In the weeks after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, a group of Twin Cities Jewish Middle School alumni came together to talk about how we could take action as a community. As white Jews raised in Minnesota, we felt complicit and compelled to support Black-led organizing and rebuilding efforts after the uprising. Some of us now live in different parts of the country. Some of us are living in this community with our own children and grappling with how to teach them about racial justice and how to address our own biases. And if we were struggling to process the confusion, sadness, anger, and how best to take action, maybe our childhood classmates were too. Our middle school no longer exists, but the school’s values, teaching, and formative experiences are more relevant than ever.
Each year at TCJMS, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was proudly set aside as a day of learning and action. While other schools got the day off, we got on a bus to St. Paul Central High School to march alongside and be present with the Black community. The school’s administrators decided that it was important to show up, to explicitly teach the history of Black enslavement, and to draw connections to current injustices. Looking back in this moment as adults, we wondered: why was this one day so formative? And are we living up to these values in our lives today?
George Floyd was murdered mere miles away from where we grew up, and each of us in our own ways has stood idly by. It’s much more comfortable to stay silent and default to “Minnesota Nice” rather than face the deep racial disparities and violence that Black people – including Jews of Color – continue to experience daily in the Twin Cities and throughout our country. Through whiteness, many of us have gained meaningful social and economic privilege. We have perpetuated and benefited from unjust systems.
To make a commitment and spark difficult conversations, we felt it would be important to follow the lead of Black organizers in Minnesota who are on the frontlines of the uprising. We know that plenty of people in our community are afraid of the idea of abolishing, defunding, or reforming the police in fundamental ways, but it’s critical to hear the demands of Black organizers who are bearing the brunt of racialized policing, follow their lead, and invest in this movement.
So far, we’ve organized four class reunions via Zoom. We didn’t expect the conversations to be easy, but people were eager to reconnect with former classmates and talk explicitly about racism, white supremacy, and police brutality. People who hadn’t seen each other in years, and who came to the conversation with different perspectives, were open and honest. We talked about how we, as Jews and Minnesotans, like to think of ourselves and our communities as open and progressive, and how George Floyd’s killing exposed a different and ugly reality. We challenged each other to dig deep, take responsibility and risks, push beyond our comfort zone, have hard conversations with our families and friends, and support organizations that are challenging racist policies at their roots. Taking part in these conversations was heavy but also joyful–we were engaging meaningfully as a community instead of in isolation and fear, reconnecting over core values that we learned together, and holding each other accountable to take action and give.
As a community, we are calling on one another to engage in conversations about race, policing, and reparations, and to collectively raise $100,000 for Black- and Indigenous-led organizations. We would like to invite the alumni of TCJMS and the Jewish community at large to join us. And we should note, our classmates of color are more than welcome, but the burden must not be on them to drive these conversations and demand action. We hope that our community refuses to look away.
To learn more about the fundraiser and pledge to give, join us here. In addition to giving financially now and on an ongoing basis to Black- and Indigenous-led organizing, we can stay engaged with organizations in the Jewish community like Jewish Community Action, Edot: The Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative, and many others that are doing the long-term work of transforming our community and building a world where justice is not a demand but a lived reality.
Tamar Green, Gabe Kravitz, and Kashmir Kustanowitz attended the Twin Cities Jewish Middle School and are organizing a fundraiser to facilitate conversations with friends, family, and classmates to move resources into Black- and Indigenous-led organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. With sadness, we also acknowledge the recent death of our classmate Catie Boardman, who helped to plan this fundraiser just weeks before she passed away.