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Faith leaders come together to talk about racism in America

  • By Lucy Perkins/WESA

 Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Two faith leaders of prominent congregations that have been rocked by mass shootings came together Wednesday night to talk about how to fight racist and hateful attacks, as protests against police violence and systemic racism continue across the country.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill talked with Pastor Eric Manning of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Facebook Live. Manning has led Mother Emanuel since 2016, following a racially motivated shooting at the predominantly black church where the pastor and eight worshipers were killed in 2015.

Rabbi Myers led the conversation, asking Manning what it’s like to be black in America and how white people can educate themselves and fight racism. Manning described being racially profiled by police when he first moved to Charleston.

“I wish I could say it happens less frequently but it does happen … The first time I got pulled over in Charleston … I was driving back from one of the trials [following the shooting],” Manning said. “As soon as I told him who I was, his face changed, because I had the mayor and the chief [of police] on speed dial.”

The two first met just days after the Tree of Life shooting, Myers said, when Manning came to Pittsburgh to offer his support to Myers during the funerals. Since then, their friendship has continued, and Manning called Rabbi Myers one of his closest friends. Both men highlighted past alliances between their communities.

“That’s why I’m so encouraged even with our friendship,” Manning said. “We need to remember that when the NAACP was formed, there were a lot of people of the Jewish faith who were with us.”

Manning said white people need to have the courage to dismantle racism, and only then could such a partnership create actual change.

“We always try to hug it out, but then nothing changes,” he said. “And that’s where the truth comes out. It means that those who are white have to acknowledge that there’s a thing called white privilege … understand that you can’t fully understand how it is growing up black.”

Myers ended the conversation by turning to the future, and asked “what gives you hope?”

Manning said that he will continue to speak out against racial injustice as long as he can, and is inspired by the young people of color fighting police brutality and leading the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We will persevere,” he said. “If we can hold onto that fact that we can make it through this.”

Rabbi Myers added his hope, too, “that one day children could exist that don’t know what the word ‘racism’ means and ask: Why does the word exist? We don’t see any [racism].”

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