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Black Jewish leader works to boost community, inclusiveness

LA FOCUS NEWS — In this new role, Nate Looney is a Black man who grew up in Los Angeles, has been tackling the delicate task of producing guidelines on how to be more welcoming of Jews of color, even as synagogues and community centers strengthen security in the wake of recent attacks including mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, California. The concern is that such boosted security increases the likelihood of racial profiling incidents affecting congregants of color.
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By Deepa Bharath, LA Focus News

Nate Looney is a Black man who grew up in Los Angeles, a descendant of enslaved people from generations ago. He’s also an observant, kippah-wearing Jew.

But he doesn’t always feel welcome in Jewish spaces — his skin color sometimes elicits questioning glances, suspicions and hurtful assumptions. Once, he walked into a synagogue dressed for Shabbat services in slacks and a buttoned-down shirt and was told to go to the kitchen.

“The last thing you want to happen when you go to a synagogue to attend a service,” Looney said, “is to be treated like you don’t belong.”

Now Looney is in a position to do something about that, after being named to the new role of director of community, safety and belonging for the Jewish Equity Diversity and Inclusion team at the Jewish Federations of North America, or JFNA, in April. He believes he can channel his painful personal experiences into healing divisions and changing perceptions, and help make a trip to the synagogue a spiritual rather than a scarring encounter for Jews of color.

In this new role, Looney has been tackling the delicate task of producing guidelines on how to be more welcoming of Jews of color, even as synagogues and community centers strengthen security in the wake of recent attacks including mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, California. The concern is that such boosted security increases the likelihood of racial profiling incidents affecting congregants of color.

It’s a relatively small but growing demographic. A Pew Center survey in 2021 showed just 8% of U.S. Jews identify as Hispanic, Black or Asian, but that nearly doubled to 15% among respondents aged 18 to 29. The poll also found that 17% reported living in a nonwhite or multiracial household.

Looney, 37, has led a life that has taken several turns. He served in the military police as part of the Louisiana National Guard and spent nine months overseas training Iraqi police forces. He has worked in real estate and has even done urban farming, selling microgreens in local markets.

His spiritual journey began at 13 when a friend asked Looney, whose father was Baptist and mother was Episcopalian, about his own religion. Despite his family’s Christian faith, Looney said he never felt connected to it.

“I was obstinate that (Christianity) wasn’t for me,” he said. “When I think about African enslavement in America and how religion was something that was forced, I believed that the religion I was practicing was not true to who my ancestors were.”

Looney embraced Judaism while still a teen because he viewed it as a faith that gives believers permission to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions, though he didn’t formally convert until age 26.

It was after the police killing of George Floyd and the racial reckoning of summer 2020 that Looney began working with organizations to raise awareness about Jews of color. It was also during that time that JFNA launched its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

Looney said Jews of color are often subjected to questions about their Jewish origins. Even when well intentioned, those queries can be painful because they cast doubt on their identity right away and imply they don’t belong, he said.

Add to that the increased security at synagogues, and there’s even greater potential for people to feel othered or unwelcome.

“How do you strike a balance? You don’t want to exclude anyone, and yet you want to be discerning of who is coming in the door,” Looney said. “Cultural competency is important. Just the fact that someone who is Black is walking in shouldn’t raise alarms.”

He knows from personal experience. The morning of the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018, Looney was unaware it had taken place because he was not using his phone in observance of Shabbat. When he entered a synagogue, he got more questions and “experienced deeper scrutiny” from security guards, and it was painful.

“If that were my first time entering that community,” he said, “I would’ve never come back.”

The guidelines he is working on will be shared with Jewish federations across North America and, Looney hopes, implemented at the local level by synagogues and community centers. Just two months into his job, he says they are a work in progress but will continue to evolve over time.

One goal is to inculcate in security guards a deeper understanding of the diversity of the Jewish community, he said: “We’re starting to have these types of conversations and that’s a great beginning.”

Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, who founded the diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and serves as JFNA’s public affairs advisor, said Looney’s professional experience as a military policeman and his lived experience as a Jewish person of color make him uniquely qualified to boost inclusivity while being cognizant of the sensitive relationship between law enforcement and people of color.

“Security and belonging don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” said Rothstein, who is the son of a white father and a Black mother and has seen his darker-skinned relatives being treated differently in synagogues. “Nate is helping us bring an equity lens to make sure all our institutions are safe and secure while creating a culture of belonging for all Jews and our loved ones.”

Sabrina Sojourner, an African American Jewish chaplain at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington who met Looney at a leadership seminar five years ago, said people of color are “profiled consciously and unconsciously by white people” and Looney’s role at the JFNA is crucial to help transform assumptions about “who is the threat and who is not.”

“If you look at attacks against Jewish people and synagogues, they are not perpetrated by people of color,” Sojourner said. “Nate’s work is so important because it tells me JFNA gets that if the most vulnerable people in our communities are not safe, our communities are not safe.”

Looney said another challenge is that antisemitism and racism tend to be compartmentalized.

“It’s a tough job to make people understand that many of us have multiple identities and fit into both categories and that we are all fighting against white supremacy,” he said.

Placing Jews of color in decision-making roles in Jewish spaces can help forge solidarity and bring the realization that “marginalized communities are stronger when they come together,” he added.

Rothstein believes Looney will make a big difference because “he is also a healer.” As an example, he cited a virtual JFNA event commemorating Martin Luther King Day in 2021 when Looney recited a prayer and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and often referred to as the “Black national anthem.”

“Those three minutes felt like three hours and they felt like three seconds,” Rothstein said. “It’s how Nate holds himself. He is so accessible to people because of his heart. That comes through the life he has lived.”

The post Black Jewish leader works to boost community, inclusiveness appeared first on L.A. Focus News.

The post Black Jewish leader works to boost community, inclusiveness first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina

NNPA NEWSWIRE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and other participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.
The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Administrator to honor legacy of environmental justice and civil rights at event in Warren County, site of protests that launched the movement 40 years ago

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2022) – On Saturday, September 24, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will travel to Warren County, North Carolina to deliver remarks on EPA’s environmental justice and civil rights priorities and the progress we’ve achieved since the first protest and march that launched the movement 40 years ago this week. Administrator Regan will make a significant announcement on President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice and civil rights enforcement at EPA and across the federal government and ensure the work to support our most vulnerable communities continues for years to come.

Administrator Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.

Who:
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan
Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Leaders
Warren County residents and community leaders
Additional stakeholders

What: Remarks on EPA environmental justice and civil rights priorities and honoring the legacy of the environmental justice and civil rights movement
When: Saturday, September 24, 2022,
Doors Open: 11:30 AM ET
Program: 12:45 PM ET
;
Where: Warren County Courthouse
109 S Main Street
Warrenton, NC 27589
Livestream: A livestream of this event will be available at epa.gov/live.

The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane

Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …
The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …

The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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