In March and April, an arsonist burned three historically black churches in Opelousas, La. And in 2018, 11 people were killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh, Penn. synagogue. These experiences and the fight for justice have brought African American and Jewish leaders together in the past. Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church and Community Outreach spoke about the need for safety and unity among different communities on Tuesday, April 9, in the Qatar Pharmacy building at Xavier University of Louisiana.
The Chicago-based leader encouraged Xavier students, along with members from the community, to come together for promoting peace. The event was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans as part of its HBCU Speaker Series. Additional talks are scheduled at Dillard University and Southern University at New Orleans in the fall of 2019.
“You have to come over to each other’s community and see what each other is facing,” said Harris as he a presented the different ways in which the communities could find common ground. Harris focused specifically on the unity between African Americans and the Jewish community, as he and his church have partnered with local Jewish organizations to
create services for inner city youth.
As the political and social climate in Chicago shifts, there is still concern about the unfair treatment and disadvantages that African Americans face along with concerns about safety, he said.
“Before leaving Israel, I realized something that amazed me. I felt far safer there than in my own city. In a region known for war and terror, I didn’t fear for my life once,” Harris said.
With the help of his church and community, he hopes to change the stigma surrounding mental health and gun violence. Harris and his church continue to partner with their local Jewish community to fight the stigma of mental health and gun violence in their city.
“How will we overcome if you don’t come over,” Harris said. With help from Jewish allies, he hopes to break stigmas brought on from ethnic barriers.
“Please do not ask me to go thousands of miles to Israel, and I can’t get you to drive ten miles to my neighborhood,” said Harris, who is also a Chicago native.
Through his church, he founded the Bright Star Community Outreach program to address youth and family violence. He developed The Urban Resilience Network (TURN) based on the Israeli model of NATAL, which is the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. The network’s focus is counseling, parenting, mentorship, workforce development and advocacy. Community is key for making progress to promote change and unity, he said. He urged the crowd to take action, to go to these neighborhoods, and not just be bystanders until it’s too late.
“Coming in this room is safe, coming in this room is easy, coming in this room is less of a threat, but will you go to where we are. You have to build true relationships,” Harris said.