Rev. Calvin Morris Reflects on His Work with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Community Renewal Society

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Ph.D. serves as Executive Director of the Community Renewal Society, a faith-based social justice advocacy organization in Chicago focusing on race and poverty. A civil rights and human rights activist, he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., serving as Associate Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation BreadBasket (now Operation PUSH) in Chicago from 1967-71. He was Executive Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, from 1973-76. He was also a university professor and theological dean from 1976-1998. Morris is frequently invited to preach, speak and lecture.

When I returned to Chicago, after an absence of 27 years, to become the executive director of Community Renewal Society, one of the first sister organizations to whom I was introduced was the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. I had been aware of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs during my first stint in Chicago as associate director of SCLC’s Operation BreadBasket, now Rainbow PUSH, which was at the time under the direction of the direction of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, who Dr. King named national director of BreadBasket in 1968. At that same time I was appointed associate director.

I had known Rabbi Marx during my earlier years in Chicago and was keenly aware of the work of JCUA. Soon after my return, the city of Chicago experienced the death of two African-Americans, both in their twenties, a male and female, who were killed by Chicago Police under rather unsettling circumstances.

Members of the Chicago advocacy communities rallied in light of both of those events, and the Rev. Donald Benedict, retired executive director of the Community Renewal Society and founder of Protestants for the Common Good, urged the formation of a coalition of organizations to work for the reformation of the Chicago Police department and its relationship with the black community. Jane Ramsey, the executive director of JCUA, and I were chosen to be co-conveners of that coalition of groups, soon to be called the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago.

For more than a decade, JCGC worked to bring former Chicago Police Cmdr. John Burge to justice and demanded that a special prosecutor be named to look into the allegations of torture under Burge’s watch, advocated for the videotaping of confessions, urged the creation of an independent police review board, and called for the expungement of records of non-violent offenders who had served their time.

Rev. Morris, Carol Steele and Jane Ramsey at a Coalition to Protect Public Housing rally

During that time and since, Community Renewal Society has worked with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs to assure that the residents of public housing would benefit from new housing to be constructed on the land where the high-rise gallery apartments were to be demolished. Along with other partners within the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, both organizations stood with and in support of the residents of the Chicago Housing Authority, always cajoling, demanding, and making our presence felt at the CHA commissioners’ hearings.

We warned them, from the very beginning, that the rush to demolish that housing had the potential of scattering gangs located within those complexes to other adjoining neighborhoods, and voiced our fear that turf battles for dominance in the South Side drug trade would emerge.

JCUA and CRS have worked closely around issues affecting the voiceless and the disempowered and have stood together in the empowerment of us all.

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