Detroit Project Understanding appears to be the first known fellowship of its kind in the Metropolitan Detroit area.
The Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee of Detroit (JCRC/AJC) kicked off the month of May with the inaugural 2022 Detroit Project Understanding fellowship summit. The summit was designed to bring together emerging young leaders in the Black and/or Jewish communities of the Metropolitan Detroit area.
It was co-sponsored by the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity and co-chaired by two of its members: Jacob Evan Smith, a well-known Detroit community organizer, and Pastor Aramis Hinds, executive director of Bethel Community Transformation Center. The two were joined as co-chairs by Detroit’s beloved young professionals, Shane Sperling, a board member of the JCRC/AJC, and Chinonye Akunne, the founder and executive director of ILERA Apothecary.
Detroit Project Understanding appears to be the first known fellowship of its kind in the Metropolitan Detroit area. We knew we wanted to create an intentional local program where young Black-Jewish professionals could learn together, grow together and build together in a safe space thriving on deeper historical and cultural understanding. We’ve seen success with similar local programs, modeled by our friends at the American Jewish Committee in Atlanta. We hope to continue this program for years to come.
Introducing narratives in Black American history and Jewish American history was a necessary starting point for the Detroit Project Understanding team, specifically due to the unfortunate educational gap that fails to elaborate on the histories of the diverse communities that have made valuable contributions to the United States of America.
The fellows began their day with a Detroit Black-Jewish historical tour, discovering the city’s grit and the moments of camaraderie and tension between the Black community and the Jewish community. The tour was led by Jamon Jordan of Black Scroll Network and President Elect Jeannie Weiner of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, both of whom were eager to participate in the program. Jamon Jordan became the City of Detroit’s Official Historian this past fall.
The group did not stop there. Fellows thoughtfully discussed what they learned, what it means to be an advocate and the power of building meaningful relationships. Other keynote speakers of the fellowship summit included The Detroitist, Marsha Music and Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Downtown Synagogue.
A professional networking social hour concluded the event, so that fellows could connect and continue to support one another outside of the summit.
Pastor Aramis Hinds eloquently concluded, “I am constantly amazed by the notable and measurable growth and transformation that organically takes place as different cultures of people come together for the sake of learning about individuals, cultures and experiences outside of their own. These dynamic encounters allow individuals to receive added, and often, much needed cultural context. Learning is optimized, as literal meets literary and perception meets proximity. A more wholesome view of others is formed, and countless lives are forever transformed!”
Pastor Hinds is the pastor of Breakers Covenant Church, former home to Temple Beth El, the first standing Jewish congregation in Michigan’s history.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of JCRC/AJC, added “Bringing young leaders of the African American community and the Jewish community together in honest conversation and in an exploration of their shared histories is an important step in enabling the communities to work together in partnership and friendship.”
This program was made possible thanks to the Ravitz Foundation, whose support has included general funding for interfaith and inter-community programs between the Jewish community and various other communities in Detroit.
Ashira Solomon is the community associate at JCRC/AJC, who led the Detroit Project Understanding initiative.