Prominent members of the African American and Jewish communities from across the country gathered in Detroit to team up and confront poverty and racism. From June 27-30, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Metropolitan Detroit hosted the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) Mission to Detroit. Working to facilitate interfaith and interracial efforts to eradicate poverty, the mission gave participants many ideas to take back to their home communities along with a new and positive perspective of the city of Detroit.
Among the participants were Detroit’s own Ben Falik, JCRC board member and co-founder of Summer in the City, a volunteer program that engages teens and young adults with the city of Detroit, and QuanTez Pressley, Director of Community Outreach and speechwriter for Detroit City Council president Charles Pugh. In addition to Detroit, participants came from Denver, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Nashville, Providence and Silicon Valley. From a state representative to a JCRC chair to an incoming president of a local NAACP office, the mission brought together a diverse group of people who were passionate about tackling issues of race and poverty.
At the mission’s opening dinner, Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, and Bankole Thompson, Senior Editor of the Michigan Chronicle, joined together to serve as speakers and panelists for the group. Laying the groundwork for conversations about interfaith and interracial partnerships, Horwitz and Thompson told how they strive to build relationships between the Jewish and African American communities by engaging their respective ethnic media.
On the first full day of the mission, participants boarded a bus for on-site visits to several successful Detroit programs designed to combat blight and poverty in the city. Stops along the tour included: Focus:Hope, a community building organization; TechTown, a business incubator; Piquette Square, home to 150 homeless veterans in southwest Detroit; Earthworks Urban Farm, cultivator of numerous community gardens and supplier to Capuchin Soup Kitchen; Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, the only free standing synagogue in the city of Detroit, and the Heidelberg Project, two city blocks filled with captivating art. The tour helped bring to light a side of Detroit rarely seen in the media. It showed a city full of life and opportunity and a place filled with passionate community members.
After seeing Detroit from the road, group members had a chance to get their hands dirty at a community garden project: Participant Ben Falik provided mission participants with the opportunity to work with Summer in the City volunteers at Romanowski Farm Park in southwest Detroit. The project brought up issues of food insecurity, along with underlying issues of racism. It became apparent that in order to fight poverty and hunger on a wide scale, the racial and city/suburb divide must be resolved.
At the end of the four day conference, which included such speakers as Southfield mayor Brenda Lawrence and Jewish Council for Public Affairs chair Dr. Conrad L. Giles, participants were given an opportunity to collaborate with each other to find ways to apply the experience in Detroit to their own communities. Nashville partners Irwin Venick and Howard Gentry hoped to create a similar conference that brings together African American and Jewish young professionals. Rhode Island participants Jim Vincent, Scott Libman, and Marty Cooper suggested that an ongoing relationship be formed between the Jewish and African American media, along with the creation of multicultural networking in an effort to create new jobs in their community. Additionally, Roslyn Duman and Barbara Shannon Banister of Colorado suggested that working together to facilitate dialogue would be more beneficial than simply talking about the issues.
Detroit served as a perfect example of a thriving and re-emerging city. The positive view of the city’s various programs contributed to the success of the mission and has opened the doors to future collaboration between Jewish and African American communities in Detroit and across the country.
Sarah Crane is the Community Relations Associate at the JCRC and currently resides in Farmington Hills.
Rachael Malerman is a JOIN Intern at the JCRC and lives in West Bloomfield.