“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” These are the powerful words of Frederick Douglass, the 19th century African American who escaped slavery to become an historic leader of the abolitionist movement. His words bear repeating. I’ve been thinking again and again about their profound relevance today, when the need to make progress is urgent.
We are living in a time of profound struggle. Defiant, open expressions of racism and bigotry are on the rise around the world and in the United States, tragically flowing from the highest office in our land. For this reason, Black History Month feels more important than ever. I am dedicating this month to soaking up wisdom from African-American civil rights pioneers of the past and activist visionaries of the present.
As a Jew who grew up in apartheid South Africa, I witnessed the daily cruelties of racism, and I learned about the importance of struggle from black South Africans and their allies, including members of my liberal Jewish family. Unfortunately, I understand all too well what is at stake today when people are denied their rights and dignity because of the color of their skin anywhere in the world. I also learned by example during my youth that, while we all need to stand up against injustice, our work for a better world is most effective when we embrace the leadership of those who experience the brunt of oppression themselves.
At AJWS, my colleagues and I are more determined than ever to fight for racial equality around the world — and we do so by investing in grassroots leaders of color in some of the poorest and oppressed communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. We have a global vision for a better world, which is rooted in our Jewish commitment to justice. We stand proudly today to build on the rich legacy of progressive Jews who have stood up for racial justice in the United States, South Africa and other parts of the world. As we work for justice today, we’re looking to history for inspiration.
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing words from leaders of color who continue to inspire our human rights work today. Among them are Paul Robeson, the singer, actor and anti-racist activist whose U.S. passport was revoked in the 1950s to silence him, and Diane Nash, a successful organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960s.
I invite you to share the quotes below to show both your solidarity and your dedication to continuing the fight for equality today.
W.E.B. Du Bois