It was an honour to make my first speech as leader of Brighton and Hove City Council at the Iftar dinner.
During the Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims fast between dawn and dusk. Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break the fast just after sunset. It is a happy occasion to be shared with family, friends and neighbours.
The dinner is an annual event organised by The Dialogue Society who promote interfaith and intercultural understanding and community spirit.
This year, people of different faiths, communities and backgrounds came together to share a meal and talk about what ‘unity’ means to them. Hearing prayers in several languages from all the religious leaders offered time for reflection, something often missing in our busy 21st century lives.
In a world where our daily news often features horrific stories of hate crime, it was heartening to listen to people talk about how they value one another.
Unity, to me, is using everything in my power to stand up for, and to stand with, those who don’t have the same privileges as me, who don’t live free from discrimination, prejudice or hate.
I don’t want anyone to have to hide who they are, who they love or the god they worship.
Unity is about embracing diversity, challenging ignorance and most importantly recognising that we are all different and yet all so very, very, similar with the same basic needs for shelter and safety, food, and water, education and opportunity, and love and respect.
And we all have strengths we can use for the benefit of others. I am a strong believer that everyone is an asset to their community – we all bring our own mix of skills, knowledge and experience.
I like the diversity that surrounds me in this city, I like the vibrancy and the richness that people of different beliefs and different backgrounds bring, each weaving a new and unique thread through our communities, teaching us something new, adding a new dimension, making us look at the world through a different and more understanding lens. It is engaging, it is exciting, it is what makes us the city we are.