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Black And Jewish Leaders From Universities Convene For Unprecedented Conference On Black-Jewish Campus Relations

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 1996--In a ground-breaking conference heldOctober 13-15, African American and Jewish students, faculty, andadministrators from seventeen campuses nationwide met last week to reviewand analyze successful models of cooperative programming, dialogue, andstudy taking place across the nation. The discussion focused onidentifying the underlying elements of scores of effective efforts thatbuild and strengthen Black-Jewish relations on college campuses.

The conference on Black-Jewish Relations on the College Campus,was sponsored by the NAACP, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism(RAC), The College Fund/UNCF and Hillel and hosted jointly by GeorgeWashington University and Howard University.

Catrell Brown, an undergraduate at Columbia University, found thepresentation and free-exchange of programs from other schools to beparticularly useful. Most valuable, she said, was "the opportunity togain a better understanding of both communities, their perspectives onspecific issues and conceptions of leadership. I left the conferencefilled with many ideas for planning new and dynamic Black-Jewish programson campus."

During the three-day conference, the participants evaluated theeffectiveness of existing programming; strategized responses topotentially divisive situations; and recommitted themselves to improvingBlack-Jewish relations on their home campuses. The results of theseanalyses and discussions will be utilized in drafting guidelines onBlack-Jewish college relations that will be disseminated to universitiesand colleges across the nation.

"It was an incredible weekend," said Jenny Sherling, a studentdelegate from Brown University. "It is so reaffirming to join togetherwith others driven by the same impulse" to improve Black-Jewish relationson the college campus.

Some outstanding examples of successful Black-Jewish programmingwere discussed during the conference. A Jewish Passover seder providesthe backdrop for a multicultural program that is held annually at theUniversity of California in Los Angeles, with food, dancing, and song.Students at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. usetheater to promote understanding between the Black and Jewish communities;participants attend two different plays -- one from a Jewish and the otherfrom an African American perspective -- and then together perform theirown play about Jewish and Black relations. Such programs were repeatedlycited at the conference for effectively promoting understanding andcrossing cultural lines.

In addition to the group workshops and discussions which were theprimary components of the conclave, several prominent leaders in theAfrican American and Jewish communities addressed the group. Featuredspeakers included: Julian Bond, professor at American University and theUniversity of Virginia; Rabbi David Saperstein, RAC director; H. PatrickSwygert, president of Howard University; Richard M. Joel, internationaldirector of Hillel and Michael Eric Dyson, professor of communicationstudies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

In his riveting closing speech, Professor Dyson outlined thesimilar struggles for identity experienced by Blacks and Jews in Americansociety. "Much of our struggle," he explained, "has been defining how weexist in a culture that demonizes us." Dyson emphatically noted that thisstruggle "will continue to be a powerful metaphor, a rallying cry aroundwhich we must come together."

At the outset of the conference, Bond and Rabbi Sapersteinpresented the participants with a historical overview of the long-standingalliance between the Black and Jewish communities. "In our commonstruggle for political and equal justice, credentials must be renewedevery day," explained Bond, who along with Saperstein serves on thenational board of the NAACP. "The coalition between Blacks and Jewshelped make the American promise real. Strengthened, continued, thatcoalition can finish what it helped began."

In his remarks, Saperstein noted the "strong and abidingfoundation" to the relationship between Blacks in Jews in America. "Ourfates are still bound up with each other. For we know that so long as anyminority can be deprived or oppressed, no minority is safe," saidSaperstein. He declared that the conference was dedicated to the unitedfight against bigotry, ignorance and all enemies of social justice andequality.

Joel remarked in his plenum speech that "the thing that we sharethat can bring us together... is that we are two peoples, two communities,two civilizations....on a common parallel quest for a continuingdevelopment of our identity."

The campuses participating in the conference included: ArizonaState University (AZ), Boston University (MA), Brown University (RI),Columbia University (NY), Dillard University (LA), George WashingtonUniversity (DC), Howard University (DC), Johnson C. Smith University (NC),Michigan State University (MI), Queens College (NY), San Francisco StateUniversity (CA), Spelman College (GA), University of California at LosAngeles (CA), University of Massachusetts at Amherst (MA), University ofMichigan (MI), Washington University in St. Louis (MO), and WilberforceUniversity (OH).

The conference was supported by grants from the Marjorie KovlerInstitute for Black-Jewish Relations (Religious Action Center), BarbraStreisand Program for Black-Jewish Cooperation (Religious Action Center),Lincy Foundation, and NAACP-UAHC Kivie Kaplan Human Relations Institute.

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