Montana Forum Urges Citizen Responsibility, Community Engagement for American Renewal

Eric Olsen
October 23, 2015

Speakers representing government, nonprofit and religious sectors joined in a call for creative leadership and political and social renewal at a forum, “Building Bridges for Collaboration, Communication, and Cooperation, One Community at a Time,” hosted on September 26, 2015 in Billings, Montana by Global Peace Foundation USA.

Forum co-chair Melvin Terry, Chairman of the Black Heritage Foundation,welcomes participants.

Hosting some 70 participants, the forum included eleven elected officials as well as several representatives from the offices of Montana’s U.S. senators and congressmen. Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines, Congressman Ryan Zinke, Governor Steve Bullock, and Billings Mayor Thomas Hanel added messages of support for the forum goals.

Emcee Michael Yakawich, GPF USA  Northwest Regional Director, introduced forum co-chairs Melvin Terry, Chairman of the Black Heritage Foundation; Eric Basye of Community Leadership Development Inc.; and Donnie Wetzel, American Indian youth coordinator with Montana’s Office of Public Instruction.

“When you abdicate the responsibility of citizenship, nature abhors a vacuum. Take up your obligation as citizens.”

Representatives from fifteen nonprofits, including Yellowstone County’s Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters, also participated to discuss pressing social issues. Terry welcomed the assembly, encouraging them to be open to new ideas of leadership that could present solutions to serious challenges like human trafficking, substance abuse, and racial relations. “I hope you are challenged today and you can find ways to raise the bar in excellence,” Terry said.

Montana Sentator, Jon Testor, Global Peace Foundation USA, Billings Forum

Main Plenary, Sen. Jon Tester

GPF-USA Director Alan Inman told the forum that America’s founding and heritage was grounded upon shared principles and values, a commitment to freedom, and an understanding of what is unique about the nation. Noting the growing confusion over the role of religion and civil liberty, Inman emphasized the ultimate importance of the citizen.  “When you abdicate the responsibility of citizenship,” Inman said, “nature abhors a vacuum. Something else will come in and take those rights, because you have abdicated them. Take up your obligation as citizens and educate the generation after you, your neighbors and community. Then America can be renewed.”

Co-chair Eric Basye of Community Leadership Development Inc., speaks at the forum.

Representatives and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration also presenting alarming statistics relating to human trafficking and substance abuse, as well as information on law enforcement and the need for citizen involvement.

The nation’s fourth largest state in land area, Montana is home to eight distinct Native American tribal nations. Panelist Rick Robinson, training coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leadership Council, shared his experience with racial relations among native peoples and the broader society.

Co-chair Wetzel also contributed to the discussion on building strong relationships between tribal and non-tribal communities, especially through the youth. “Our kids are lost in a lot of ways, trying to fit into two worlds,” Wetzel commented. “Healing needs to be done.

The Campaign for American Renewal is an initiative to engage diverse faith leaders and other “leaders of faith” to revitalize the nation’s moral and ethical foundations is a project of Global Peace Foundation USA.

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