It started with a need to connect.
In 2016, Blane Stoddart attended civil rights nonprofit Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) ceremony for its Americanism Award, which honors leaders with extraordinary dedication to human rights and equal opportunity.
As speeches were made about the ADL’s mission of fighting against hate, Stoddart, the president and CEO of BFW Group Construction Project Management and president of the Young Caribbean Professional Network, remembers thinking, “‘Oh my god, there are no Blacks in the room.’”
“Blacks take the brunt of most of the racism that takes place in this country,” he recalled. “Every time you turn on the TV, you can see for yourself.”
So he reached out with a plan in mind: This past August, Stoddart teamed up with the ADL to create the Black-Jewish Alliance, which now hosts programs and speaks out against anti-Semitism, racism and general acts of hate.
According to the FBI, in 2016, about 50 percent of hate crimes based on race were anti-Black or African American; of religiously oriented hate crimes, about 54 percent were anti-Jewish.
The ADL supported civil rights initiatives made by Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders in the 1960s. Alan Gubernick, a partner at St. Clair CPA Solutions and the board chair for the Philadelphia chapter of the ADL, said after the civil rights movement, collaboration between Black and Jewish people faded out. Gubernick worked directly with Stoddart to bring the Black-Jewish Alliance to life.
“In time [the two groups] went our separate ways,” he said. “But with the current racist environment we’re living in, we thought it was again a time to form this alliance and combat racism and hate together.”
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On Oct. 27, 11 people were killed and another 7 injured in a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. On Nov. 2, less than a week later, two Black people were shot and killed in a Kentucky grocery store. Both crimes are being investigated as federal hate crimes.
Stoddart said the lack of accountability in government is responsible for recent acts of hate.
“We need leaders who are going to address these issues in a proactive, consummatory way. I think right now that’s lacking,” he said. “If we have a tinder box and leaders don’t pour water on it, they’re the ones responsible for igniting it out in the open.”
The Black-Jewish Alliance is combatting this hate through optics, Stoddart said. The group’s charter emphasizes public acts of standing together, such as with television appearances, by publishing op-eds, and by posting on social media to raise awareness of issues facing both groups.
For instance, the group wrote an op-ed about the recent shootings, including these lines:
“We are in a cycle of hate that needs to be broken, because, if left unchecked, it invariably leads to deadly consequences. When one of us is threatened, all of us are threatened. Now is the time for all good people, including the silent majority, to stand together in solidarity against evil.”
“When we see the swastikas and we see the KKK signs in the media, we think, ‘Oh my god they’re racist,’ but most people don’t understand racism,” Stoddart said. “We want to change the narratives. When you open your paper and see Blacks and Jews standing together, I think it changes the narrative.”
The ADL was formed in 1913 around the same time Leo Frank, a Jewish man from Georgia, was lynched after being falsely accused of murdering a young girl because of his religion. Stoddart said because of the origins of the ADL, a collaboration was natural.
“Lynching is not exclusive to Blacks,” he said.
Gubernick said bringing the alliance to Philadelphia is especially significant because it is where the idea that all men are created equal was built into the U.S. Constitution.
“I think that Philadelphia, not only the birthplace of the country, but also, diverse as it is, leans itself very well to a group like [the Black-Jewish Alliance],” he said. “We’re working together to make sure the city is all it can be: a dynamic, diverse city in which everyone is welcome and everyone is respected.”
Gubernick said the group hopes to bring Black-Jewish Alliances to other regional branches of the ADL, but has not yet begun to.
“Together, our voices are that much louder than when we are separate,” he added.-30-
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