In March, 36 African-American and Jewish teens from Chicago traveled together to the nation's South on a bus trip called "Let's Get Together: An Interfaith Journey Toward Justice." What follows are reflections from an African-American student on the trip, as part of the Springboard school break program, a community initiative created wiith the support of JUF, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and a consortium of local funders. Read a Jewish student's reflection on the trip here.
"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other." ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the spirit of learning, I feel it necessary to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because his dream is now a reality; our trip was the epitome of all that he could ever want for two groups of people that have so many disparities. This was a life changing event that every student--and I am extremely confident in saying every student--took advantage of in order to learn more about other cultures, strengthen their mindset, and develop as human beings.
I noticed the students' willingness to communicate and form bonds in the first session before the trip even started. These bonds were only enhanced as we progressed throughout the trip.
During our visit to a synagogue, we created multiple lists of stereotypes, forms of prejudice, and types of discrimination we heard about the other group's culture. The black students wrote lists for the Jewish students and vice-versa. Despite the difficulty and/or awkwardness that normally comes with these conversations, we were able to respectfully talk about how these issues affected us and offer consolation to one another.
This experience changed me for the better. I see multiple jokes about the Jewish community on shows like Family Guy, Saturday Night Live , and others, and now I understand the impact that the media has on all our lives. The scenes portrayed in these shows affect our communities and the way we treat each other. There are many misguided individuals who only know falsehoods due to the portrayals of others through the media.
This trip made me realize how easy it is to love rather than hate. I have already told all of my friends about the success of this trip and taught them about Jewish culture. Because of this opportunity, I have convinced my friends to reach out to the Jewish community at their schools. I plan to continue efforts uniting people of all races and religions after this program.
We students who went on the trip agree that this program and intermingling of different groups should be available for everyone, so we will start clubs at each of our schools that is a safe space. The club members will talk about how to fix current problems in our society including how to unite our communities, our neighborhoods, our country, and the world.
Before this trip, the only time I had ever heard of Jewish culture or history was in relation to World War II, but the history of their struggles, their numerous amounts of mass migrations, and their empathy is never taught in schools. This is a major problem that needs to be addressed in our schools and I plan to meet with my principal to make a change.
If schools teach about Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of America, then why don't we teach about the Jewish heroes during World War II, or about the persecution of the Jewish community all throughout history by Christian nations. It is disappointing to see the lack of knowledge about Jewish culture. There are so few museums dedicated to their culture that our counselors had to create a makeshift gallery of information in order to teach our group about Jewish history.
Despite not being able to visit a museum dedicated to the Jewish community, I learned an incredible amount of information and enjoyed the trip. The trip leaders did an amazing job of keeping us engaged and asking profound questions that made me rethink certain topics. I hope this trip is offered to many other students for years to come.
Kristian Walker is a sophomore at the Latin School of Chicago.
"Let's Get Together" was part of the Springboard School Break Program, made possible through a collaboration between Anshe Emet Synagogue, the Anti-Defamation League, Bright Star Church, Bright Star Community Outreach, Chicago Urban League, and JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council.