Breaking Down Walls

By: Meaghan Branham

In a world that too often seems fraught with tension and violence, it is vital, now more than ever, to remember the very human threads that connect us all. Recognizing this need in our own community, high school student Kate Deffebach has identified an opportunity to make a positive impact through her project, “Breaking Down Walls,” an event she hopes will be the beginning of a movement focused on connecting women from every background and religious belief.

On May 21, women of all faiths came together in Melbourne, ready and excited to learn from each other by engaging in a conversation. “The goal of ‘Breaking Down Walls’ is to increase dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims so they can relate as individuals and recognize commonalities among themselves,” Deffebach said. Speakers, including Rabbi Patricia Hickman, Sister Sally Sabawi, and Reverend Joy Willard-Williford, shared the history and beliefs of their respective religions, followed by an opportunity for individuals to sit down one-on-one with another woman who practiced a faith other than their own. The attendees and speakers ended the evening with a potluck-style dinner in a fitting celebration of each woman’s
unique contribution.

To Deffebach and many of the women who participated in this inaugural event, the social landscape of today appears to be defined by walls that only serve to stave off understanding. Deffebach’s objective is building relationships through the group effort of dismantling those walls, brick by brick. “As our country becomes more diverse, it is important for us to come together as citizens, but instead, hate crimes against Muslims, Jews and Christians are on the rise in the United States and throughout the world,” Deffebach explains. “I want to help break down walls by providing opportunities for personal dialogue between people of different faiths and cultures so we can become more knowledgeable about each other’s beliefs.”


“I truly believe that personal dialogue helps people become more knowledgeable about each other’s beliefs, learn about each other on a personal level, recognize commonalities among ourselves, and see that in many of the most basic human ways we are all the same.” – Kate Deffebach


Beginning with her own city, Deffebach set out to make a change. “I started the project because I wanted to provide people in my own community of Melbourne with the opportunity to engage in personal dialogue with people of many different faiths and cultures,” she explained. With the help and support of her peers and mentors, including the two people she credits as her role models, her parents, she began the process of organizing Breaking Down Walls. “I have learned from my mom and dad that it is important to not only stand up for yourself, but also stand up for others,” Deffebach reflected. Driven by this perspective of compassion and understanding, Deffebach hopes that this first meeting proves to be the beginning of a much larger chain reaction. “When I graduate from high school, other students will take over and continue to create events to foster dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in Brevard County.” Eventually, Deffebach hopes that Breaking Down Walls can expand its reach to other parts of the state and, further down the road, the country.

Deffebach’s goal of strength in diversity and compassion comes as a welcome relief from a news stream that, more and more frequently, seems to show a world entirely out of control. Through her efforts, the community is reminded that the most powerful connections and positive changes are born in simple conversations in our day-to-day lives, from which we can build a strong foundation of friendship, solidarity and sisterhood. By listening to the stories of other women in their own voices, a better understanding of each other and the world can be reached. Deffebach trusts that Breaking Down Walls can make a difference. “I truly believe that personal dialogue helps people become more knowledgeable about each other’s beliefs, learn about each other on a personal level, recognize commonalities among ourselves, and see that in many of the most basic human ways we are all
the same.”