“Breaking Down the Barriers Between Communities”
Two Sundays ago, several of my fellow JCUA members and I embarked on a reflective journey into the true meaning of Allyship & Privilege. Upon entering the room, I was filled with mixed emotions and thoughts. When groups and organizations conduct trainings on “privilege” here in the United States, the target audience is generally geared towards the white population; as this is the majority represented in current “Allyship” discussions.
While I am a person of color, I thought it was important to attend this training. The concepts of privilege and allyship are becoming increasingly popular in social justice circles. Several of my friends have attended privilege trainings with different results, so I had no idea what to expect from JCUA. However, I decided to go because I thought it was important to have the perspectives of a person of color in the room.
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JCUA has a successful history of working with diverse communities and community groups to help dispel racism, battle discrimination, poverty, and other forms of oppression. Historically, here in Chicago, the diverse communities JCUA has partnered with are generally not connected with the broader Jewish Chicagoland community. As a Jew of color, the mixed emotions I felt going into the training had to do with my affiliation to both the Jewish and other diverse communities JCUA works with on a daily basis. Each community has its own way of thinking when it comes to community needs, desires, struggles, and successes. These thought patterns are born from current and historical experiences. So, for me, coming from a variety of cultural, religious, and racial experiences, I was curious as to how others in the group viewed their role in partnership with diverse communities that are not necessarily their own.
At the start of the training, we all introduced ourselves and began talking about the meaning of Allyship & Privilege. To my delight, everyone was very honest about what this meant to them and what role they have played in the past in working with diverse communities, and how they would like to participate more actively in the future. In the end, we were able to have open discussions and foster healing dialogue between all participants. The major take-away from this training was the importance of relationship-building vs. “just helping.” Being an ally means asking how people want to be supported, listening to their responses, and respecting their ability to lead their own communities. Most people are just looking for others to support and engage with them in achieving the goals of their particular communities. Learning and growing with one another will begin to create a platform of engagement where everyone can find a place for shelter, peace, solidarity, and community. These elements are essential in breaking down barriers that exist between communities. We all agreed the idea of giving space and respect to those that directly feel an issue is key to successful allyship in ALL communities. Once these barriers are broken down, we can begin to realize a more just world. In the end, this was the most comprehensive, comfortable allyship training I have ever attended. My hope is that the work started at this training will continue in current and future partnerships.