In the spring of 2009, a group of women, who had just pulled off a successful project with another speaker, were thinking about what direction they wanted to take. The group decided to invite highly respected theologian and historian, Karen Armstrong, PhD. When we checked on inviting her to come to Tulsa, we were told she was not accepting speaking engagements because she was working on a special project called the Charter for Compassion. Dr. Armstrong, a former nun in Britain, had been awarded the TED Prize which was funding this project. She had brought together faith leaders from around the world to write the Charter for Compassion and was hoping to get people around the globe to not only sign the charter, but to also host events commemorating the unveiling of the Charter which would take place in November, 2009. So, this group of women from several different faith traditions, began plans to host a reception on that weekend. The Charter was unveiled on November 12, and our Tulsa event happened on Sunday afternoon, November 15, at Boston Ave UMC.
At the event, we read the Charter and watched a short video of Karen Armstrong’s presentation requesting a TED grant. An important part of the charter is the Golden Rule which appears in some form in all the major religions of the world. So we invited youth from several different faiths to recite the Golden Rule as it appears in their faith and in their faith’s native language and to wear traditional dress. A small choir from All Soul’s Unitarian Church sang. Attendees were asked to sign a form indicating their support of the Charter for Compassion.
Vicky Langston, one of the women who organized this event, mentioned that when she was in the sixth grade, her teacher each morning after the flag salute had students put on “compassion gloves” while reciting the Golden Rule. Event organizers decided to use the Charter for Compassion unveiling as an opportunity to collect gloves, which were delivered to Children and Family Services to distribute to children in need of gloves.
A couple of years later a member of the Board of Directors for the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, Julie Skye, attended the annual gathering of the Unitarian-Universalist Association. The keynote speaker at that event was Karen Armstrong. After listening to Dr. Armstrong speak about her work on the Charter for Compassion, and reading her book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” Ms Skye asked her fellow Board members to look into ways in which we could begin a Charter for Compassion movement in Tulsa. Although everyone agreed it was a great idea, the Board also agreed that this was not something we could do alone, and the search began to identify appropriate partners.
In the summer of 2014, Andrea Walker, PhD, then a member of the Interfaith Subcommittee of the City of Tulsa’s Human Rights Commission, contacted Rev Bob Lawrence, Executive Director of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, to learn more about the interfaith communities in Tulsa. In the context of that conversation, Walker and Lawrence both agreed that the Human Rights Commission could possibly be the partner that could help with the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance’s dream of making Tulsa a “Compassionate Community.”
Lawrence shared the news of a potential municipal partner with the network of agencies who had expressed an interest in the Charter for Compassion. One of the individuals who learned of the possible partnership was Vicky Langston, who helped organize the original event in 2009. Lawrence, Langston and Walker worked on a presentation to the Human Rights Commission, and in August, 2014, the HRC agreed to partner with the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance (and others) to have Tulsa recognized as a Compassionate Community.
By the end of 2014, the Human Rights Commission had established a five-member task force that would be responsible for identifying and implementing a process to have Tulsa recognized as a Compassionate Community and, following the lead of Louisville, KY (our mentor city), establish a working group that would develop a 10-year strategy designed to make Tulsa an even more compassionate community. That task force was comprised of Walker, Lawrence and Langston, along with Pamela Rosser (the Mayor’s designee on Boards and Commissions), Elissa Harvill, and HRC Commissioner Rebecca Marks-Jimerson.
On June 25, 2015, the task force presented a resolution to the City Council declaring Tulsa a Compassionate Community. Over a dozen citizens representing a variety of agencies, organizations and corporations spoke in favor of the resolution. It was approved unanimously. On June 29, 2015, a press conference was held at which the Mayor, Dewey Barlett, Jr, would approve the resolution. Unfortunately, Mayor Bartlett was ill on that day, so City Manager Jim Twombly led the press conference and signed the resolution on behalf of the Mayor.
After the resolution was adopted, the task force continued meeting to begin the process of identifying the steering committee that would develop and oversee implementation of the 10-year Compassionate Tulsa project. The task force set out to invite as diverse a steering committee as possible. On August 18, 2015, the steering committee for Compassionate Tulsa held its first meeting.