By: Zach Goldman, Jack Gross, Ron Melamed and Sydnee Sicherer
Today was our third day in Memphis, TN. We were extremely fortunate to speak with Jennifer Stollman, Academic Director for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. With the backdrop of the gorgeous, serene Mississippi River behind her, Jennifer talked to us about the Winter Institute’s efforts to educate the public and fight for racial reconciliation across America.
One thing that Jennifer said that stood out to us was the difference between racism and racial anxiety. More specifically, our inherent biases towards people different from ourselves. As she continued educating us on ways to remove racism, it became apparent that improving ourselves and those around us would be a difficult yet rewarding task. To remove bias from our psyche, we have to gradually immerse ourselves amongst people of all races and creeds. Yesterday, while we built a playground at Libertas School of Memphis, a public charter school, we found ourselves working alongside volunteers from a nearby church and from the school itself. Although many of them were different from us in religious identity and race, all apprehensions were put aside and we managed to finish a large part of the playground in record time. It is only through experience that we can remove the biases we have long held, and achieve a truly equal world.
As Jennifer spoke, she posed a very strange question. She asked us, “What is truth?” As we shuffled around uncomfortably in our chairs, she answered her question. Truth, according to Jennifer, can be divided into Truth and truth. Although some things may be labeled as Truths, such as long held stereotypes, we have to look for truths in those around us and in our experiences. Today, we worked with the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association to assist with their Meals on Wheels program. While delivering food to elderly people living in impoverished areas, we realized the reality of what Jennifer had told us. One of the houses we stopped at was a run down, old house. In the front sat an old woman, who as we later learned, was named Kora. Kora told us about the suffering of her life, and we immediately started to feel sad for her. As we continued talking though, it became apparent that Kora was everything but a sad old woman. She kept saying how blessed she was to have her children, and her house, and how blessed she was to be here. When we first saw Kora, our Truth was that her life had to be miserable due to the condition that she lived in. After we left Kora with her food and some kind words, it became apparent that the truth was that Kora’s life was filled with love, and is anything but miserable.
If there was anything we took away from Jennifer’s speech, it’s that we have to actively improve ourselves and destroy the racial barrier that has been built by our history and society. As we continue on through this month, it is obvious now that this trip is an opportunity to meet new people and practice what Jennifer has told us to do.
Our time at AJSS is the beginning of our journey into breaking down the biases we have built and improving ourselves as human beings.