The murder of George Floyd has exposed what many who grow up facing discrimination already knew: This nation still has a long way to go to eradicate the stain of racism and hatred.
The outrage in our state and around the country is palpable. But we don’t have the luxury of merely being angry. We must not wait for the federal government, and we most certainly cannot wait for another generation of lawmakers. These ills are our problem to solve.
To solve this problem, we must take it head-on and look in the mirror. It’s unflattering, and it’s ugly. But we must accept that Michigan was ranked sixth out of 50 states last year in the number of hate incidents reported across the country. In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 27 hate groups in our state. Many are far right groups that espouse white supremacist ideology, including neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, skinheads and others.
And in April this year, the entire world saw the protesters in Lansing march on the Capitol with their long guns, Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas — symbols of racism and anti-Semitism that were intended to intimidate and incite. The surge in hate and hate crimes is an unacceptable blemish to the values of our beloved state.
So these times call for a new commitment for unity among all minorities who find themselves increasingly victimized. We need our own solutions and we need them now.
Three years ago, the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity was formed as a partnership between the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC) and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity. This group of clergy and community activists has become a leading voice against racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. They regularly host a wide range of programming, events, educational seminars, social events, concerts, joint religious services, articles and operates an active social media account.
In that spirit, we are proud to announce the formation of a new group at the Michigan State Capitol: The Black and Jewish Unity Caucus.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We may have arrived in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”
This new group will speak out against racism, anti-Semitism and other ethnic-based hatred by proposing and advocating for legislation that targets hate crimes and hateful conduct. It will be comprised of current and former Michigan lawmakers and community leaders who will partner with the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity to form a wider bandwidth to address these issues in everything from education to legislation.
The new caucus will operate as the state equivalent to the Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Relations, co-chaired by our own, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), which was launched last fall.
It is time for our generation to take a stand against racism. It’s time to “Stand up and speak out,” said the Rev. Deedee M. Coleman, a longtime activist against racism and anti-Semitism, and co-chair of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.
“We’re not putting up with racism and anti-Semitism anymore,” she said. “There is no more time to play around.”
We are indeed in the same boat now, and with this new partnership we will be better equipped to navigate it to a more just and peaceful state. We can and must join hands and fight this fight together.