By Rebecca Katz, JCUA Manager of Teen Programs
On Monday, January 21st, around 100 people came together for an MLK Day of Action, an interfaith and intergenerational event organized by Anshe Emet Synagogue, Bright Star Church, and JCUA’s Or Tzedek.
Moved by the legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on his federal holiday and President Barack Obama’s historic second inauguration, children, teens and adults from Chicago’s Jewish and African American communities committed their considerable energy, time, and passion to renew their shared commitment to create social justice in their city.
While the temperatures outside were freezing, people inside Bright Star Church talked of the warmth they felt, generated by the openness of all participants to share their own experiences and listen to the assets and challenges of another community.
Rabbi David Russo, Pastor Chris Harris and Rebecca Katz emphasized throughout the day that this was only the beginning of a relationship between both communities; “Lehitraot,” or “see you soon,” were Rabbi Russo’s parting words.
Beyondmedia facilitated an amazing workshop to ignite the process of brainstorming campaigns addressing violence and education injustice in Bronzeville. After a discussion on different forms of violence we witness in our communities, we split into smaller teams to focus on such specific manifestations of violence as education, gun violence, bullying, and discrimination/racism. Then, each group chose a unique media platform (Facebook, Twitter, video, or photographs) with which to share their message about one of the aforementioned social issues.
In one of the groups composed of and lead by high school students, a youth leader bravely shared her experience with racial discrimination as an African American teenager: When she and her friends shop in the Loop, a security officer, who is often a white man, almost always follows them around in every store they visit.
Another group, made up of adults from Bright Star and Anshe Emet, shared their children’s experiences with bullying and bullying’s connection to societal stereotypes. They decided that they, as parents, had to model the respectful and inclusive behavior towards others that they wanted to see in their kids.
As our two communities came together for this day of action, recent words of President Barack Obama rang true. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Rabbi Heschel walked forward in the name of justice, so too, will we.
As Obama said in his Inauguration speech:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
To call upon King and Heschel’s iconic image, only by linking arms and working together, by sharing experiences and building friendships, can we build the foundation to creating long-term, systemic change in our city.
By discussing and working toward educational justice and violence prevention in Chicago, we are embodying the truth of President Obama’s words that our own freedom is shored up by the freedom of one another.
Special thanks to Pastor Chris Harris, Rabbi David Russo, Elder Smith, Thomas Stovall, Moishe House, and the amazing facilitators from Or Tzedek, Anshe Emete, and Bright Star.