Interfaith group hopes to reach out to schools in light of Hannah Beardsley assault

CRYSTAL LAKE – Leaders in the area's faith community want the altercation at Hannah Beardsley Middle School that led to hate crime charges to be a catalyst for constructive conversation about embracing growing diversity.

Members of FaithBridge, an interfaith consortium aimed at promoting respect and understanding among diverse communities, hope to reach out to Hannah Beardsley to develop a program that would encourage students to learn and talk about the diverse ethnicities and cultures in the community.

The Rev. Carrie Smith, pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church and member of FaithBridge, said as the community becomes more diverse, more outreach is needed to make people of all backgrounds feel included and respected.

"We feel we can come in and offer some resources and be able to help in that way," Smith said of a potential program at schools. "What happened shows we have a lot of work to do and need to talk to each other and learn from each other."

Omid Babakhani, an eighth-grader at Hannah Beardsley, suffered two fractured clavicles after another student called him a Persian, headlocked him and slammed him to the ground shortly after the lunch hour on Feb. 10. The assailant was charged with aggravated assault and a hate crime and was transported to Kane County Juvenile Detention Facility.

Dr. Fazal Khan, co-president of FaithBridge and president of the American Muslim Community Organization, said the incident is what FaithBridge has been educating against since it started.

The commonality the different religious leaders find in FaithBridge to form a community built on respect and understanding is the same commonality people need to find in neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, he said.

"This incident has revealed a need," Khan said. "The incident that took place, that's the exact kind of thing that we are trying to educate against. But it's encouraging to see how the community in Crystal Lake has come to support the family. That's really what a community is and what neighbors do and it's heartwarming to see that."

The Rev. Gilbert Friend-Jones, FaithBridge member and minister at First Congregational Church, said the desire to reach out to Hannah Beardlsey is not from a lack of faith in the area's public schools, which he praised for combating bullying and hostile behavior.

He said of the roughly 100 essays submitted to FaithBridge for its Martin Luther King Jr., event, all four winners were from Hannah Beardsley, showing positive messages are reaching students.

But he said the lack of interaction between people of different background in all aspects of the community trickles down to younger generations. While diversity has grown in the area, he said many people still insulate themselves from interactions with diverse populations.

"We have diverse populations that don't talk to each other and don't know much about each other. Where is the dialogue going on?" Friend-Jones said. "There is a perception that diversity is more of an urban phenomenon, but that's because people don't always see what is around them."

Smith said the board would discuss the Hannah Beardsley at its next meeting Monday and hope to start develop a plan to reach out to schools.

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