Ari Ballaban — In Conversation
JCRC Launches Innovative Leaders in Light Institute to Combat Extremism
“The hate in our country has never been more on display,” said Shakila Ahmad, who is past president of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. “You saw the hate on full display in Charlottesville. You saw the burning of mosques over the last several years, the attacks on synagogues. We all see the systemic racism and bias against our Black brothers and sisters. All of these events compel us to learn about, and overcome, the root causes of hatred.”
Ahmad is an Executive Committee member of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC) new institute called Leaders in Light: An Alliance to Combat Extremism and Strengthen Inclusive Democracy.
“American Jews have witnessed a dramatic and dangerous rise in antisemitism over the past several years. If we don’t develop new strategies to address it, we all stand a lot to lose—as Jews, as Cincinnatians, and as Americans,” said Gloria Lipson, who sits on the Leaders in Light Executive Committee. “That’s because rising antisemitism, the increase in extremism, and the erosion of democratic and civil norms go hand-in-hand. The problem is a universal one and so, too, is the solution. So we have to work across differences to develop a shared approach. This is urgent work.”
The initiative is designed to develop a network of informed and skilled stewards of democratic engagement; leaders who are equipped with the contemporary understanding and modern tools designed to help them steer their respective organizations and networks, as well as our collective community, through these volatile, divisive, and polarized times.
“Now is a perfect time for us to stop and think, and stop and act, in new ways to come together,” said Brendon J. Cull, Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and Leaders in Light Executive Committee Member. “Leaders in Light is a group of people who are working to create a program where individuals and leaders in our community can learn and become more educated about how to identify and combat issues related to extremism and antisemitism.”
Nominations are being accepted now for the first cohort, which will begin in the fall. Leaders in Light is designed to help participants explore the unique challenges and opportunities each of our communities face, and come together in education and action to build towards a stronger inclusive democracy. Each leader will leverage their extended networks to multiply influence and maximize impact, working together to create systemic change and empower positive outcomes.
“There is power in solidarity and alignment,” said Eric Ward, Executive Director of Western States Center, nationally-recognized expert on combatting hate violence, and Leaders in Light Executive Committee Member. “There’s also power in having difficult conversations together and in being uncomfortable. By being uncomfortable, we’re more likely to open up the space that builds and enlarges our community. By being uncomfortable, we become brave, and we need that bravery in this moment.”
Leaders in Light has two components, the first being a series of monthly seminars over nine months. Upon completing the seminars, the second component will feature practical application of the seminar content. Participants will leverage their learnings to enhance their work, raise awareness and inspire action in their respective communities, and catalyze change.
“This is an amazing opportunity to really dig into some topics that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn about, and to better understand the conditions that erode inclusive democracy, like the rise of conspiracy theory and the disintegration of a central, trusted news source,” said Sherri Goren Slovin. She directed workshops for the Beyond Civility trainings and will co-facilitate the institute seminars with Kevin Aldridge, Opinion Editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“The Leaders in Light program will not only raise our awareness and teach us how to be more thoughtful about how these things impact people who are different from us,” Aldridge said, “but to talk about them civilly, and how to come up with new strategies and new ways to combat them—and teach us how to be better allies to one another.”
Leaders in Light is presented by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s JCRC, in partnership with The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center. Its Executive Committee is composed of a diverse group of thought leaders from the Cincinnati civic, business, and interfaith spaces; it is charged with high-level oversight of the institute, including playing a key role in mapping out the vision and identifying program goals and key outcomes.
In April 2019, the JCRC hosted a summit on combating antisemitism and hate, where 153 organizations were represented. “Overwhelmingly positive feedback from a wide spectrum of diverse and influential attendees clearly showed our community’s leaders wanted deeper and more transformative opportunities to address extremism and strengthen civic engagement. It was clear that there was a knowledge gap about the role antisemitism plays in informing extremism and eroding our democracy,” said Jackie Congedo, JCRC Director. “Additionally, we learned where to focus next: invest in influencers and integrate education with action projects that exponentially multiply impact. Leaders in Light was born.”
While the benefit to broader society is clear, participants of the Leaders in Light cohort will personally benefit as well. They will develop the essential skills and knowledge to help lead their organizations in polarized times against extremism and hate; they will also gain a deep understanding of what is driving the most fundamental disconnects in our society today, including the erosion of truth and trust, the threat of conspiracy theory, and the rise of fear and scarcity. Over the course of the institute, these leaders will develop relationships that will position them at the center of the emerging movement to strengthen Cincinnati’s civil society, and benefit from mentorship to help them drive change in their communities.
“The first cohort are actually walking a historic trail, one that was built by civil rights leadership nationally,” Ward said. “You are gathering at a time when people are looking for an anchor in that society. You are that anchor. You have a place to walk in this modern history of civil rights. Leaders in Light will make that walk possible.”
Visit the Leaders in Light website to nominate a leader today.
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This looks like a wonderful program! I enjoyed reading your blog post Jackie!