Founder and Executive Director – World Without Borders Sufi Ashram
John Ishvaradas Abdallah is a speaker, writer and author of ‘A Sufi’s Ruminations On One World Under God.’ John Ishvaradas Abdallah (meaning ‘servant of God’ in four – Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim – and by extension all faith traditions!) is the preferred pen-name of Syed Riyaz Mahdi. An independent activist Sufi, he is the Founder and Executive Director of (the Sufi Order) World Without Borders Interfaith Sufi Ashram (also a Facebook group), and is passionately involved in interfaith dialogue, conversation and movement promoting a theology of love, peace and freedom through active nonviolence.
Currently, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Christian-Muslim Consultative Group (CMCG), Los Angeles, a member of the Board of Advisors of The Guibord Center in Los Angeles, a member of the Board of Advisors of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of World’s Religions (SCCPWR), a past president and current member of the Board of Advisors of the South Coast Interfaith Council (SCIC), and a member of the Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) and an Advisory Board member of its Los Angeles Chapter (MPV-LA).
At various times in the past he has been actively involved in the Alliance for Spiritual Community (a Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative – URI), the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) – a Tikkun organization, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) in Los Angeles, International South Asia Forum (INSAF), South Asian Network (SAN), Coalition for an Egalitarian and Pluralistic India (CEPI), member of the Board of Advisors of Kochi (Kerala, India) based World Fellowship of Inter-Religious Councils (WFIRC), and a member of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim Leadership Forum, Long Beach, California.
He has been an active participant in the Inaugural Conference of the Ahimsa (Nonviolence) Center at the California State University, Pomona, Abrahamic Religions Tolerance Seminar in Mission Viejo, California, Religious Diversity Faire in Irvine, California, Pre-Parliament Events in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and New Delhi, in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City (2015), Melbourne (2009) and Barcelona (2004), Interfaith Conferences for Peace and Harmony at the Guru Nanak Dev University (named after the founder of Sikh community) in Amritsar, Hindu University in Varanasi, Catholic Christian Renewal Center in Kochi, World Social Forum in Bombay, North American Interfaith Network’s NAIN Connect 2014 Conference in Detroit, World Alliance of Religions’ Peace (WARP) Summit 2014 in Seoul, South Korea, and Interfaith gatherings in Seattle, Chicago, London, Hyderabad (India) and other cities.
Born in Hyderabad, India, in a Muslim family, he grew up with Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Zoroastrian neighbors and friends of the family. John is a Naturalized Bicentennial US citizen and has lived in the United States of America since 1964. Thankful and very pleased father of a son and a daughter, he has lived in Southern California since 1975 with his loving Japanese (and Japan-born) wife who has a rare gift of understanding.
Historian and Lecturer – California Indian Heritage
Cindi Moar Alvitre (Tongva) is a mother and grandmother and has been a cultural/environmental educator for over three decades. She is descendant from the Tongva, the original inhabitants of Los Angeles & Orange Counties, and the four Southern Channel Islands, and served as the first woman chair of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council. In 1985, she & Lorene Sisquoc co-founded Mother Earth Clan, a collective of Indian women who created a model for cultural and environmental education. In the late 1980s, she co-founded Ti’at Society renewing the maritime culture of the Tongva.Cindi is currently a PhD candidate at UCLA, Department of World Arts and Culture and a lecturer at California State University Long Beach in the American Indian Studies. Her specialties are California Indians, traditional medicine, cultural identity, revitalization, and cultural trauma.
Cindi is a Task Force member for the State of California, California Indian Heritage Center, and a board member for the California Council for the Humanities. As a social-political activist she has represented her community domestically and internationally including opening for Nobel Laureates, Rigoberta Menchu Tum and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She is one of the original plaintiffs in Puvungna case during the two year occupation of this sacred site. She continues to dedicate her life to the preservation and protection of California Indian culture.
Founder and President – One Global Family Foundation
Laura Lafoia Ava-Tesimale is a Pacific American businesswoman, humanitarian, community organizer, and interfaith peace activist. Born in the village of Pavaiai, on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa–Laura is a steward of Mother Earth, indigenous rights, empowerment of women and children, non-violence and compassion. Her professional career spans over 25 years as a Corporate Executive, managing operational and production divisions of multi-million dollar real estate lending firms. Since 2001, Laura has also been the CEO of Ava Consulting & Management, as well as the Founder and President of One Global Family Foundation. She is a devoted wife of 30 years to “Mike” Foimai Tesimale and a loving mother to Brittany and Nicole, not to mention countless orphans and underprivileged children around the world.
Currently, Laura is the Director of the Pacific Region for GiveLight Foundation (building orphanages and providing sponsorship support for children around the world); a Global Ambassador for the Free Wheelchair Mission (serving the disabled poor in 88 countries, including the Pacific); and through the collaborative efforts of One Global Family Foundation and its community partners such as Manav Sadhna, First Drops, Be The Cause, Tiyya Foundation, UCO-DIC, SARAH, VICC, PICP and others… thousands of underprivileged children and families, homeless communities, displaced refugees, and disabled poor are served both locally and globally. Laura is active on several interfaith council boards that work in alliance with the global Parliament of the World’s Religions, United Religions Initiative, Spiritual And Religious Alliance for Hope, Unity and Diversity World Council, Interfaith Witnesses, Indigenous Stewards International, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where she serves on Sheriff Baca’s Executive Multi-Faith Clergy Council.
The Zoroastrian Community
Maneck Bhujwala, born in India, has an MSEE, MBA, and M.A. in Interfaith Action. He has co-founded Zoroastrian Associations in Southern and Northern California and represents Zoroastrian community at interfaith events.
He has served on the Stanford University Associated Religions board, is past-president of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, a Board Member of the South Coast Interfaith Council, the North American Interfaith Network, Board of Directors of the World Zoroastrian Organization, and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Activities and Research/Preservation Committee of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.
He writes articles in news media, and gives talks at schools, radio, TV, interfaith and Zoroastrian conferences. and serves Parsi and Iranian communities as a volunteer priest.
Abbot – Rosemead Bhuddist Monastery
Bhante Chao Chu is the Abbot of Rosemead Buddhist Monastery and the president of the Los Angeles Buddhist Union (LABU). Born in Sri Lanka, he ordained to the Buddhist monastic order in 1964, graduating from the Buddhist College in 1970. He spent a number of years in studies through the seventies that included language studies at the University of Nan Jing in China as well as in Hong Kong. Fluent in Mandarin, he travels extensively throughout Asia giving lectures as a teacher of Buddhism. Many of the themes in his talks center on how to lead a life of harmony and balance that gives regard for people, living beings and the environment.
Since coming to the United States in 1981, he has been involved in numerous interfaith and inter-Buddhist activities in Los Angeles that include leadership roles such as president of the Center for Buddhist Development, executive committee member of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and the World Buddhist Sangha Council, and vice president of the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California. He is also an executive committee member of International Committee of the United Nations Day of Vesak and an advisor for the International Association of Buddhist Universities.
Bhante Chao Chu received a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles and a Master’s degree in Buddhist Studies from the University of Kelaniya. He also founded and is very active in the Bosath Children’s Education Foundation which helps underprivileged children by providing them free education in computer learning and English. The learning centers are located in different parts of Asia and especially in Sri Lanka.
Choctaw Elder, Author, Native American Educator
Steven Charleston has served as the National Director for Native American Ministries in the Episcopal Church, the Bishop of Alaska, President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and currently is Visiting Professor of Native American Theology at the Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University.
A citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Steven comes from a family with a long history of service in the Native American Community. His great-grandfather and grandfather were both ordained pastors who preached in their native language throughout the state. Following in their footsteps, Steven was ordained at Wakpala, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Steven is internationally known as an advocate for the rights of indigenous people, for spiritual renewal and reconciliation, and for environmental justice.
His daily meditations, posted on Facebook, have attracted a following from all over the world, numbering in the thousands. He has created a community across all lines of difference, uniting people in a shared witness to common hope and a faith that is transforming our world.
Benedictine Author and Speaker – Founder, Benetvision
Bio: Joan Chittister is one of the most articulate social analysts and influential religious leaders of our age. For over 30 years she has put her energy into advocating for the critical questions impacting the global community. Courageous, passionate and charged with energy, she is a much-sought after speaker, counselor and clear voice across all religions.
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, PA, Sister Joan is an international lecturer and award-winning author of over 40 books. She is the founder and executive director of Benetvision: a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality located in Erie. Currently she serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the UN, facilitating a worldwide network of women peace builders.
Her column “From Where I Stand” in the National Catholic Reporter is regularly reprinted in the Huffington Post, other websites, newsletters and magazines. Sister Joan has received numerous awards and recognition for her work for justice, peace and equality, especially for women in the Church and in society, including the U.S. Catholic magazine award for Furthering the Cause of Women in the Church as well as 12 honorary degrees from US colleges and universities.
In December 2009 she spoke at the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, Australia and previously attended the Fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing. On Easter Sunday, April 2006, she was a guest panelist on “Meet the Press with Tim Russert.” In April 2005, her commentary from Rome on the month-long papal events was aired on CNN, the BBC, and all national US media networks. Sister Joan has appeared with the Dali Lama at the First Emory (University) Summit of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding and at Seeds of Compassion in April 2008.
Nine of her books have received recognition from the Catholic Press Association. Her book, The Liturgical Year, the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life, is part of an eight-volume series organized by Phyllis Tickle. She has served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, (an organization of the leaders/superiors of the over 60,000 Catholic religious women in the US), president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses (1974-90), and was prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for 12 years.
Sister Joan received her masters degree from the University of Notre Dame and her doctorate from Penn State University in Speech Communications Theory. In 1996 she was an invited fellow and research associate at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge University. She is currently helping to develop a program to enable lay groups to live Benedictine spirituality in a contemporary way.
Peace and Justice Advocate – Board, Progressive Christians Uniting
Virginia Coiner Classick is a retired social worker who worked for nearly forty years in the fields of mental health and domestic violence. She received her B.A. in theology from Valparaiso University and her Masters in Social Work degree from Washington University, St. Louis. She has served as Vice-president of the Board of Directors of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and also served for three terms on the board of Progressive Christians Uniting.
Virginia is an advisor to the Peace and Justice Program Group of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. She has been a gun violence prevention activist for twenty years and has been the Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force at All Saints Church, Pasadena, and President of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She is very active in the work of ending prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons. She is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a member of All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena.
Rabbi, Temple Beth Shir Shalom Musician and Song Writer
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels is the heart of Beth Shir Shalom. He brings his passionate expression of Judaism and his strong sense of social justice to the pulpit. He helps us create our Jewish community, facilitates our discovery of our spiritual selves and works with us towards Tikkun Olam – healing the world. Rabbi Neil’s accessibility makes him responsive to our congregants. He uses his singing and musical talents to communicate the riches of our Jewish tradition. Through his contemporary interpretation of ancient and modern texts he enables us to personalize and apply them to our daily lives.
Beth Shir Shalom supports the Rabbi’s personal commitment to organizations that deal with interracial and interfaith relations and homelessness issues. He has chaired the Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition and the Interfaith Holocaust Service. He is a founding member of CLUE (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice). A graduate of UCLA, Rabbi Comess-Daniels was ordained in 1979 at the Hebrew Union College and is often asked to mentor young rabbinic students. He was the founding rabbi of Temple Shir Shalom, one of the two temples that have come together to become Beth Shir Shalom. He recently published “I Miss You” a book of poems, prayers, songs and gentle guidance for adults helping the grieving child. He is married and has two children. Rabbi Neil expresses his spirituality in many ways, especially through music. Besides the liturgical settings he creates for Jewish prayer, he also composes for all peoples and spiritualities. His recent releases include an album for children titled “On This Day and All the Time” (available at http://www.neilsongs.com), and two pieces appear on the album “We’ll Paint You a Rainbow” benefitting Save the Children and HEARTbeats Foundation (available at http://www.HEARTbeatsforchildren.com)
Communications Director – So. Cal. Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists
Since 2000, Betty Cooney has been serving as the Communication Director, Health-Projects Coordinator and the Southern California Conference representative for ASI, an organization of Adventist business owners. She is also a member of the Interreligious Council of Southern California and of the Christian Muslim Consultative Group in Los Angeles. While in New York, she served as communication director of the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She represented the Adventist church on the Electronic Media Committee of the National Council of Churches and on Religion in American Life and was a member of the Religion Communicators Council.
From 1997-1998, Betty Cooney served as associate director and communication director for the NET ’98 Bible satellite series, broadcasting worldwide in 40 languages and, in 1999, as satellite coordinator for a similar series, broadcasting internationally from New York City. She has a married son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren living in the Los Angeles area; and a daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter living in Seattle. Betty is a graduate of the church’s Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts, with a major in English and a minor in German. Hiking, Times crossword puzzles, people and developing special projects are particular interests for her. She has served in communication/public relations for the Seventh-day Adventist church for more than 30 years. Because Seventh-day Adventists strongly believe in freedom of religion for all peoples, she has been active in promoting the church’s religious liberty events.
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Sura Das has been working with Interfaith and representing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for the last 12 years. He is currently the V.P. of the Culver City Interfaith, the V.P. of the Interreligious Council of Southern California, a part of the Hindu-Episcopal Dialogues, and involved with the local Parliament of Religion. He is one of the head Priests for ISKCON and works in Management for the ISKCON Publishing House the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
In 1999 he started the Temple Bhajan Band and they have been playing kirtan music and mantra chanting at Yoga Studios, Churches, Temples, Mosques and Festivals across America. The purpose of that group is to introduce chanting music from the ancient Vedic tradition to the society at large. Sura joined ISKCON in 1973 and has served as Temple President for 9 years in Missourri and International President of the Publishing House for 7 years in Los Angeles. He continues to be feverishly involved with Interfaith Dialogue and programs to promote the cultural sharing of our traditions.
Spiritual Assembly of the Baháís of Los Angeles
Randolph Dobbs was born in Oakland, California, and raised in Salinas near Monterey where he attended Hartnell College. In the mid-90′s, he was elected to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baháís of Los Angeles and serves as its full-time Secretary. Mr. Dobbs also serves on the Regional Baháí Council of the State of California, an administrative position responsible for Baháí development in the region. He has contributed articles on religious matters to Beliefnet.com, Iranian.com, Examiner.com and other websites. Mr. Dobbs is very active in the interfaith community and serves on the Executive Board of the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California, as a Religious Director in the Office of Religious Life at USC and as a member of the Board of Directors for the University Religious Conference at UCLA.
Founder and Director – Pluralism Project at Harvard University
Dr. Diana L. Eck is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at Harvard University. She serves on the Committee on the Study of Religion in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She is also a member of the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, a member of the Faculty of Divinity, and Master of Lowell House, one of Harvard’s twelve undergraduate residential Houses. She received her B.A from Smith College (1967) in Religion, her M.A. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1968) in South Asian History, and her Ph.D. from Harvard University (1976) in the Comparative Study of Religion. Diana Eck’s book, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Beacon Press, 1993), studies the question of religious difference in the context of Christian theology and the comparative study of religion. It addresses issues of Christian faith in a world of many faiths and, more broadly, the issues of religious diversity that challenge people of every faith. Encountering God won the 1994 Melcher Book Award of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the 1995 Louisville Grawemeyer Book Award in Religion, given for work that reflects a significant breakthrough in our understanding of religion. Since 1991, Diana Eck has been heading a research team at Harvard University to explore the new religious diversity of the United States and its meaning for the American pluralist experiment. The Pluralism Project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation has been documenting the growing presence of the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Sikh, Jain, and Zoroastrian communities in the U.S. This research project has involved students and professors at Harvard and in a dozen affiliate colleges and universities in research on America’s new religious landscape.
In 1996, Diana L. Eck was appointed to a State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, a twenty-member commission charged with advising the Secretary of State on enhancing and protecting religious freedom in the overall context of human rights. In 1998, Eck received the National Humanities Medal from President Clinton and the National Endowment for the Humanities for her work on American religious pluralism. In 2002, she received the American Academy of Religion Martin Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. In 2003, she received the Governor’s Humanities Award from the Montana Council for the Humanities in her home state of Montana. In 2005-06 Diana Eck served as President of the American Academy of Religion.
Southwest California Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Guy Erwin earned a doctorate and two master’s degrees at Yale University and his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University. He engaged in seminary studies at Yale Divinity School and the universities of Tübingen and Leipzig in Germany. Most recently, he was the Gerhard and Olga Belgum Professor of Lutheran Confessional Theology at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, but also served as part-time interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, California. He serves as the ELCA representative to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches since 2004.
Ordained in May 2011, Erwin is the ELCA’s first synod bishop who is gay and partnered. Married to Rob Flynn, a member of the ELCA, Bishop Erwin lives in Los Angeles. Bishop Erwin is part Osage Indian and is active in the Osage Nation of Oklahoma. Erwin also served as interim pastor for two ELCA congregations in California, and as minister for worship and education at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, California. Prior to coming to California in 2000, he was lecturer in church history and historical theology at Yale Divinity School from 1993 to 1999. He served as parish associate at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in New Haven, Connecticut from 1986 to 2000. Erwin has also served on a variety of boards and committees for ELCA-related institutions and other non-profit agencies.
Founder and Senior Advisor – Muslim Public Affairs Council
In Memorium: Dr. Maher Hathout was a leading spokesperson for the American Muslim community, a retired physician best known for his tireless commitment to public service. He was an international figure who was highly regarded as a positive voice of Islam, offering a unique and valuable perspective on national and international issues involving Muslims. Among the numerous offices he held, Dr. Hathout was the Senior Advisor for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) . He was a Charter Member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, the western partner of the Council on Foreign Relations, and sat on the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Alliance. Dr. Hathout was invited to Capitol Hill and the State Department several times to address a variety of topics such as “Islam and U.S. Policy,” “Islamic Democracy,” “Emerging Trends in Islamic Movements,” and “the Future of the Middle East.” He traveled to Australia, Egypt, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, and South Africa to lecture on Islam and Muslims. Dr. Hathout wrote extensively on Islam, human rights, democracy, Middle East politics, and Bosnia. His articles and interviews appeared in such prominent newspapers as The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. He appeared frequently on national television and radio talk shows.
Founder and Artistic Director – Flying Limbs Productions
Jennifer Jessum, M.F.A., is the Founder and Artistic Director of Flying Limbs Inc., Productions. An award-winning director, choreographer, producer, and cinematographer, Jennifer holds a Master of Fine Arts degree, in Film Production, from USC School of Cinematic Arts, and a Master of Fine Arts degree, in Dance, from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She brings her fine arts aesthetic, long history in the professional dance and theater world, and musical training to narrative and documentary films, commercials, music videos, live events, and theater. Her work has been commissioned and presented throughout the United States and abroad. Her two award-winning feature documentaries, Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White, narrated by Martin Sheen, andFinding God in the City of Angels, have both received critical acclaim. Commissions include: the Ford Foundation with Claremont Graduate University, the Guibord Center: Religion Inside Out, Claremont Lincoln University, Housing Works, the Sri Sathya Sai Alumni Association, the national T.V. commercial In The Spirit of Women, The Off Broadway musical It Must Be Love, City University of New York Queens College Dance Department, The Company at Beverly Hills High School, Between the Bones Dance Company, and the Manchester Dance Festival. She was a founding member of the Off Center Dance Collective and has performed with choreographers across the country including: Elizabeth Streb, Bebe Miller, Robert Battle, Hannah Khan, Stacey McKenzie, Maureen Breeze and Maedée Duprès. Teaching credits include: Princeton University, New York University, City University of New York Queens College, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Bishop of Mokissos, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago
A native of Chicago born to first-generation Greek-Americans, Merope (nee Kossivas) and the late Christ J. Kantzavelos, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos grew up as an active participant in the life of the city’s historic Assumption Greek Orthodox Community. He went on to attend Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he obtained his graduate divinity degree “with high distinction” in 1987. Following graduation, he pursued post-graduate doctoral work in the philosophy program of Chicago’s Loyola University, concentrating in the area of metaphysics. Having received monastic tonsure, Bishop Demetrios was ordained to the Diaconate October of 1989. In 1992, he was ordained to the priesthood, and in 1995 elevated to the rank of Archimandrite, all by the hand of Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago. Since then, he has served as assistant and deacon to the bishop, as associate pastor of Annunciation Cathedral of Chicago, and presently serves as Chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago. Named as “one of the twelve people to watch” by The Chicago Sun-Times (January 5, 2003), Bishop Demetrios has worked extensively to build bridges of understanding and improve relationships between Chicago’s Greek Orthodox Community with other local Orthodox bodies, as well as other Christian and non-Christian groups. His ecumenical and interfaith commitments are numerous, coalescing around areas of social justice and advocacy. To this end, in February of 2003, he co-founded a local initiative to improve relations between the Turkish and Greek communities in Chicago, culminating in his being named the recipient of the 2010 “Fethullah Gulen Award” from the Niagara Foundation, a Turkish/Muslim-American group in Chicago, inspired by Fethullah Gulen, a leading Turkish Muslim, advancing interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Bishop Demetrios is the immediate past President (2008-2009) of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. The Council is composed of chief leaders of the Greater Chicago faith Communities and embraces a broad diversity of theological and religious traditions. It is a microcosm of American religion as it exists in the American heartland. He is a current representative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCCUSA) and served as the chairperson of several of its committees over the past eight (8) years. In 1992, Bishop Demetrios established the Bishop’s Task Force on AIDS, the first formal Orthodox Christian response to this pandemic in the western hemisphere. As this ministry received widespread recognition, its founder-coordinator Archimandrite Demetrios was named Outstanding Community Leader by the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1995, and received the Jim Noone Award for Religious Leadership from the AIDS Pastoral Care Network in 1997. The Task Force has since become a resource for the entire Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. From 2001 until 2004, Bishop Demetrios also served as board member of Chicago’s Alexian Brothers’ Bonaventure House, a premiere residential care facility for people living with HIV/AIDS. In August of 2005, he was honored with the Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry 2005 President’s Award. With an unyielding commitment to the sanctity of life, Bishop Demetrios works for justice and humanity in the prison system. He has served as a board member and past two-term President (2003-2005) of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and received the coalition’s Cunningham-Carey Award in 2007. He has spoken and written extensively in support of abolition of the death penalty and has advocated extensively for individual death row inmates. For all these and related activities, in 2008 he was appointed as a member of the Illinois State Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Bishop Demetrios has also taken a leadership role in numerous Hellenic organizations and cultural events. In all of these, he has worked to instill a spirit of cooperation by all groups from the intertwined values of Christian Orthodoxy and “ecumenical Hellenism.” He is a regular contributor of editorials in local and national media outlets for issues concerning the Greek Orthodox Faith and Hellenic culture. Bishop Demetrios has also contributed to numerous publications including, but not limited to: Echoes From Calvary: Meditations on Franz Joseph Haydn’s Seven Last Words of The Christ (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2005), edited by Richard Young; and, The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World (Relevant Books, 2006), edited by Heather Zydek. On October 30, 2006, Archimandrite Demetrios Kantzavelos was elected unanimously by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as Bishop of Mokissos, to serve as an auxiliary bishop of the Holy Archdiocese of America. He was assigned to serve the needs of the Holy Metropolis of Chicago at the direction of its hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos. His episcopal ordination took place on December 9, 2006, at his home parish of the Assumption Church, in Chicago, Illinois, by the hand of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, with Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, along with other revered Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and other Orthodox Christian jurisdictions. His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos continues to serve the Holy Metropolis of Chicago as Chancellor.
Co-Founder – Khalsa Peace Corps.
Jacquie’s sense of spirituality and community service began with her Protestant upbringing in the Ebenezer United Church of Christ, in western New York, where her father led an adult Sunday School class, and she and her sister sang in the church choir. After moving to Los Angeles in 1968, she and her family continued their worship at the Woodland Hills Community Church. That same year she joined a local Job’s Daughters bethel, and during her high school years, Jacquie earned a leadership role in this philanthropic organization for young women. In college, world religions captured her curiosity in undergraduate elective choices. By this time, her experiences told her that there is a wonderful God with whom she could have a personal relationship. How that personal relationship would manifest was still a mystery. Fast forward a few decades, during which time there was an early marriage and divorce, and she raised her two children while making a career in Management Information Systems. She is glad she had a personal relationship with God during these years, because there was much less time for Sunday worship than she would have preferred. But it turned out, that was all about to change. In 1994 Jacquie met, through her career, Ravinder (Ravi) Singh, an India-born Sikh. After two years, they married, and in another two years, they were blessed with a son. Along the way they navigated the challenges of entrepreneurship in several small but successful businesses. It was shared values and honest business ethics that brought them together, and before long, they both realized that they had a very strong desire to do some serious giving back as a way of giving thanks, and rekindling their spirituality. After a period of attending Sunday services in each of the faiths Jacquie and Ravi were born into, the family of three decided that the best fit for their beliefs was the Sikh faith. The choice for Jacquie was an easy one, because she never felt she had to give up anything she already believed in, from her Christian upbringing. The biggest impression the Sikh faith made on Jacquie was the weekly practice of feeding the entire congregation a community meal after the Sunday service. It resonated with how she wanted to manifest her personal relationship with God. Today, Jacquie and Ravi are the inspired founders of Khalsa Peace Corps. Khalsa Peace Corps is a non-profit public charity whose primary missions are to provide daily free vegetarian meals to those in need, as well as providing meals and security services for disaster relief and humanitarian aid projects around the world. The energy for Jacquie’s outreach is fueled by her desire to translate her devotion to God into daily deeds.
Executive Director – California Sikh Council
Nirinjan Singh Khalsa has publicly represented the Sikh Community for more than 30 years. He is the executive director of the California Sikh Council and a cultural intelligence educator and advisor to the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Los Angeles and Orange County Sheriffs Departments, and many other public and private organizations. He also serves as a commissioner for the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, is former Chair of the LAPD religious forum, and sits on the steering committee of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Clergy Council.
Co-Founder – Khalsa Peace Corps.
Ravi and his wife were inspired by the tradition of langar (free community meal service) in the Sikh faith, the purpose of which is to share and serve all with humility, and in the spirit of equality. They have established a foundation called Khalsa Peace Corps, whose prime mission is to serve the creator by serving his creation. Spirituality in action is their motto. It is their belief that the true and peaceful consciousness achieved through daily meditation is incomplete if not transformed into action. Khalsa Peace Corps has a program called Share A Meal, that serves free daily vegetarian meals in a program similar to Meals on Wheels. It is their dream that, one day, Khalsa Peace Corps will be the ‘Red Cross and Salvation Army’ of the Sikh faith. Born into the Sikh faith, Ravi’s spiritual journey did not start until he was in his early 20’s, when he was swept up in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in New Delhi . The riots started his first introspection of his faith. In 1987 the upheaval of the political climate and the corrupt bureaucracy frustrated him to pursue his career in the U.S. by enrolling as a graduate student at USC’s School of Architecture. Here he was inspired by meeting some American Sikhs who had taken on his faith by choice rather than being born into it as he had been. However, the reality of life had some more lessons in store for him. In spite of a Master’s Degree from USC, the identity of his faith, a turban, kept him from finding a job in L.A. Financially broke, his friend arranged a job for him in Boston. While on his way, penniless and in debt, he was told that if he wanted a ‘real field job’ he would have to cut his hair and remove his turban. Under those trying circumstances Ravi did what he had to and dived into the worldly world to pursue his career, until he could be true to his spiritual identity again. While busy in his career, God blessed him with an American wife, Jacquie, and together they had a son Justin. In 2007, it was his new family’s curiosity about his faith that triggered a rebirth of Ravi’s personal connection to what it meant to him to be a Sikh. By this time he had his own business and investments, and thus didn’t need to please anyone for a job.