Over coffee at Ybor City's Tre Amici, I recently chatted with two gentlemen about their group's plans to hold a Black History Month event.
They spoke with reverence about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and expressed a desire to help connect the significance of Black History Month to a broader community.
It may surprise you that this perspective came from members of the Istanbul Cultural Center Tampa Bay, a Turkish immigrant group, but it's sincere in wanting to connect with other minority groups and the community at large.
"We see Dr. King as a persona, a figure that can reach across cultures in our conversation," said Mustafa Gurbuz, a member of the cultural center and a University of South Florida post-doctoral scholar in the school's sociology department.
"We want to specifically focus on his message of peace, understanding other cultures, empathy, sympathy. We want to be involved and contribute and be accepted, be recognized as a partner in the local conversation. His persona is a very good starting point to having that conversation."
As you might imagine, the Istanbul Cultural Center promotes Turkish cultural heritage, but it's more.
It also seeks to create a better understanding with all communities. Peace, respect, friendship and cooperation make up the cornerstones of its outreach.
In November, it brought together one of the most diverse audiences I've seen in Tampa for its Dialog and Friendship Dinner & Award Ceremony. Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham gave the keynote speech and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and University of Tampa president Ron Vaughn received awards.
The group's Black History Month event will be held Thursday in the cultural center at 7402 N 56th St., Suite 385. Saint Leo University professor Heather Parker and USF professor Mozella Mitchell will speak.
The event may not draw as many people, but its importance can't be overlooked.
Vibrant, diverse cultures thrive all around our community. It's one of Tampa Bay's greatest strengths. But too often we segregate ourselves.
My friend Sigrid Tidmore calls them cultural silos and we cheat only ourselves when we don't make an effort to connect and share on common ground.
The Istanbul Cultural Center makes a beautiful gesture with its recognition of Black History Month. The leaders invite us not to specifically learn about their culture, but to share what the history means to African-Americans and what it should mean to a larger community.
Of course, it is a cultural exchange. Even in our short conversation, Gurbuz and cultural center vice president Oguz Cimenler talked about the parallels they see between King and Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen, I learned, is a renowned Turkish scholar who emphasizes education and nonviolence in the Muslim world. When I got back to the office, I called up Gulen's website and it explained one of the golden rules he lives by is, "Desire for fame is the same as show and ostentation, a 'poisonous honey' that extinguishes the heart's spiritual liveliness."
It sounds like something King might have said during one of his famous sermons.
This is why its so important to have these moments of sharing. When we do so regarding a topic like black history or Turkish culture, we will discover it's really "our history, our culture."
That's all I'm saying.