Tikvah Womack was preparing for a Shabbaton at her synagogue when Rina Goloskov reached out to her with an idea she wanted to discuss about making their community stronger.
Both women live in Northwest Baltimore, in diverse neighborhoods of African American, Jewish and Latinx families. Both are Orthodox Jews, while Womack is also a Woman of Color.
Rina, said Womack, was concerned about the fact that many of the community members had little relationship with neighbors who were not similar to them.
“We both felt that we wanted to build bridges and create understanding. Yet we knew we had to begin by breaking down the barriers,” recalls Womack.
Together, with the support of CHAI, The Associated agency that focuses on strengthening Northwest Baltimore neighborhoods, they created a four-part dialogue series that engaged Orthodox and African American women living in CHAI’s five city neighborhoods.
The “CHAI Community Conversations Creating a Diverse Mosaic” program was facilitated by Sharlimar Douglass who is a Diversity, Racial Equity and Inclusion (DREI) expert also lives in one of CHAI’s neighborhoods.
“We knew we wanted to start a cohort of women who were open to this idea of learning about the ‘other,’” recalls Womack. “So, we engaged women who were willing to become ambassadors and further the conversation with their neighbors and friends afterward in order to break down the stereotypes.”
Since then, these 20 women journeyed together. They talked about their identities as Jews and Women of Color, delving into the biases and preconceptions they often had about the other.
They discussed the groups’ shared commonalities and prejudices while looking at their different experiences through the lens of slavery and the Holocaust.
And, even when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the conversations didn’t stop. Though they couldn’t physically be together, they were determined to gather over a virtual call.
Facilitated by Sharlimar Douglass, 13 of the women discussed how they had been impacted by COVID-19 through the lens of their gender, religious and cultural identities.
According to Sherrell Savage, CHAI’s Northwest Community and Schools Director, the conversation was “rich as they discussed inequities that they experienced, similarities based on their identities and the hopes they all had as we move forward.
“We have a lot of commonalities. We’d be such a force if we worked together,” says Womack.
Personal Stories: Projected, a collaboration between the Jewish Museum of Maryland, film students from Johns Hopkins University and several city schools has changed the lives of eighth-grade students. Now in its third year, the program teaches middle schoolers about the art of storytelling, then produced films about their lives that premiered in a red-carpet event at the JMM.
Simultaneously heartwarming and gut-wrenching, these films run the gamut of emotions. In the first year, stories ranged from the challenges of having a father in jail to the joys of learning sign language to better communicate with a parent to a young girl who was sexually abused.
Not only did the students confront and overcome life challenges, they gained vital technology skills that prepared them for high school and developed trust with the JMM professionals and other outsiders. In addition to Morrell Park, this year the program has also expanded to Graceland Park-O’Donnell Heights Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.
This year, the JMM was working with Fallstaff Elementary/Middle School but wasn’t able to finalize the project because of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the fifth year in a row, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC), The Associated’s volunteer arm, brought community members together to build community.
Together, volunteers from diverse communities worked side-by-side throughout Baltimore, in projects that included beautifying schools and neighborhoods, serving meals and creating care packages for people experiencing homelessness.
At JVC’s signature event at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, volunteers also learned together in age-based cohorts about issues of housing equity, community building and the challenges facing veterans with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) as they re-integrate into society.
The JVC project was developed in conjunction with the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), which for years has spearheaded efforts to encourage dialogue and connection across racial, ethnic and religious lines.
For years, The Associated, through the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), has invested in programs that spark dialogue and strengthen relationships between communities.
One of those is the BJC’s Social Justice Fellowship brings Jewish teens together with African American teens from the Elijah Cummings Youth Program.
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