By Victoria Raggs, Co-founding Executive Director of the Atlanta Jews of Color Council
Happy Black History Month! The Atlanta Jews of Color Council is extremely thankful to be in our third year as a grantee of the Federation’s Innovation Initiative. AJOCC is a Jewish, Women of Color-owned and -led 501c3 nonprofit organization which promotes opportunities that broaden understanding and appreciation of diverse Jewish ethnicities and nurtures multicultural interactions through the arts. Driving cultural change through arts-based strategy, we design and sustain collaborative learning experiences and creative processes that lead to expansive thinking, dialogue, and communal belonging. We invite the Jewish community, and beyond, into authentic and meaningful conversation designed to move the needle on how we all engage in the world with antiracism and compassion for others.
An important component to being Black Jewish women is that we have a very strong conviction for justice due to our experiences of antisemitism, sexism, and racism. It is a fight for our right to be seen in our fullest humanity every single day. In Jewish tradition, we are guided to live by the value of ometz lev, which translates to “courage”, but literally means “strength” or “heart-strength.” It takes courage for us in today’s world to strive toward G-d. For me, that looks like striving toward justice. Condemnation of violence, valuing of life, and respect for human dignity are rooted in our faith and spiritual traditions.
Nevertheless, Jews of Color, especially Black Jews, are regularly harmed in some Jewish spaces, even in organizations with the best intentions around welcoming and belonging. As a community, we must intentionally come together and advocate for justice in our world to create a future that’s whole. No culture or religion is full of people who look exactly the same, and Jews are no different. Together, we are a multiethnic, multicultural people who continue to build an evolving Jewish culture that includes a religion and a nation. Yet the normative view of a Jew in the U.S., both inside and outside the Jewish community, is an Ashkenazi Jew from Eastern Europe. The ways in which we teach our history have often left some people out of the full story. It brings credibility to us as a community when we accurately display the depth and range of who we are as a people.
Black History Month can be a catalyst to come to terms with the Black Jews among us. To those who want to be a true ally, here are a few actions you can take:
- When people in marginalized groups tell you about bias or hardships they’re facing, believe them.
- Center and uplift Black perspectives and voices—suggest them for opportunities, mention them on your social media, and hire them into positions of authority.
- Call people in if they display problematic, discriminatory behavior or statements.
- Use your privilege to speak where other people would be silenced.
- Offer resources to empower, not to make dependent.
- Celebrate the accomplishments of Black women.
Transformative change is possible, if all marginalized groups have a seat at the table—but not only by being included in our organizations; they must also be part of the leadership in deciding and creating policy. Our institutions should be committed to cultivating actions, not just statements, of a truly inclusive culture which aligns with our Jewish values of Teshuva and Tikkun Olam. Establishing clear and firm procedures and practices that center the humanity of all community members is one of the most impactful strategies for advancing racial equity & justice. Our liberation as humans is bound up together.
Let us all come together to honor Black History Month, because the achievements of Black people, inside our community and out, have contributed to our nation’s greatness, and are part of the collective story of America. We have come a long way toward inclusion in this country but there is still much work to do.
Should you wish to support the work of AJOCC, or join us for upcoming events, please visit our website or find us on social media.