You are here

Breaking Down Barriers In Montana

Second Annual Global Peace Foundation Forum Calls for Cross-Community Engagement

by Mike Yakawich

Panelists open the forum with the pledge of allegiance.

Approximately 100 leaders from the political, civic, faith, and nonprofit arenas of Billings, Montana gathered for the 2nd Annual Northwest Global Peace Foundation Forum in Billings, Montana on October 8, 2016. The one-day event, under the theme Overcoming Barriers and Conflict – Building Trust – Discovering Solutions in our Region, provided a space for diverse community leaders to voice shared concerns such as substance abuse intervention, human trafficking prevention, education and race relations.

(left) GPF USA president Alan Inman networks with
local Billings leader.

The forum allowed leaders to explore viable solutions and expand their networks locally and internationally to strengthen their substantial efforts in Billings. The event was made possible through generous contributions of community sponsors, including Double Tree Hotel, Elks Lodge #394, and the Friendship House among many others.

Keynote speaker Mr. Alan Inman, GPF USA President, addressed the challenges that different ethnic and racial communities are facing and urged leaders to take initiative and forge relationships that bridge communities. He described a pilot Cross-Community Engagement program that GPF-USA recently launched to work with the diverse populations in Jersey City that is based off a model developed in Northern Ireland by GPF partner Co-operation Ireland to bridge the divide between Protestants and Catholic populations. “I dare say to you in this room that such a thing might be able to work right here in this Billings area,” said Inman. Local news outlet, the Billings Gazette, published a comprehensive review of Mr. Inman’s presentation.

Chief of Police for Billings, Mr. Rich St. John was 
among other speakers at the annual forum.

Other speakers included the Chief of Police for Billings, Mr. Rich St. John, and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder, among a great variety of nonprofit directors from several organizations in the Montana region. Four Billings City Council members attended the forum along with members of the faith community, Native American tribes, and civic organizations. Montana Senator Steve Danes sent a video message for the occasion. Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Congressman Ryan Zinke, Senator Jon Tester, and Secretary of State Linda McColluch sent congratulatory letters.

Panelist addressed the importance of working together beyond barriers, including that of age, encouraging leaders young and old to embrace the creative innovation of youth and the wisdom of experience. Mr. Kimihira Miyake, GPF youth director for the USA, emphasized, “It is important to raise up youth leadership and include them in the process of addressing the social challenges we face in our communities.”

It is important to raise up youth leadership and include them in the process of addressing the social challenges we face in our communities.

The response from participants was positive. President of the Elks Lodge #394 expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to network with the other community members for the good of the community. City Councilperson Angela Cimmino commented, “It’s a great forum to exchange ideas and it gives me hope for Billings, Montana.” Imam Adam Mallack valued “knowing what is going on in our community” and said the experience validated that there are others out there that care and provide ideas for solutions to our community’s problems.

Northwest GPF Regional Director and key
forum organizer Michael Yakawich 

Northwest GPF Regional Director and key forum organizer Michael Yakawich observed, “I could see a growing common vision for our region. Sponsors recognized that the effort made and the work put into this experience has greatly developed since the last forum and were happy to donate to this year’s program.” This is the forum’s second year. People commented on the development of topics and speakers since last year and anticipate the 3rd annual forum set for October of 2017.

 

WATCH Senator Daines' address: