Eboo Patel began his efforts to bring people of different faiths together for dialogue and service projects in a basement office on the Northwest Side.
He kept his day job and piloted a practical Chrysler Cirrus sedan through the streets of Chicago, delivering high school kids to meetings where they engaged in spirited discussions and packed meals for homeless people.
“I was like a Cub Scout leader,” Patel said with a chuckle.
What a difference 20 years makes. Today Patel, who comes to interfaith work from a Muslim perspective, helms a nonprofit with a staff of 54, a budget of $14 million and programs on hundreds of college campuses. Interfaith America has advised presidents and helped Starbucks develop religious diversity education for employees.
In his new book, “We Need To Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy,” Patel pushes for a broader vision of American religious values that acknowledges not only Christians and Jews, but also Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and nonbelievers, among others.