Report Back: A Community Conversation on Racial Justice

“If the world is sick, can’t no one be well and I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.”

On April 26th, 35+ members of the Boston Workmen's Circle (BWC) community gathered for a community conversation on racial justice.  After gathering to protest police violence at Chanukah and to lift up #Black Lives Matter at our Passover seder, this was an opportunity to reflect and strategize about our long term commitment to racial justice: Where have we succeeded in working for racial justice as a community and where have we missed the mark? We began by singing this song (above).

Our goals, listed below were substantial:

  • To name our collective commitment to doing racial justice work as a BWC community
  • To lift up the racial justice work already happening at BWC
  • To build connections between different parts of our community doing this work
  • To look inward at our community and assess how we’re doing at
    • creating a Jewish community that welcomes all (not just whites/ashkenazis/Jews)
    • building racial justice into our work as a community
    • standing up for racial justice
  • To name the places we could strengthen our work for racial justice as a BWC community and name the needs in our community (training? coordination? organizing?)
  • To create some action steps to move this work forward following this event

 

In 2 different breakout sessions, one by interest area (shule, chorus, Jewish-Muslim relations committee, Middle East Working Group, Acting for Economic Justice Committee) and one focused on the 4 components of racism & racial justice (Internal, Interpersonal, Ideological and Institutional), there was a lot of thoughtful conversation and many concrete ideas to move the conversation forward. This is an attempt to summarize that work.

Where have we succeeded in working as a BWC community towards racial justice?

  • We have been a Jewish voice speaking and acting in support of Muslims in the greater Boston community.
  • We have built trust through acting in solidarity
  • We’ve challenged the “white Ashkenazi Jewish narrative” as being the only Jewish narrative
  • We’ve succeeded in building coalitions with our economic justice work
  • Racial Justice is built into parts of our shule curriculum
  • The chorus has had some successful cross-race collaborations ex: Haiti concert

Where have we missed the mark?

  • We haven’t succeeded in mobilizing broader Jewish support for our Muslim solidarity work
  • We’ve struggled to build peer-to-peer relationships in the Muslim community
  • We could be more explicit in framing Jewish-Palestinian issues in terms of racial justice & connecting the Palestinian experience to people of color in the US.
  • We could be more explicit in looking at economic justice vs. racial justice
  • We could talk more explicitly about racism & racial justice with shule families
  • We could do better at welcoming families of color and multi-racial families in shule
  • In the chorus we sing songs about struggle but could do better at making the connections to current struggles in the black community

In the second part of our conversation we asked:

What would it look like/feel like to be a part of a BWC Jewish community that was actively working to dismantle racism and institutionalize racial justice? What needs do we have as a community in order to achieve this vision? What are concrete steps that could move this vision forward?

Our Visions…

  • We would be a welcoming community for Jews of color and multiracial families
  • We should build on our successes/sweet spots, what unique impact can we make?
  • We should connect with other Jewish orgs doing racial justice work
  • We could work in solidarity with communities of color and take action on issues of racial profiling, criminal justice, immigrant rights and more
  • BWC could be a “go to” place to connect with racial justice work in the Jewish community
  • “Acting With, Not Action For”

It would feel…

Amazing

Liberating

Free

        Welcoming

                                                   It would change and transform us

                                                                    We would feel a greater sense of connection to others & ourselves

 

In order to get there we need …

  • Self- education on racism & privilege: Look at our own racism first, build our own awareness
  • To work across generation within our own community
  • To identify partners
  • To demonstrate our commitment
  • To develop a proactive (rather than reactive) plan, moving from introspection to action

Concrete Next Steps…

  • Articulate our commitment as an organization to work for racial justice in a statement, approved by the BWC board
  • Create a training/dialogue space for building awareness of privilege and racism amongst white Jews w/in BWC
  • Create space for community building amongst Jews of color w/in BWC
  • Bring racial justice framing to our work within all BWC committees
  • Look at shule curriculum to see where we could expand on racial justice throughout all grades
  • Develop a  racial justice campaign in the broader Jewish community
  • Sign onto Boston Racial Justice and Equity Initiative petition

The conversation will continue at our Annual Meeting, Wed June 17th 6-9pm.

Please come and lend your voice as we continue to carve out next steps. If you are interested in joining this conversation but can’t make it to the annual meeting, please contact Jen Kiok at jenkiok@circleboston.org.