Repair the World recently launched our High Holiday campaign, focused on advancing racial justice and building relationships between communities. There are many different ways to get involved (Learn about the root causes of racial injustice in America. Host or attend a Turn the Tables dinner. Take action in solidarity with our neighbors as a multiracial Jewish community.) – and we encourage you to explore them all.
Meanwhile, we will be introducing you to some of our favorite change makers. First up is Courtney D Sharpe – an inspiring leader in the social and racial justice fields, a friend and collaborator of Repair the World, and a recent graduate from Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she earned a Masters in Urban Planning. Sharpe took a minute to speak with Repair about feeling vulnerable (and then empowered) while hosting a Turn the Tables dinner, and why engaging in social justice work strengthens her Jewish identity.
Tell me about your background with social justice and racial justice-focused work?
Most recently I co-chaired the Black in Design conference at Harvard. The purpose was to bring to the forefront the contributions of people of color in design as well as explore issues on development and equity in communities of color. Lots of people care about these issues, but there had never been a forum dedicated to them, so that was amazing to be a part of.
In the past, I was was a Jeremiah Fellow with Jews United for Justice. I helped them coordinate an informational campaign that went around to restaurants and urged them to comply with the law that says all employes are entitled to paid sick days. In Chicago I volunteered with the Lakeview Action Coalition as part of a health care task force, and developed a food justice-focused business plan as a PresenTense fellow.
What inspired you to host a Turn the Tables dinner with Repair the World, and what was the experience like?
I hosted a dinner in January of 2015. I get all of the Repair the World newsletters and saw that they were offering materials and support to host these dinners. My roommates were on board, and we were an observant household that hosted Shabbat dinners together anyway, so we went for it. In addition to myself and my roommates, 3 other girls attended.
The dinner was really an interesting challenge for me. I’m black, and up until that point had never really initiated a conversation about race with what turned out to be all white people. It was definitely intimidating at first, and I didn’t want it to be me doing most of the talking. But it ended up being a really good conversation. We used the prompt materials provided by Repair which included these little cards that had the last words of people who had been unjustly killed recently written on them. We got into conversations about race and personal experiences, and I felt that it was really good and empowering. It helped me find a voice to speak about race in a more public space.
I know you’re going to be attending the upcoming Facing Race conference in Atlanta as part of the Repair the World delegation. Why did you decide to join the delegation?
It looks like it is going to be an incredible conference. The last couple of years notwithstanding, Americans have not typically been so eager to talk about race in public forums, so that in itself is enticing. I also appreciate that there is going to be a Jewish delegation, and that I, as a Jew of color, was invited to participate. So many people, both Jewish and not, don’t recognize that there are so many Jews of color. So to be able to participate in this conference felt like something I shouldn’t pass up.
What do you think the Jewish community’s role should be in advancing racial justice?
I think it is important that Jews continue to be allies of social justice movements. For me, my most pure expressions of Judaism come from realizing social justice. And for people who are similarly inclined, working across racial lines or economic disparity is aligned with Jewish values. It is who we are.