Tonight I had the distinct honor of being the Closing Speaker at Huntsville's Interfaith Mission Service's 2014 Annual Celebration & Awards Dinner. There were hundreds of people present, many of them leaders of religious groups, churches, and organizations. Among the attendees were many of my friends and people that I have come to have tremendous respect for over the past few years. As I chatted with Liz Hurley, the MC, back stage I was calm and looking forward to my part of the program. I was very aware that having me speak was a tremendous step forward for IMS and our community. My speech was a challenge to the city as we move forward. Presentations, workshops, and public speaking are now second nature to me but tonight suddenly a thought briefly crossed my mind ... I realized what an important moment this was ... I knew that as I looked over at my friends Cathy Miller and Kenny Anderson at the table where I had been sitting that I might become emotional ... at times like this when my heart is so deeply a part of what I am doing and I know the lives that are being impacted I sometimes cry because the emotions are so strong. I never know when this might happen but I at least know it is genuine. Well, tonight I didn't cry, instead an unexpected nervousness took hold, my knees shook a little, my voice struggled to contain the emotions I was feeling and I proceeded to make the following public statement ... a statement which was historic in many ways in the religious community of Huntsville.
"For 45 years, the congregations of IMS have been open-minded and open-hearted. As we come to the end of our evening of celebration, let's challenge ourselves to make Huntsville a community that values equality and respect for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or economic status.
Let us follow the concept ebraced by the world's great faiths and love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us renew our commitment to make Huntsville a compassionate, inclusive, and unified city that seeks justice and promotes interfaith respect."
I had friends and people I have come to know and love all across the room ... people who have come to know me and the work I do ... people who regularly show me love, respect, and support. These people encourage me and remind me that we are truly making a tremendous positive impact in the community.
... I am so thankful for the life I now have and live ... I know the lives that are helped because we stand up and use our voices.