Guest post by Joe Dubroff, JEWISHcolorado Director of External Affairs
In July 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police and the growing protests against systemic racism, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a program of JEWISHcolorado, asked four leaders from the Black community to join us in conversation.
The four—Bishop Jerry Demmer, president of the Greater Metropolitan Denver Ministerial Alliance; then-State Representative James Coleman; our former JEWISHcolorado colleague Nneka McPhee, now of Americans for Ben Gurion University; and Denver Urban Spectrum editor-in-chief Alfonzo Porter—spoke candidly about how racism affects their community and their own personal experiences with it. The program marked launch of the JCRC Speakers Series, which continued to explore the issues that arose during that discussion: education inequality, diversity in the Jewish community, and economic inequality and reparation. And their remarks catalyzed a year of learning for the JCRC and the Colorado Jewish community as a whole.
On Tuesday, August 24, participants from that first Speaker Series joined us again to look back at the last year and discuss the work still to be done. Despite technical difficulties that delayed the program’s start, what ensued was a fascinating—and enlightening—discussion.
Through her work with Sisterhood of Philanthropists Impacting Need (SPIN), Ms. McPhee has seen a noticeable increase in interest in utilizing philanthropy to close financial gaps, with foundations, including JEWISHcolorado’s, proactively creating opportunities for donors to invest in Black-owned businesses. Still, Dr. Porter explained, the pandemic’s economic effect was devastating, with 41% of Black-owned businesses forced to close their doors.
For Dr. Porter, policing remains an area of serious concern: incidences of brutality are still happening regularly, though there are efforts, both within and outside of government, to ensure that police forces better serve their communities. Bishop Demmer pointed to the Denver Police Department’s internal work on use of force, and Rabbi Jay Strear, JEWISHcolorado president and CEO and the program’s moderator, also pointed to the increased use of the STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) Program in responding to behavioral health issues before police.
On the subject of voting rights, there was praise for Colorado’s election system but concern about restrictive laws being enacted in other states. While we should take pride in our system, our speakers asked us to be ready to help other states make it easier for eligible voters to participate in elections.
Education equity continues to be an issue, and our panelists offered a number of ideas for closing achievement gaps. SPIN is working on a program to provide gap funding to Black students so that they can go to college or trade school. Dr. Porter explained how incentivizing students can help them begin to improve, though Ms. McPhee countered that such progress would be limited without support designed specifically to help students find the right fit for their interests and skills.
The issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT) was raised as a concern, in particular the way it has been incorrectly defined by its opponents as classifying all white people as racists. That has made school boards’ work more difficult, and our speakers said community members need to help counter misinformation around CRT, an academic concept that is more than 40 years old and that emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars.
While the hour-long conversation came to an end without further technical difficulties, it was clear that there remain social and economic hurdles in the way of a free and fair America. And the JCRC Speaker Series will continue to tackle those issues head on.