The night began with a meal of chicken, salad and rice. Sheets of paper strewn across the tables encouraged attendees to interact by using Legos to depict concepts like harmony and home. The buzz in the air was nearly palpable as the people inside Maryland Hillel geared up for the night’s talk.
One girl joked about how her sister was best friends with McCoy’s daughter, yet this would be the first time she would actually meet the woman.
The speaker of the evening was Yavilah McCoy, a writer, teacher and diversity consultant who identifies as an African-American Jewish woman. She is also the founder of Ayecha, a nonprofit that advocates for Jews of Color.
McCoy began her discussion, held Feb. 19, by sharing a poem that focused on identity through the use of short, powerful “I” statements.
“Race and racism and social justice are very big things … But they don’t mean nothing without an ‘I am’ in them,” she said.
“I am a call to prayer,” McCoy said in one line before encouraging her audience to consider the aspects that are central to their identities through a similar format.
McCoy drew heavily on the intersections of her identities as both an African-American and Jewish woman to highlight the importance of bridging cultural boundaries. In one of her stories, she told the audience how in the fourth grade she told her teacher she was going to be President of the United States one day “because I am black, I am woman and I am Jewish and everyone is going to vote for me.”
“I’m a 10 -year-old trying to figure out how to clear enough space to have some expectations of myself that matches how I’ve been taught I can have the world,” McCoy said.
One of the biggest obstacles this generation faces is reaching global justice, according to McCoy.
“We live in virtual communities today,” McCoy said. “Facebook and, you know, texting and all of that. We don’t get enough in each other’s faces to be able to hear in first person what people are thinking and why … .and to get to know where you’re really from. It takes some time to get to know where somebody’s really from.”
Freshman letters and sciences major Benjamin Bryer is used to seeing activists on campus. He attended when both famed civil rights activist Angela Davis and co-founder of Black Lives Matter activist Alicia Garza visited this university.
Bryer said he believes events like these help in “forming dialogue between otherwise separate groups on campus.”
After the talk, a girl went up to McCoy to tell her how her talk moved her to tears.
Maryland Hillel’s Director of Social Justice Talia Orencel helped bring McCoy to the campus on student Alyssa Gabay’s suggestion.
“This is such a diverse campus, yet how many times do we actually meet someone different from us,” Orencel said.
Orencel said she hoped the event would be a chance for students to realize their own inner activism.
“So many students are so passionate and motivated. Sometimes they don’t know how to start or how to continue to build on what is already done,” Orencel said.
McCoy’s message could be summed up in one simple quote:
“Justice can never be addressed fully in the context of one community. It’s one community looking inward and reaching outward.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr.
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.