan Berberoglu jumped in.
“Our goal is not only to organize meetings like these, but we are also committed to bringing people together to educate them on different issues.”
Niagara has a unique approach that tries to bring together peers with peers (for example, leaders in the business community), as well as strangers with strangers. Niagara doesn’t limit its focus to a single culture, community or segment of society, but seeks to connect those who would not normally come into contact with one another.
“Niagara’s ultimate goal is to create an environment and society comprised of people that are respectful of other cultures and traditions,” Niagara’s Vice President Mevlut “Hilmi” Cinar chimed in.
Price furrowed his brow, looking both intrigued and impressed. He took another pull from the oxblood red tea.
Conversation continued to ripple around the table. Each new question and response collected in a pool of chatter. Subjects varied from ANZAC day to aboriginal education.
One point stood out to me as particularly stimulating–immigration. People around the world are taking the risk of riding the uncertain waves of globalization.
Mr. Price noted the success of many immigrant communities integration into a dynamically changing Australian Identity. However, he noted that this change is not without its challenges. Heads nodded in sympathetic agreement, as many seated around the table are leaders within the local Chicago Turkish-American community.
As the sugar spun helplessly suspended in the teacups held by fingers calloused and tested, both the trials and successes of some at the table are replayed in silent grins of satisfaction.
This informal get-together between Niagara staff and global leaders would be the first of many Chicago Global Family meetings. These regularly-held meetings serve to strengthen our existing relationships with the Consuls General and other Chicago global leaders through engaging chats about religion, politics and culture with the ultimate goal — to develop new friendships.
“Our work is about making people feel comfortable,” Cinar said. “If we see this population become comfortable amidst diversity, than all is a success.”
In order to respond to this diversity in the Chicago community we at Niagara must acknowledge the many women and men representing the many cultures, traditions, and ideas of this great city. The casual and candid conversations with Consul General Price proved to be educational and provocative. Hands were extended, smiles exchanged and new friendships forged.
The key to any new relationship is the invitation to converse. Come on by, the tea is always fresh.
Brendan Dowd currently finishing his MA in Theology with a concentration in Catholic-Muslim dialogue and the Catholic Theological Union. He is interning for the Niagara Foundation’s Department of Cultural Exchange and Interfaith Collaboration. Dowd is interested in exploring unique ways of creating spaces for encountering the “other” and learning from already existing confluences of convivencia. He received a BFA in Visual Communication with minors in Political Science and International Studies from Loyola University of Chicago in 2007 and is active in the former Jesuit Volunteer community of which he served in Anchorage, AK from 2007-2008. You can contact Brendan for questions or comments at Brendan@niagarafoundation.org.