As we look back on the tumultuous year for our city, I am reminded of the inspired leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. This was a man of action who brought hope and healing to our country and whose values of truth, justice and compassion brought about the civil rights conversation so important at that time.
It is these values of King, whose accomplishments we celebrated and rededicated on Jan. 18, that are at the very heart of who we are as a Jewish community. These values empower us to improve our world and foster our ongoing commitment to social justice, equality, ensuring dignity and the value of every human being.
Perhaps that is why so many Jews were instrumental in the fight for civil rights, standing side by side with King, often risking their lives, marching for equality. And it is why, with Baltimore facing a fragile future — as we await the trials of the six police officers in the Freddie Grey case — we must once again count on these values to build a better community for all.
It’s a tall order but one that can begin at the grassroots level in our own communities. Through sustained dialogue across interfaith and interethnic groups, we can establish respect, dispel stereotypes and develop a mutual level of trust and collaboration.
For years, The Associated, through its agencies, has been a prominent convener of these conversations. The Baltimore Jewish Council hosts dialogues between educators, religious leaders and other residents, building personal relationships and understanding, while discussing the myriad needs of Baltimore City and the region. At the same time, CHAI’s Community Conversations brings together neighbors of various ethnicities, offering a safe space to be open and honest and building cultural awareness.
One of the most powerful projects implemented through CHAI’s Community Conversations was a Girls’ Photography Project. It changed perceptions among Jewish and African-American teen girls, who learned from one another through the process of taking photos together — photos that reflected their unique life experiences.
Hearing one Jewish teen remark that the program helped her learn “how special my neighborhood is and how we have a lot in common with our neighbors even if we do not go to the same schools and have the same customs” brought home the importance of these dialogues.
In fact, it is that very statement that our Jewish teens participating in Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Students Taking Action for Change program echo after meeting with their Elijah Cummings Youth Program counterparts. Although they may live in different communities and attend different schools, they ultimately share the same concerns about what the future of our community might hold and how they can make an impact for a better tomorrow.
As King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” On Jan. 18, as we commemorated Martin Luther King Jr., we not only remembered our mutual fight for civil rights, but recognized the need for continued appreciation for the other.
Marc Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.