This speech was given at The Feast’s Birmingham Spring Dinner, on Friday 13th May 2016.
The Feast is an unusual, sort-of … family.
First you can look at our staff team – which includes Jill and Steve who have been hosting us this evening, and who have worked incredible hard to put on this tonights programme.
Then there are our amazing young people, some who we have heard from – Yusuf, Isaac, Kalyani and Maryam! Not only do we have fun at The Feast, but collectively these guys are actually a part of something subversive in our modern-day society. Their willingness to leave their comfort zones and learn how to engage with people who are different to themselves – is making a significant difference locally, and even further afield.
These four represent more than 300 who participated in some form of Youth Encounter in Birmingham in the last year, plus an additional 2,000 we delivered some other programme to. We are so encouraged by the willingness of this generation to embrace change – and we know that their story is rippling out to their peers, families, faith communities and the wider world.
Thank you guys.
Another vital part of The Feast are our volunteers, who are increasingly active across everything we do. In the video we just played we heard from four of them – Steve, Faraz, Alisha and Esther – plus or very own Steve – all of whom are here tonight.
They shared 5 reasons why people should get involved:
- Adventure – doing something that is challenging but rewarding
- Building Bridges – where we are working to see more integration
- Friendships – mixing with new people and offering a sense of belonging
- Make a Difference – breaking down the “us and them” mentality
- Confidence – seeing a transformation, becoming better versions of ourselves
It is our firm desire that more and more people will raise their hands and volunteer in some way, from doing youth work, administrative roles or advocating for us in different networks.
If you here tonight are already volunteering – Thank you. If you are interested in volunteering – let’s talk.
But as for me, as many of you already know, I am clearly not a born and bred Brummie. In fact, some of you may be wondering why The Feast is letting this immigrant work here?!
Yes I do come from Australia … and no, spiders and snakes and sharks are not everywhere in Australia!
On 26 January 1788, a fleet of 11 ships arrived from Great Britain – many of which carried convicts – and they raised the Union Jack in Sydney Cove, thus founding a colony that became known as Australia. Today this date is celebrated by many as the start of a nation – and called Australia Day.
The only problem was … this land was already the home of many ancient nations of Aboriginal people. Starting on this one beach, gradually these new arrivals spread across the whole continent, dispossessing the original inhabitants. As a result, for many people in Australia, the 26th January is remembered as Invasion Day.
For more than 200 years these two cultures and peoples have struggled to co-exist, with one group clearly suffering more than the other.
But the story does not finish there. In recent decades, Australia has become increasingly multi-cultural with people coming from all around the world to start a new life “down under”. They come from places like England or New Zealand for the better weather or employment opportunities, or at the other extreme they pay their life savings to board a boat in Indonesia for a perilous trip across the Indian Ocean.
And no matter how they come, 26th January is one of the main day when this diverse mix of people mark their citizenship as Australians.
This weekend a young woman by the name of Dami Im will be representing Australia in the Eurovision Song Content. Please don’t ask me to explain how this has happened?!?! Dami is from Logan City, just south of Brisbane where I’m from. But she is “really” from South Korea, having immigrated with her family when she was 9. She is not aboriginal … or white with an English background … but she is Australian!
So why am I telling you all this stuff about Australia?? As I have reflected on the work of The Feast, where we confront the social cohesion challenges faced across in the UK, or locally right here in Birmingham, I am struck by our desperate need to genuinely MEET with people.
The original Australians … and the colonial Australians … and the new Australians all have valid claims to this rather large piece of land. It is pointless to complain about the past – we can’t change it – but we can find a way deeply engage with each other, to share and understand and change, and together take responsibly for OUR future.
All around us are people who are different to us. We vary greatly in our colours, ethnic backgrounds, educations, salaries and of course faiths – but if we are to progress as a city and nation, it is so essential that we learn how to MEET with people.
All around us are people who have a different story to our own.
- Some have been here a long time and are grappling with the changes that are happening to their community and lifestyle.
- Some are newly arrived – for one of a whole host of reasons – and are trying to fit in.
- For some their faith is a major part of who they are, and how they live their lives – while for others faith is a private matter or simply a part of their cultural background.
- And all experience the emotive push and pulls of their story.
What is your story? What is your past, your present experience and hopes for the future? At The Feast we believe your story is special and valuable and needs to be heard.
And what is the story of the person beside you, or across this room? We also believe their people story is special and valuable – and we need to hear them.
When we actually MEET people, and share with them our beliefs and backgrounds with respect and honestly, something special happens. The complexity of our differences does not go away – we are still the same faith and culture – but we have found that we can arrive somewhere new together.
At the start I said that The Feast was this unusual, sort-of … family? And that is how it comes to feel.
This little charity is investing in young people, and through them in their families, faith groups and various gatekeepers, to help change the ways we all MEET with each other.
I know I’ve been changed. Our staff would tell you they’ve been changed. Our young people and volunteers have been changed. And tonight it is our hope that all of us will be changed, and that you’d join us in this unusual family and say … “WE ARE THE FEAST”.
Will you come on this journey with us?
- Will you personally explore how you can better MEET with people different to yourself, with respect and honesty – sharing who you are and listening to the story of others? For help with this try using our Guidelines for Dialogue that are on your tables.
- Will you share our work with your family, your faith community, your friends and networks – like a proud uncle!? Use social media, hand around our postcards, or invite us to share our work in your place of worship or circle of friends.
- Will you get practically involved yourself, by sharing your skills and time so that more young people benefit by learning to engage well with their peers of another faith. This could be on a committee, with a skill like graphic design or IT, in our office on admin or doing youth work.
- And finally, and most critically, will you invest in us financially. Thank you for giving tonight through the your tickets, the carnival, the auction and the raffle soon to be drawn, but please stick with us. We would really really appreciate your ongoing monthly support, and to do this you can fill in one of the Feast250 brochures on your table.
Your donations make a real and important difference to this work.
So thank you again for your amazing support just by being here tonight, and please do join with us and say – WE ARE THE FEAST.