Respond and Change in Jackson

Here’s a good story about my former colleagues at Operation Understanding DC in Jackson, Mississippi.

Samuel Spires, 17, a student at my former high school, superbly sums up what’s at stake in intercultural dialogue.  “You just have to do it,” he said. “Be willing to face contradictory ideas. And if you find yourself changing your mind and your ideas, be open to it.”

Respondeo etsi mutabor, I respond although I must change, is the motto of our age according to my teacher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.

Other events in Jackson: attend a church service at the Word of Faith Christian Center, pentecostal and leans toward “prosperity gospel” ideas, speak to two members of Beth Israel’s congregation about the role Jackson’s Jewish community played in the civil rights movement, meet with Hollis Watkins, president of the grassroots leadership group Southern Echo who will share songs from the movement, hear from former white reform-minded former Gov. William Winter and listen to Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his investigation into the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County that led to the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen. They also will tour the home of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

My uncle Michael, a rabbi, spent a week in Jackson in 1965 as a mediator of sorts.  His goal was to help white religious and business leaders “work through” worries about the changes in race relations.  There was no communication between civil rights activists and the white community, he found.  Both sides were starving for information and gladden to learn of the reasonableness of the other side. After 45 years, whites and blacks are still called to respond although they must change.

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