Detroit entrepreneur focuses passion for social justice through Jewish lens at global ROI Summit

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Jacob Smith got inspired at the ROI Summit, July 2-6, in Jerusalem

Jacob Smith, 29, of Detroit began his work on criminal justice reform by reflecting on his Jewish values. “Beyond our general commitment to tikkun olam, many Jewish lessons, such as the story of Passover, call on us to remember the struggles of our past,” Smith told the Jewish News. “Jews are uniquely suited to care about the most vulnerable members of our community, which undoubtedly includes formerly incarcerated individuals.”

Smith is the head of business development for Castle in Detroit, helping rental property owners manage their properties and be smarter investors. He is also a NEXTGen Board member and produces a Detroit-based podcast, “The Returning Citizen,” with co-founders Erik Burgess and Imani Mixon. The show highlights success stories and helpful resources for former offenders, a group that Smith believes is too often overlooked by the local Jewish community.

In July, Smith joined some 150 other young innovators and changemakers from 29 countries at the global ROI Summit in Jerusalem. “It was re-energizing to remember that I’m not alone,” he said. “I met like-minded Jews from all over the world who share my passion for racial and criminal justice.”

The ROI Summit is the flagship program of ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. This year’s summit featured a “Brain Date Extravaganza,” which paired up participants and outside guests for one-on-one meetings intended to spark creative dialogue and collaborative thinking and provide guests with a chance to tap into the incredible talent at the summit.

“It was truly amazing,” Smith said of the summit. “The highlight for me was the sheer diversity of Jewish perspectives.”

Participants hailed from Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay.

“The ROI Summit is much more than a conference,” said Lynn Schusterman, co-chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “It is a fertile meeting ground for the most creative, talented young minds working in the Jewish world.

“It is no coincidence that we bring them together in Jerusalem, a city that has both challenged and inspired humankind for thousands of years,” she added. “It is here that we hope these rising young leaders will connect, create and collaborate on a vision for the future of our community.”

Justin Korda, executive director of ROI Community, said, “The summit is our chance to convene the brightest Jewish activists and create the perfect conditions for them to inspire one another and rethink what it means to be a Jewish leader today.

“Our aim goes beyond the five days of the Summit; we hope that our participants sow seeds of collaboration at the summit that will bear fruit year-round around the world.”

According to Smith, the summit is achieving its goal.

“It reaffirmed my thinking that there is an opportunity to pursue social justice through a Jewish lens — and I feel ready to confidently drive these conversations within Detroit’s Jewish community.”

Ryan Greiss  Special to the Jewish News

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