Riots, looting and destruction in Detroit (in 1943 and 1967), jobs, housing and white flight, solidarity, the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for equality are among the complex issues that have united and divided Detroit’s African American and Jewish communities over the last 50-plus years.
Strong friendships and bridges between the communities remain, but “getting people to walk across those bridges” is a matter that requires continued dialogue and deliberate action, according to Rev. Kenneth Flowers, senior pastor of Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, and others at the forefront of such efforts.
“The problem is, black folk in America have many other issues they’re dealing with,” Flowers says. The church leader is a longtime friend of Daniel Syme, rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. “Getting a job, graduating from high school, making sure their kids eat, making sure we’re not racially profiled by police. It’s not that they don’t want to engage, but they’re so busy surviving being black in America, you don’t find too many who make black-Jewish relations a priority.”
Flowers points to the violence and heartbreak gripping the nation, including the recent shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, black men killed by police officers. In the wake of those shootings, two ambush attacks on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas left eight officers dead and seven others wounded at the hands of black shooting suspects (both of whom were killed following standoffs with police).
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) called upon Americans to “hold up a mirror and ask ourselves some very tough questions: about hatred, about racial tensions, about anger and violence” following the tragic events.
“When the shootings occurred with Philando and Alton, I’m not getting any phone calls from any of my Jewish friends,” Flowers says. “I did get one text message; but if the situation had been reversed, I would have personally made phone calls. It’s the little things like that people need to be aware of and understand. Volunteer, call and say, ‘What can we do to help?’”