We met in a sun-filled room at the Goodman Community Center two Sundays ago for Shaarei Shamayim’s winter retreat. Were we gathering for coffee, breakfast, and socializing? Not exactly. Try a discussion on racial inequality.
The panel, Dialogue for Change: Working Towards Racial Equity in Madison, organized by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, was headed by Lesley Wolf, Teryl Dobbs, and Barbara McKinney. They’ve all worked with, studied, or helped to organize for greater racial equality in different capacities: Lesley works as a Program Manager for a community non-profit, the Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute, Teryl is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and Barbara is an activist with the Dane County Interfaith Coalition and the Associate Director of Madison Urban Ministry.
Why was it necessary for us to have this panel on race?
Recently, some troubling statistics have come to light, including one that shows Wisconsin “…ranking last in the disparity between white children and their non-white peers” and another that shows our state having “…the highest percentage of incarcerated black men in the country.” In Madison, this is not just a shock, but an affront to our self-professed progressivism.
Part of being progressive is keeping up with current jargon, so I’d like to clear up what’s meant by “racial equity,” in case it’s a term as unfamiliar to you as it was to me. According to the Racial Equity Resource Guide, it means,
“…the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.”
One way to create racial equity is by relating to others as human beings, not statistics. “We need to honor each other by sharing our stories,” said Barbara McKinney, before sharing hers. Barbara is originally from Ferguson, Missouri and moved to Madison following her son, the late news anchor, Mike McKinney. She’s done various trainings through faith and community-based groups over the years, including the YWCA and the Dane County Interfaith Coalition. She was adamant about the fact that we need diversity in leadership, which is why Barbara is running for the Wisconsin Common Council.
“Change happens here,” said Barbara, pounding her heart. “If change is comfortable, you’re doing it wrong.”
The panelists were done speaking, so it was time for a discussion with the synagogue’s community:
Question: For 25 years, Shaarei Shamayim has failed to have a social justice community. Why?
Response from the panel: Maybe many of the congregants get their fill of social justice work outside of synagogue.
Comment: It would help to have a “Jewish space” where I can talk to others about these social justice issues.
Comment: In the school district, the “people on the ground aren’t being listened to.” (I.e. teachers).
Comment: I love the idea of storytelling. I’d love to share stories and work with Barbara’s church.
Comment: Let children share theirs stories too.
It was inspiring to see such a turn out for a social justice issue – not just coffee, bagels, and conversation. The Rabbi has already followed up with us via email, and I hope that our congregation can use the momentum from this discussion to address the severe inequity Madisonians are faced with.
Do you want to get more involved? Check out the following organizations recommended by the panel members: