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February 22, 1991 - Image 59

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-02-22

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Washtenaw County's Black-Jewish Coalition
has gone beyond the standard dialogue.


Special to The Jewish News


Lionel Bryant, 11, of Ypsilanti, paints a room
with Richard Canto and Latitia Shapiro of
Ann Arbor.


" CB



n many American
cities, the harmo-
nious dialogue be-
tween blacks and
Jews that was so
strong during the
civil rights move-
ment has been silenced. But
in Washtenaw County, an
alliance between the two com-
munities is actively working
to repair the frayed lines of
The Black-Jewish Coalition
of Washtenaw County formed
more than a year ago to
reestablish the ties that once
solidly bound the two
"minority" groups. During
the process of forging a work-
ing relationship, coalition
members have formed lasting
friendships and gained new
Today, black members of the
coalition can talk easily
about the religious signifi-
cance of Chanukah, Rosh
Hashanah or Passover. Jew-
ish members have shared in
the celebration of Martin
Luther King Day, and have a
greater awareness of the cen-
tral role that churches play in
the black community.
The coalition was founded
by Washtenaw County Com-
missioner Ronnie Peterson
(D-Ypsilanti Township) and
Nancy Margolis, executive
director of the Jewish Com-
munity Center of Washtenaw
County, and today has a mail-
ing list of 200.
"I came up through the
civil rights years," said Mr.
Peterson, "and at the time
both groups were very close
allies. That long history of
relations has diminished over
the years, but those ties are
something we need to main-
Before the group's existence,
neither Mr. Peterson nor Ms.

Margolis would classify the
relations between blacks and
Jews in Washtenaw County
as poor, but neither could
they be classified as espe-
cially strong. As Mr. Peterson
noted, "There had been no
Working from this premise,
Mr. Peterson and Ms. Mar-
golis decided to organize a for-
mal alliance between the two
communities. As word spread
that the coalition was form-
ing, blacks and Jews
throughout Washtenaw
County became involved, and
a mission statement was
developed that charged coali-
tion members with the goal of
raising awareness, and the

Some 200
attended the
Martin Luther King
dinner and 40 have
wielded paint

level of understanding, bet-
ween the two cultures.
The Black-Jewish Coalition
planned its first activity last
January — a Martin Luther
King Day dinner at the
Jewish Community Center in
Ann Arbor, which was at-
tended by 200 people.
Ms. Margolis said, "The
event was more successful
than we could ever imagine.
We were surprised there was
that much interest in the
The initial success spurred
the coalition to plan activities
that would bring blacks and
Jews together.
One of the coalition's most
notable achievements has
been its housing rehabilita-
tion project. The idea of
rehabilitating apartments
came up during the coalition's
summer picnic when a new
member asked, "What else
can we do?"

During two separate
weekends, about 40 in-
dividuals worked together to
rehabilitate low-income
apartments in a 100-unit
complex in Ypsilanti. In
November, and again in
January, members of the
coalition rolled up their shirt
sleeves, painting, scrubbing
and readying a total of eight
vacant apartments so that
families could move from the
top of the waiting list into
their refurbished homes.
Without the assistance of
coalition members, the apart-
ments would have remained
vacant for many more
At the end of each of the
four-hour workdays, volun-
teers headed for dinner
prepared by members of the
Ypsilanti Housing Director
Lenny Bryant is a member of
the organization, and he
prompted two of his sons to
pick up paintbrushes during
the most recent rehab project.
"My kids need to be part of
this, and learn the impor-
tance of giving back to the
community," he said.
Like Mr. Bryant, a number
of adults involved in the coali-
tion noted the importance of
impressing upon their
children the unique, long-
standing bond that links
blacks and Jews.
Steve Rubin and Christine
Deucher of Ann Arbor
brought their 4-year-old son,
Max, along during both week-
end rehab projects. Mr. Rubin
explained, "We don't live in
an integrated community and
would like to. We don't want
Max to grow up not knowing
about black people."
During the January rehab,
Max graduated to helping out
with the painting. He at-
tended the first rehab project
with his parents, but that
weekend he kept busy play-



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