Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence spoke to community leaders about the Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Unity and the importance of working together to combat white supremacy.

By Mark Jacobs

Photos Courtesy of Mark Jacobs

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, a local group of black and Jewish leaders came together to greet Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence and learn more about the newly created Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Unity.

The local organization, the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, hosted Lawrence, who co-founded the new caucus, along with Reps. Lee Zelden, R-N.Y., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Will Hurd, R-Texas, and John Lewis, D-Ga. The House caucus was launched to bring both communities together and create legislation to fight white supremacy.

“Our communities have a long history of being there for each other,” Lawrence told the gathering, recalling the past involvement of blacks and Jews in the early days of the civil rights movement. She spoke of her days in Southfield, first as a councilwoman and then as mayor, and cited the city’s long and successful integration of blacks and Jews. She emphasized the need for candid conversation, which, she said, has always been the centerpiece of the relationship.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence addresses the group.

She recalled a time where she had a disagreement with the Jewish community on an Israel-related topic, and said she was especially touched when David Victor, a local Jewish leader and former national president of AIPAC, told her it was OK to disagree sometimes because “we’re family, and it’s normal for families to sometimes have disagreements.”

The Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Unity is holding its kick-off meetings this month in Washington, D.C. A key priority, she emphasized, was for the caucus to collect reliable data on the spike in racial and anti-Semitic hate crimes so that critics will not be able to deny the scale of the issue and the urgency for more legislative protection.

The local Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity is a partnership between the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC/AJC) and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity. The organization, founded several years ago, focuses on programming that promotes solidarity between the communities, speaks out against hate, specifically racism and anti-Semitism, and works on developing future community leaders.

The group has hosted events at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History and the Holocaust Memorial Center, and held joint Shabbats, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations, joint seders, criminal justice seminars, educational “lunch, listen and learn” meetings and holiday parties.

Many from both the Jewish and black communities attended the event.

Rev. Deedee M. Coleman, president of the Council of Baptist Pastors, a co-chair of the local coalition and a longtime pro-Israel advocate, told the group she “almost fell off her chair” when she learned that a Congressional Caucus had been formed to promote black and Jewish unity, because it so closely paralleled the work of the local coalition. Coleman spoke passionately about the need for both communities to “speak up for what’s right” because “our enemies are coming after us.”

Rabbi Marla Hornsten of Temple Israel, also a co-chair of the local coalition, personalized the efforts of the group’s mission, emphasizing that “we need to get to know each other as more than just colleagues and more than just acquaintances. We need to get to know each other as family and dear friends.”

Rep. Andy Levin and Rep. Elissa Slotkin were unable to attend the event but sent staff members who addressed the group and expressed their support for the local coalition and the new Congressional Caucus.

Rev. Ken Flowers, a co-director of the local coalition, challenged the crowd to keep the focus on action steps to advance the cause of fighting racism and anti-Semitism.

The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity is located within the office of the JCRC/AJC in the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit in Bloomfield Township. For more information, visit jcrc.org/coalition-for-black-and-Jewish-unity or call (248) 642-2656.

Mark Jacobs is a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.

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