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The Red Door (A cross-cultural experience) by Robert Cooper

The Red Door


Originally Posted on January 11, 2012

Traveling the world, I can expect to have eye opening cross–cultural experiences. But to have such an experience in my own backyard – in downtown Detroit – that’s a different story.

On December 17, 2011, my 14 year old son, Kwesi, and I attended service at the Downtown Synagogue, along with three or four other African Americans. Every once in a while we could hear a word or two: Kiddush, adonai, and some names. We didn’t know the meaning. We just followed the directives, “now we are going to page 97.” We did that for over an hour. I recognize Hebrew when I see it. I just can’t read a single letter.

When the Big Scroll was taken from behind some curtains and, later, walked through the congregation, Kwesi encouraged me to kiss it and touch it like the congregants who wore yarmulkes and prayer shawls. I touched it, after kissing my hand first. I probably would have kissed the Big Scroll, if I didn’t have a couple of people to reach over.

Before the service ended, the smell of food, good food, wafted into the sanctuary. I wanted Marti to get through his explanations to us special guests, so that I could join the food.

I got to the food. To my surprise no candles were lit. Everyone had braided bread and wine or juice. I should have had juice or braided bread before the wine. I managed. I don’t know what we were talking about. One of the African–American ladies in my group asked if I was Jewish, because I was wearing the black silken skull cap. I responded, “No. But I didn’t know there were so many black Jews in Detroit.” There were two or three black men and women there who were fully engaged in the Hebrew Service and the meal prayer. She responded, “Neither did I.” We went back to our delicious meatless dishes.

As I exited the Red Door, a small half cylinder, tacked to the door frame, caught my eye. I thought, “I’ve seen these painted over in doorways around Detroit.” Our group, along with Rabbi Dorit, who invited us to the synagogue, proceeded to our cars and headed to the Detroit Institute of Arts. We viewed the exhibit Rembrandt: The Faces of Jesus.

A Reflection

My overall experience was one of being in the inner circle, witnessing a great mystery. As an African American, I’ve started to say that if I were a Jew I would be insulted to hear: a dollar changes hands in the Jewish community two to three times before it leaves; the Jews were oppressed: why can’t you Blacks and Indians get it together; and, they worked me like a Hebrew slave. I’d be insulted for people to act as if they knew me and didn’t understand my highest values. I didn’t hear any preaching; didn’t see any waiting for G-d’s salvation; and, didn’t see any passing of money. The congregants’ relation to the Big Scroll, and the collective reading of it, was at the heart of the community I participated with behind the Red Door.

None of the cultural cliques address what I took away with my experience of crossing a cultural line and my participating the best I could in the service and the meal. Literacy, a common focus and fellowship, are the best foods ever.

Share a cross- cultural experience that you have had in the Detroit Area. Use the Reply Area below

Robert Cooper is a world traveler and cultural experience enthusiast who initiated a Japanese language program in Detroit Public Schools after living abroad and participating in a study abroad program with Huston Smith. He is the president of the Association for Youth Empowerment and serves on the Leadership Team for the Bridging 8 Mile initiative. He is also a coach and leader at Landmark Education.



AYE in the News: Street Beat with Syma Chowdry

Empowering Youth To Make Detroit A Better Place

Published June 3rd 2011


Can we make Detroit a better place by starting from our youth? That is what some community leaders believe. Think of it as an investment for our future. On this week’s “Street Beat,” we will be talking to organizations that promote healthy growing and living. Each of their messages come from a positive place.

David Abramson and Rasheda Williams from the Association for Youth Empowerment explain the “Bridging Eight Mile” project. They explain, how going into schools and breaking down barriers is a great start. AYE tries to eliminate social oppression and foster respect, compassion and acceptance.

What about promoting a healthy message through dance, music and art? That’s where Melanie Knoll and Cedric Miller of the Living Arts organization steps in. They explain the importance of children being introduced into art, as a form of self-expression and how its improving lives in Southwest Detroit.

We also spoke with Christine Geoghegan the manager of Generation of Promise. For 16 years, this group has provided a year long experience for high school juniors from all different parts of Metro Detroit. Their focus is promoting diversity awareness and leadership skills. We met Daniel Cook who is now the co-Valedictorian of University of Detroit Jesuit High School. He was part of the Generation of Promise program. You won’t want to miss his interview. I was amazed by him! Daniel is only 17-year-old, but he is mature beyond his years. He talks about his experience with Generation of Promise and how it’s shaped his future.

On 8 Mile by Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

On 8 Mile

People drive by in their sedans and minivans,

segregated and separated,

listening to the symphony of disruption that they consider to be their lives,

inescapably tethered to it by their blue tooth headsets.

They zoom by curbside cemetaries without blinking.

They look over into the cars next to them and see their own reflection,

So they see no one

0n 8 Mile

Teenagers walk home from school.

Laughing and talking without a care in the world.

The world knows that the odds are against them,

Their brown skin housing a history that has only begun to be revealed to them

Like a memory that they’ve always known and felt, but have somehow forgotten.

On 8 Mile

People beaten blue-black bask at bus stops, sometimes striding in Blues rhythm,

hiding hope in their pockets because like Gil Scott it’s been Winter in America since they dismounted the slave ships,

So the hope they hide is the flame that keeps them warm in this blizzard even when they forget it’s there.

On 8 Mile

Some of the people holding cardboard signs may be on some of your favorite Motown songs.

On 8 Mile

There are spots of coney islands and liquor stores, like spots on a dalmation.

On 8 Mile

Corey took me to the  end of the earth, where 8 mile ended, past the street lights where in endless black I watched where lake saint Claire coughed up the moon

On 8 Mile

Dream cruisers sit in lawn chairs watching vitinage camaro’s fly by like they’re equipped with wings.

They see a lone Delorean on the street and wonder if John has returned with Michael J Fox in passenger seat, in the back seat Christopher Lloyd over-exaggerating in a lab coat

On 8 Mile

While in the seventh grade my heart was racing as I took Adrien into the alley behind her back yard,

I asked her to close her eyes… when she did, I sheepishly planted a kiss on her cheek and experienced heaven at the age of eleven

On 8 Mile

Right now someone is standing at an overpass on 75

watching cars frantically weave in and out of traffic,

rushing because of being trapped in their reality of life being drastic.

They take a deep breath and remember Black Bottom.

 On 8 Mile

My grandfather hopped a trolley down Woodward to Northern High school where my grandmother cruised past her classmate Smokey Robinson to him, to take his hand, to create a family, this future

On 8 Mile

In the 1950s my late uncle Clyde ventured into pool halls that he was too young to enter

and listened to stories from men who took to the streets to survive,

doing whatever they could to stay afloat

because sinking does more than make you sea sick,

they saw themselves holding up future generations of their families like Atlas,

above the flood, it’s only a natural disaster in the ghetto

On 8 Mile

Inside Baker’s Lounge fingertips dance over ebony and ivory keys while a voice is crying out.

We call it entertainment,

when we vicariously sit and witness

the victory of the spirit over the limitations of our own humanity

 On 8 Mile

There’s a wall that still stands today

that used to separate whites from blacks.

My own eyes have washed over it.

Since  before 1967 we’ve  erected this wall in our minds

cemented on the bedrock of our fears…

the future that we’re living into imprisoned for years,

a wall more fierce than berlin because you continue to carry it,

Suburban families refuse to return because of the fear of theft and violence, and

Urban people don’t venture past the township for fear of sirens, and bruises from the badge and baton

On 8 Mile

On a Saturday afternoon, men, women, and children gather in representation of a movement that breaks the stereotypes of fear, apathy, violence, and neglect.

They are breaking bread and breaking the cycle,

shaking hands and dancing and reuniting.

Because the past is not “just the way it is”

Because history is not our story

Because we have built pyramids and the model T

So we make a declaration right now to build our future here together

Because shifting the collective mindset of an entire region is a monumental task worthy of the people next to you right now.

Because we realize there’s truly nothing that separates us…

no black, no white, no republicans, no democrats, and no independents

And Because

it has been much too long

I guess we should build a bridge…

On 8 Mile.

Steve Johnson is an educator and entrepreneur born and raised in Detroit. He has been a published poet since his late teens and has experience in video/film production. During his college years at Wayne State University, he coupled his passion for the arts with his devotion  for helping people and began a journey in entrepreneurship. He currently has a company that promotes Urban Ballroom dancing on an international scale and is building others. 

Association for Youth Empowerment Helps Sponsor Hamtramck Community Challenge Day Hamtramck Students, Parents and School Officials Challenge Each Other to “Be the Change”

Association for Youth Empowerment Helps Sponsor Hamtramck Community Challenge Day  Hamtramck Students, Parents and School Officials Challenge Each Other to “Be the Change”

HAMTRAMCK (February 5, 2007) – A diverse group of more than 90 Hamtramck-area students, parents and volunteers participated in the city’s first Community Challenge Day event.

The day-long workshop was held Saturday, Jan. 27 at the Hamtramck Community Center. Mostly 7th through 9th graders participated in the event, sponsored by the Hamtramck Recreation Commission, Thomas Mall of Trendwell Energy Corp., the Association for Youth Empowerment, ACC and Acts 29 Fellowship.

Challenge Day is a nonprofit organization that offers life-altering, experiential workshops that provide participants with tools to work collaboratively to develop and sustain proactive solutions that prevent social oppression and its symptoms such as suicide, teasing/bullying, violence and drug abuse.

Through a series of games, activities, group discussions, icebreakers and trust-building exercises, participants learn how to break down the walls of separation and create new levels of respect and communication within themselves to share with their peers and families.

Representatives from the City and Board of Education volunteered and participated in the event. “It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said School Board President Titus Walters, who was instrumental in generating support for the event. “We’re trying to bring it to the middle and high schools next year.”

Each student who pre-registered for the event was entered into a drawing. Six grand-prize winners were selected for items donated by local merchants, including Amicci’s Pizza, Main Street, Little Caesars, Video 22, Polish Village and Kumon Math and Reading Centers. In addition, Arlington Heights, Ill.-based Rhino Wear Apparel provided t-shirts for all attendees.

The Challenge Day program was highlighted on the Oprah Show last fall. Students and adult volunteers from Monroe High School were featured in an hour-long segment entitled “Oprah’s High School Challenge.”

To learn more about the program visit www.challengeday.org or call the Association for Youth Empowerment at 313-427-9529 for information about scheduling an event locally.