Project Lodi Initiative, a committee of Lodians trying to connect the Lodi Muslim community to the broader community, hosted a Black Solidarity event on Saturday via Zoom.

The event was open to the public and featured local religious and education leaders discussing Lodi’s racial culture, diversity and inclusion.

Professor Evan Wade from San Joaquin Delta College spoke about African-American history in the United States, touching on the effects of policing on Black Americans from the Colonial era to modern times.

Following Wade, a panel of local religious leaders including Pastor Mark Price with St. Paul Lutheran Church and Imam Yasir Khan with the California Islamic Center spoke about ways to help foster change in the faith traditions.

Khan touched on the importance of education as a way to chip away at misconceptions regarding race and religion and the panel discussed efforts to make faith communities more inclusive of Black residents.

Richard Herrera moderated a panel discussion on institutional reforms in education. Rhonda Brock, a community liaison supervisor with Lodi Unified School District, spoke about the district’s efforts to create a more inclusive atmosphere, and Lodi High Principal Adam Auerbach spoke about changing the culture at Lodi High, and how he spent his first year as a principal listening to students’ concerns in an effort to promote a more unified campus.

“I think we were able to hold discussions that were much needed and clearly vital for our city and our community,” Khwal Rafique, president of the Project Lodi Initiative, said of Saturday’s event. “I think creating changes in the hearts and the minds of the people in this city is vital. I think it was definitely successful, but we still have a long way to go.”

Rafique said it’s important to keep the conversation going so that all members of the community feel like they belong in Lodi.

“A lot of the work we do is based on the feelings we felt growing up. I didn’t feel like I belonged in Lodi growing up,” Rafique said. “And there are times now when I don’t feel like I belong. Everyone from these marginalized communities deserve to be here, just like everyone else. They are as much Lodians as everyone else here. I want them to feel like they belong here.”

Rafique added that if children from marginalized communities see people who look like them, talk like them and dress like them in positions of leadership, it will cultivate a greater sense of belonging and a motivation to be more involved in the community.

“I think having more people of color, Black community members taking those roles, and being a part of the entire conversation — I want us to become vital parts of the city and vital parts of the discussion. And I want the children to grow up feeling like they belong, feeling like they have an easier route coming into those positions.”

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