Hello, neighbor: Cocktails with a conscience

This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 24, 2019. 

By Natalie Bencivenga

#RepairWithLove: Repair the World Pittsburgh and Casa San Jose, a Latino community resource and welcome center in southwestern Pennsylvania, hosted a cocktail party on Thursday night in East Liberty to welcome fellows and community members to the space and to get to know their neighbors.

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Summer Events for the Food Policy Enthusiast

This article originally appeared on the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center blog on June 17, 2019.

By Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center

In celebration of the first day of summer on Friday, June 21st, the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center is excited to share 14 upcoming food policy events happening around NYC over the next few months. We hope you enjoy them!

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Takeaways from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

A version of this article appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times.

By Lily Brent, Director, Repair the World Atlanta

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama has a steel pillar for each county in the United States where a lynching took place. When I visited with my fellow Repair the World City Directors last month, I thought it would be easy to find the monument for Fulton County because I knew it would be crowded with the names of the 35 documented victims of racial terror lynchings in the community where I make my home. I scanned the oxidized columns one after another after another. There are more than 800. Many of them crowded with names like Lillie (mine) and Daniel (my father’s) and Adam (my brother’s) and Squire, Julia, Evan, Robert, George, Thomas, Lit, Cairo, and Lincoln. The Fulton County pillar was lost to me in a killing forest.

With the help of staff, I found our Fulton County history suspended from the ceiling, hanging heavy and ominous over my head.

The Memorial is at once a place of deep dignity and honor for Black Americans who were denied due process, terrorized, tortured, murdered, and who have gone largely unacknowledged for a hundred years or more. Or far less. It is also a place of shame. That shame is too complex to unpack fully here, but I will share a piece of mine with you in good faith.

As a Jew who worked with genocide survivors in Rwanda, I consider myself someone well-steeped in “man’s inhumanity to man.” Here in the United States, I have worked in prisons and public schools and I know we are far from freedom and justice for all.

I lived and worked in Rwanda during the final year of gacaca, the country’s truth and reconciliation process after a genocide in which over 800,000 human beings were murdered in 90 days. Looking out at the country’s stunning vistas of green hills as far as the eye can see, I marveled at how such a beautiful landscape could be so blood-soaked: that gentle ribbon of river was choked with bodies, red like a plague in April 1994. I questioned how neighbors could continue to live alongside each other when members of one family had macheted members of the other. That kind of tolerance seemed inconceivable.

What I failed to realize–and now I cannot believe the colossal nature of my ignorance and naivete, my blinding white privilege–is that we in the United States are living our own unresolved legacy of violence. Just as I walked through the Eastern Province of Rwanda and had someone point out the house of the man who killed his father, I walked through Selma with activist Joanne Bland, who pointed out the business establishment of the man thought to have murdered Reverend James Reeb. Here neighbors are also living alongside descendants of those who lynched their family members. Yet we’ve never sat together in the fields, community by community, and told our stories.

Many of us have made or will make pilgrimages to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)’s Legacy Museum and Memorial for Peace and Justice. Many of us will be moved by re-encountering our American history from a lens of racial terror, and facing the founding “myth of racial difference” that has justified everything from slavery, to convict leasing, to casting black children as “super-predators.” In Rwanda, moving forward after atrocities called for a reckoning with the crimes committed, not through retribution, but through truth-telling. This is the movement EJI is creating. As Jews, what is our place in this movement?

At Repair the World, our mission is to make meaningful volunteer service a defining part of American Jewish life. As volunteers, we’re often meeting and serving people with whom we don’t share lived experiences. For white, affluent volunteers, this might mean entering an unfamiliar neighborhood, one that doesn’t have a grocery store with fresh produce, or a subway station, and where 40% of residents don’t own cars. We might listen to people striving to break out of poverty and running up against barriers like a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour ($1,160 per month) in a city where the average two-bedroom apartment costs $1,000 per month. We might hear a new perspective in conversation with Black Atlantans. Without understanding our shared history, we are in danger of accepting the poverty and inequity we encounter while volunteering as incidental and accidental and not part of a larger system of inequality rooted in persistent and pernicious white supremacy.

Volunteering, when done right, allows us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors. It opens an opportunity to hear the urgent needs in our community, and to strive to meet them. There is something deeply satisfying about knowing that someone will not go hungry tonight because of us. Yet Jewish scholarship teaches us to question. And as we do the important work of meeting urgent needs, I believe we are also obligated to ask ourselves “why?” Why is this work of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, tutoring children in inadequate schools still necessary in the wealthiest country in the world? Every individual has a story filled with choices, but as Bryan Stevenson of EJI, famously writes, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” When we see patterns of disenfranchisement and disinvestment persist along racial lines, we have to ask ourselves why.

While Atlanta is a city with a proud legacy of Black leadership and innovation across fields, the patterns of inequity are also clear. Atlanta is tied for the city with the greatest income inequality in the nation and also “has the widest racial achievement gap of any urban school district except Washington, D.C”.  Georgia has the most people under correctional control (prison, jail, probation and parole) of any state in the U.S. and a vastly disproportionate number of people incarcerated in our state are African American. EJI is calling us to the realization that racial disparities in health, wealth, education, and incarceration stem from our unresolved history of slavery, racial terror, and systematic discrimination.

Our heroes of the Civil Rights movement made monumental progress toward the realization of all America promises. And yet the struggle is not over. In my job as Director of Repair the World Atlanta, people often share their desire to make our community more just, but lament, “What can I do?” Racism and inequity are entrenched problems on scale where it can feel hard to make an impact. At Repair, we take small and consistent steps to care for each other. We also urge you to ask the big questions. Here are a few actions you can take this month to gain a greater understanding of our shared history and the perspectives of people whose lived experience of inequity is different from your own.

 

 

Stay tuned for more opportunities for education and action and share your own ideas for applying the lessons of The Legacy Museum and Memorial for Peace and Justice to our daily lives.

The Best Things to Do in Miami This Week

This article originally appeared in the Miami New Times on June 12, 2019.

By Jesse Scott

Wednesday is Juneteenth, which commemorates the abolition of slavery June 19, 1865. To honor the landmark day, Repair the World Miami, Base Hillel Miami, and the National Council for Jewish Women Miami are joining forces for a special gathering, Cocktails With a Conscience.

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Showing up for Pride and beyond

By Jaz Twersky, Education Justice Fellow, Repair the World Brooklyn

The first time I found Stonewall, I stumbled across it by accident. I was looking for the library and turned a corner onto a building covered in rainbow flags. Stonewall is smaller than I expected for a place that feels so momentous. It’s here that 50 years ago, queer and trans people threw bricks back at the police, and in turn claimed their space, their lives, and their defiance. Their pride was quite literally revolutionary.

I am the eldest child of a lesbian couple, I’ve been living as an out and proud bisexual for years now, and I publicly came out as nonbinary this year. I couldn’t live as I do without the activists who for decades fought systems of power — at Stonewall and beyond.

It’s about to be Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the Jewish people receiving the Torah, and it’s traditional to stay up all night and study. There is a Jewish story in which a group of rabbis is asked, “is study or action greater?” They debated it among themselves and concluded that study was greater because it leads to action. I consider this story as I remember Stonewall and the activists there, and apply those learnings to my present-day life. At Repair, we ground our volunteering in service learning, so study, action, and connection motivate us to stay engaged.

This year will be my first Pride in New York City, and there’s something special about being here on the 50th anniversary of the raid and riot, in commemoration of that iconic moment of struggle. While I was not at Stonewall, I hope to contribute to building a better world for future queer generations. You can be part of that process too.

Pride month reminds us to recommit to learning and to action. If you’re looking for ways to get involved, you can send a queer book to an incarcerated person with one of my service partners NYC Books Through Bars, attend the Dyke March, a protest of the discrimination, harassment, and violence against the queer community, or participate in an anti-discrimination training facilitated at Borough Hall.

You can also attend events by some of Repair the World’s partner organizations such as:

We build a holy community by consistently showing up for each other, both in the small everyday moments and in the big events of celebration and struggle. I hope you continue to show up for queer communities during Pride Month and beyond.

Racial Disparity and Food Equity in the American Restaurant Industry

By Jamie Cooley

When the average diner goes out to eat in America, they may think of traveling to Europe as they engage in “Conge’ Eggs” and cheese grits. Or they may think of traveling to a beautiful Northern coast as they dine at a fine seafood restaurant while enjoying “The Oyster Rockefeller” with a side of coleslaw. But they may never think of traveling to the countryside or inner city homes of the African woman, modernly identified now as the Black woman, one who created these noted dishes while enslaved in a plantation kitchen to serve the wealthiest families of the world, from presidents to businessmen from Europe. These kitchens on the plantation served as the blueprint of the layout of the restaurant experience we enjoy at our convenience today. Black people have been colonized out of the historical and present history of hospitality dining services in America. Black American food is misappropriated and automatically labeled “Southern,” “low country,” or “American” food. Black Americans are hardly ever thought of as a people or appreciated when it comes to the intellectual property of the $900 billion American restaurant industry, which profits off Black food, utensil, and hospitality creations. This writing out of history negatively affects the present-day working experience of many Black restaurant workers across North America. I am a witness to this racist experience, and have suffered in silence because of a fear of losing my job and connections to a skill I’m spiritually tied to, which is to serve others.

While serving at various restaurants throughout Atlanta, Georgia and being one of the top gross salespeople for their owners, I’ve been harassed and put under duress. Like many of my Black colleagues, I’ve experience harassment on three levels. First, I’ve often worked for management that displays anti-Black bias in their rules around dress and their double standards around conduct. The “perception is reality” philosophy is used against many Black people who cook and serve: we can be deemed “too Black” if we talk a certain way, look a certain way, or wear our hair in African styles, especially when it’s not the typical pressed straight hair for women or low cut fade hair for men. If we’re caught not smiling for a second too long, we are perceived to have “attitudes”.  Unconscious bias is extremely dangerous. In the restaurant industry, it can cost hardworking Black workers their income.

Second, Black workers also face tip harassment. The American restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the economy, employing nearly 10 percent of the workforce. Yet it is also the lowest paying industry, with the highest proportion of workers earning wages at or below the federal minimum. For Black workers consistently going through tip harassment, this wage is even lower. One solution would be for management to recognize patterns of customer bias against Black servers and compensate them when tips are lower than a standard percentage of sales.  My sales often outweigh what I have been tipped.

Third, we also experience harassment from coworkers who are allowed to express their disdain for serving Black families who are wrongly stereotyped about for not tipping before the check even hits the table. Tipping and harassment go together. While tipping remains a favored practice in the US, it has created a system of unfair pay that disproportionately affects Black women and men — a system that has roots in America’s ugly history of slavery and racial discrimination. I’ve personally have had “we don’t tip n•ggers” written on my store copy receipt while working at a restaurant in Midtown, Atlanta. Even still I show up and show out for every guest I get to serve, because I love what I do. I am deeply connected to the work.

When the tipping practice was brought to the US in the 19th century, the American public was deeply uncomfortable with it. Many saw tipping as undemocratic and therefore un-American. A powerful anti-tipping movement erupted, fueled by the argument that employers, not customers, should be paying workers. But American restaurants and railway companies fought particularly hard to keep tipping, because it meant they didn’t have to pay recently freed Black Americans, who were prisoners of war and enslavement, now employed by those industries.

Though I have witnessed extremely hard work ethic amongst my Black peers in food, we are rarely promoted to management or to head chefs. Though our food is highly represented on the millions of plates dished out annually, we have very little representation in restaurant management and ownership.

On May 19th, 2019, I recently spoke of my experience in a safe space, The Living Color “Racial Equity Dialogue Dinner” created by Chef Zu of Kings Apron of Atlanta, There, I had the honor to serve over a hundred people a five course farm-to-table menu which included foods that traveled to North and South America with enslaved Africans on slave ships. Our ancestors were able to save this intellectual property while living in terror. They gifted the Americas their cuisine, sustainable agriculture knowledge, iron, clay, and wood craftsmanship to create the utensils used to prepare and eat the food, and the culture of hospitality–the fine dining techniques of how to set the table and moving so as not to interrupt the guest. These are gifts from Africa, innovated in the Americas by the surviving children of people kidnapped from their native lands. But because of the lack of resources for Black American food innovators and startups, and lack of truthful lessons spoken in American classrooms, the contributions from Black people in the diaspora do not get the same respect and cultural recognition as those of the people and food from Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. Black Americans’ equity in the food industry and their cultural identity as founders of American cuisine continues to be discounted and diminished.

We can all help fight our current system by properly educating and empowering consumers to make informed dining decisions. We also need to offer resources to platforms such as Chef Zu’s “Living Color Racial Equity Dialogue” dinners, and other “safe” spaces that have brought restaurant owners, organizations and consumers together to listen to cries from food workers who are mistreated unconsciously or consciously. We can all work together to help turn this negative into a positive.

 

Jamie Cooley was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. An Afro-Carolinian daughter of the shores. A communicator of her Gullah Geechee elders and ancestors whose desires are to continue to create the ultimate dining experience for all people, preserving the gifts of agricultural food science from Africans during slavery which are served on plates everyday throughout every American restaurant, and showcasing the original hospitality culture of African women living in the diaspora. Jamie is a mother, a wife, writer, musician, and local winemaker who now resides in Decatur, Georgia. Jamie has built over 10 years of food service knowledge while creating high quality dining memories for over a hundred thousand families, serving throughout the Buckhead, Roswell, and Midtown neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia.

Pittsburgh boasts a hot lineup of community and cultural events this week

This article was originally published on Hoodline on June 5, 2019.

By Hoodline

Looking to get out into the community this week?

From a community art studio ribbon-cutting party to an interfaith panel discussion, there’s plenty to do when it comes to community and cultural events coming up in Pittsburgh this week. Read on for a rundown.

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36 Under 36

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week on June 4, 2019.

By The Jewish Week

Meet three dozen young Jewish leaders facing challenging times with empathy, optimism and innovation including Liza Freed, Program Manager for Repair the World NYC.

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Jews of color are chronically undercounted, researchers find

This article was originally published in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on May 30, 2019. 

By Josefin Dolsten

(JTA) — The Jewish community has been undercounting the number of people of color who are Jewish, a new analysis found.

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of San Francisco examined 25 population studies of American Jews and found that many failed to ask about race and the methods they used meant that nonwhite Jews were undersampled.

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Real Repairs

This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times on May 29, 2019. 

By JT Staff

Volunteers from Repair the World Baltimore gathered at Real Food Farm’s Perlman Place site, coinciding with Repair the World’s national #MayWeRepair campaign, on May 19.

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