The Council of Baptist Pastors and Vicinity and the Jewish Community Relations Council convened on the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History for the kickoff celebration of The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity. The new partnership between the organizations was formed to fight the issues of racism and anti-semitism in the African American and Jewish communities in the metro Detroit area.
“For a long time, we have been so separate,” said Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity President, Reverend Dr. Dee Dee M. Coleman. “This is a way of pulling the community together and making sure the community-at-large understands that we now we have a mechanism of coming through the coalition, lifting a voice, and getting that voice heard across the world. We can do more together, in terms of peace and equality.”
African American and Jewish people have been two of the most oppressed and ridiculed groups in the history of the world. During the transatlantic slave trade, millions of Africans were forcibly taken to the Americas to be sold into slavery and 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany. So David Kurzmann, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, felt there was a common interest in joining forces.
“I think black and Jewish people both have had a similar struggle,” Kurzmann said. “Our origins and stories are different, like how and when we both came to this country, but there are so many commonalities in hatred. When a group is marginalized, the people who are doing the marginalizing and the people who are perpetrators of hate, they often just lump us all together. And there seemed to be something about our shared struggle to fight back against those people. I think we can continue to learn a lot from each other.”
The relationship between African-Americans and Jewish people uniting as one dates back to the Civil Rights Movement, when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity is designed to rekindle those past relationships, with the help of prominent local leaders such as Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers of Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. He is the co-director and has worked with the Jewish community for over 30 years in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Detroit, and has an understanding of why it is important to keep a strong relationship.
“Dr. King said we must never forget about our Jewish friends,” said Flowers. “There are so many people in America that want to divide us but if we come together to focus on issues of racism and anti-semitism, now we have a strength in numbers. If we work together and stand together, now we can utilize each other’s financial resources and ideas to try to eradicate racism and poverty, and create better opportunities in our communities.”
Getting African-American and Jewish youth involved in the area will be one of the main missions for the coalition. Millennials have a voice, are stronger in numbers, and will be looked upon to bridge the gap between the African-American Jewish communities, to better understand each other and build stronger ties through education, leadership programs, and fellowshipping.
“We will be doing events throughout the city that will embrace them together with us,” said Coleman. “We will open up avenues and make possibilities with other organizations to take them to Israel, so they can see for themselves how the rest of the world is. Our older generation needs to involve our millennials in our programs, so they can understand more about what we do, and take over when our time is up.”