The JCC East Bay is happy to provide these resources to celebrate the Black individuals who are on our staff and in our community, and to support our local Black community. Whether you want to find a Black Jewish community of your own, or educate yourself on how to be an ally, this guide is made for you!
This list is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it can be a wonderful start for you in your celebrations and educational journey any time of the year.
We’re happy to share this selection of influential Black individuals who are either Jewish, connected to the Bay Area, or both! It is by no means a comprehensive list.
Anna Deveare Smith
Anna Deveare Smith is an actress, playwright, and professor. She’s most notably known for her roles in The West Wing, Nurse Jackie, and For the People. Her solo piece “Fires in the Mirror” recreates 19 characters in the Black and Hassidic Jewish community following the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, and the incidents which sparked them.
Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell
Russell made his professional operatic debut in the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Appomattox with the San Francisco Opera Company and is now a vocalist, composer and arranger specializing in Yiddish song. On Oakland native, he lives in Massachusetts with his husband, Rabbi Michael Rothbaum of Congregation Beth Elohim. Read his full bio and explore his music here.
Debra Pryor has been a trailblazer as the nation’s second black female fire chief. She was Berkeley’s first female firefighter, paramedic and paramedic supervisor, and the first woman to hold the titles of lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, deputy chief, and fire chief.
Goapele is a Jewish soul and R&B singer-songwriter from Oakland. She attended the Berkeley Arts Magnet School, sang in the Oakland Youth Choir, and joined several groups that fought racism and sexism. Read her full bio and listen to her music here.
Haben Girma was born deaf-blind in Oakland into an Eritrean mother and Ethiopian father. She has an older brother, Mussie, who was also deaf-blind, and they were both educated in Oakland’s public school system. Mussie went on to become a technology advisor and disability advocate, while Haben went on to graduate magna cum laude from Lewis & Clark College in Portland. Then she made history by becoming the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School in 2013. She now works full-time as a non-litigation disability rights advocate.
Kamala Devi Harris is the 49th and current vice president of the United States. She is the United States’ first female vice president, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American vice president. She was born in Oakland, California, and completed her higher education at both Howard University, the historically Black university, and the San Francisco University UC Hastings College of the Law. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. In 2003, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. She served as Attorney General of California 2010-2014, and as the junior United States senator from California from 2017-2021. Her husband, Douglas Emhoff, is the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. vice president.
Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)
Maya Angelou moved to Oakland with her family when she was 14 years old. Fun fact – she became San Francisco’s first black female streetcar conductor! She went on to become a legendary author and poet, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Michael is the award-winning author of 2018’s The Cooking Gene, and gave a popular TED talk, wrote the viral Open Letter to Paula Deen in response to her racism, and organized the Southern Discomfort Tour, which focused on food security, culinary justice, and activism. Read Michael’s full bio here.
Ron Dellums (1935 – 2018)
Ron Dellums was born in Oakland to a family of labor organizers. Dellums’ 40-year political career started when he served on the Berkeley City Council from 1967-1970. After that, he was elected to 13 terms as the U.S. House of Representatives’ congressman from Northern California’s 9th District. Dellums was one of 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He served as the mayor of Oakland from 2007-2011.
Coogler, who was raised in Oakland and Richmond, burst onto the scene in 2013 with his film “Fruitvale Station.” He may be most notably known for Marvel’s blockbuster superhero film “Black Panther.” Coogler’s film adaptation broke box office records after it was released in February 2018, netting the fifth largest box office debut.
Traci Bartlow is a native of Oakland, and is a multi-faceted visual and performance artist, consultant and entrepreneur. She has had many contributions to the Bay Area and greater community as a dance and cultural historian. She has been mentoring and teaching for more than 20 years and she has developed the curriculum for many youth and after school programs in the Bay Area. She is a key collaborator in the Oakland Museum exhibit “Respect: Hip Hop Style and Wisdom.”
A Bay Area native, Will Power is a playwright, performer, rapper, lyricist, educator, and artist who views theatre as a vehicle for transformation. Credited as a pioneer of hip-hop theatre, which made way for colossal hits like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, Power has fostered a career in the arts that focuses deeply on storytelling. Will is also a relative of one of our JCC staff members! Learn more and watch his TED talk here.
Willie Stargell (1940 – 2001)
Willie Stargell played baseball at Encinal High School in Alameda. After graduating from Encinal, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and began playing for the team’s minor league squad in 1959. He was voted to the MLB All-Star game seven times and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.
This El Cerrito cafe is owned and operated by Merceda, the niece of one of our JCC East Bay teachers! Merceda’s aunt, Myrtle, has been happy to work for this wonderful and loving community for 14 years. Merceda is the daughter of Myrtle’s older sister, who passed away in 2017. A Berkeley native, Merceda furthered her education at San Francisco State University and Laney College, where she completed and graduated from the Culinary Arts Program. Merceda also worked at UCSF in the catering department for 2 years. Later, she worked at a local cafe in Oakland as a barista and prep cook. Merceda has also done private chef work and catered many events, such as weddings and company parties. She has created her own pop-ups, and now sells delicious baked goods at Cafe 9!ne.
Fresh to Def Collective
Fresh to Def Collective is a woman of color (WOC) entrepreneurship lifestyle brand focused on building economic equity through wearable art and social justice entrepreneurship. Candace, from the JCC East Bay staff, is one of their models! Shop their store here.
For the Culture Market & Runway: Glow Guide
For The Culture Market celebrates Black businesses, Black Women, and gender non-conforming artists and entrepreneurs. For The Culture Market 2020 is an interactive virtual shopping experience designed by a dynamic team of women entrepreneurs who are drawing from a collective wealth of business experience and a shared passion for supporting women of color businesses. This Glow Guide, created in partnership with Runway, showcases over 50 BIWOC businesses.
This organization is a collective of Black Jews across the United States. BJLC intentionally creates spaces where community needs are supported so that everyone can participate. All members are invited to take on leadership within the community and all members have a voice in decision making.
Dimensions is a women and Jewish People of Color led nonprofit that provides training and consultancy in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dimensions has a unique, research-based model that is tailored to client needs. It facilitates and supports organizations and individuals as they create collaborative environments that promote creativity, innovation, productivity, and social justice.
This program for teens is part of the organization Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA). It is an affinity space for youth who identify as People of Color, mixed-race, Sephardic, or Mizrahi. The goal of JAM is to build a safe, inclusive space to empower youth with identities marginalized or underrepresented in the Jewish community.
Ammud provides Jewish education for Jews of Color (JOCs) by Jews of Color. It exists to empower Jewish people of color who oftentimes find themselves alienated or sidelined by racism in majority-white Jewish institutions. Ammud creates space to celebrate marginalized customs and traditions, uncover lost histories, and (re)build culture. Explore their online courses here.
In keeping with the shared history of opposing and experiencing oppression, this unity group is made up of Blacks and Jews building community for the purpose of advancing the cause of racial justice and equal access.
JCC East Bay teacher Monika Clark’s 24 year old son Jordan has been battling cancer like a champ and will likely need a bone marrow transplant. He’s biracial and of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, which is a very tough combo in terms of finding a match. Help us get more people of color on the registry! It’s totally painless to register (just a cheek swab you do at home), and if you’re found to be a match, you still have the choice of whether or not to donate.
This Harvard study lets you take a test to reveal your own internalized biases on a range of topics that focus on how we identify and categorize others, whether we realize it or not. The topics range from skin tone, to sexuality, to disability, and beyond.
Urban Adamah held a conversation with Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith about how to address race with our children during these particularly challenging times. This program reviewed the science behind children’s understanding and refined tools for engaging in conversation. Event partners: Camp Tawonga and Eden Village West. Click here to watch the recording.
Resources for Talking With Kids About Race
Explore these many resources from the PJ Library.
Listen to and read these Tips and Tactics for Raising Anti-Racist Kids.
Check out UNICEF’s guide to talking to kids about racism.