This is the 24th summer that Operation Understanding has brought a group of Jewish and African-American teens from the DC area on a trip exploring the history of the Civil Rights Movement in America. They begin their journey in Greensboro, where they visit the site of the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in and learn about the Greensboro Massacre, a 1979 anti-Klan protest that ended in six deaths.
From Greensboro, the next stop is Shalom Park.
First thing in the morning, the 21 teens and three young adult leaders attended Freedom School’s morning Harambee, where Rabbi Kornsgold read a story, and volunteer Ellen Garfinkle taught the school children how to say “Boker Tov,” adding to the list of languages in which they are now able to say “good morning.”
We followed Harambee with a tour of the Shalom Park main campus including the JCC facilities and the Center for Jewish Education, as well as passing by the offices of Federation, JFS, the cemetery, Hebrew High, and The Charlotte Jewish News. The tour ended in the Dumas Activity Center, where Sam Swire facilitated the showing of the Better Together Hebrew High video from 2017, in which a Hebrew High class joined forces with students from Johnson C. Smith University to create an intergenerational Spoken Word performance about Jewish identity.
The highlight of the morning was a visit from J. Charles Jones, co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1960 and spearheaded the sit-ins in Charlotte’s downtown lunch counters. At protests in Rock Hill, he was arrested and participated in the “jail, no bail” movement. In 1961, he joined the Freedom Riders throughout the south and faced rampant racism, arrest, and violence. At 80 years old, he remains a Charlotte treasure.
Each day, OUDC selects two leaders from the group of teens. Jalen Ford, a rising senior from Maret School in Washington, DC, and Ella Goldblum from Bethesda, MD, a rising senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, were the spokespeople for the group when they were in Charlotte.
“I’ve always been passionate about social justice,” Goldblum explained, “and about Jewish identity. OUDC is the perfect intersection of the two.”
“This was a good way for me to learn things about black and Jewish heritage that aren’t taught in the classroom,” says Ford. “I hope to gain a greater understanding of life in the south and of our shared heritage.”
Goldblum continued, “I hope that knowing the history will help me use it to affect change locally.” As an example, she cited the Greensboro massacre. “This was an event I had never heard of and learning about it profoundly affected me.”
Ford agreed that the new knowledge of the Greensboro massacre was the most transforming thing they had experienced so far. “These were powerful moments,” he said.
After Charlotte, the class was headed for Atlanta, where they would visit places important in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and then on to Alabama, where they would walk the streets where history was made.