One America - Operation Understanding DC

Program: Operation Understanding DC, Washington, DC
Contact(s): Karen Kalish, Founder and Executive Director, Christian Dorsey, Program Director: (202) 234-6832
Purpose: To rebuild the Black-Jewish alliance and train youth to actively fight racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination

Background Program Operations Outcomes


In the mid-1980s, former Rep. William Gray (D-PA) helped found Operation Understanding, a nonprofit educational organization that works with African American and Jewish youth to rebuild the historic alliance between them. Sharing this vision, Karen Kalish, a resident of Washington, D.C., decided to create a similar organization in the nation's capital. Kalish broadened the original intent of Operation Understanding into a year-long program that has the following mission and intent: Operation Understanding DC is a nonprofit organization that develops leadership, dispels stereotypes and promotes mutual respect, understanding, cooperation and dialogue between African American and Jewish youth. The program allows participants to develop their personal strengths, enhance their leadership abilities and build a positive coalition based on common bonds.

Program Operations

Operation Understanding DC has several purposes: 1.) to recreate the historic civil rights relationship between African Americans and Jews by creating an environment where future leaders of both groups know what it is like to have a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation, 2.) to educate a group of motivated youth on the tremendous impacts, contributions and resiliency of African Americans and Jews, 3.) to train future leaders by exposing them to the wisdom and motivation of civil rights leaders and 4.) to train students to achieve positive change in communities by providing them with instructional training so they can facilitate workshops on prejudice reduction and diversity issues. To accomplish these goals, Operation Understanding DC's program year is divided into three sections: educational seminars and retreats that occur twice a month, study/travel and speeches and diversity workshops led by students. In the seminars and retreats, students learn about issues and events relevant to understanding African American-Jewish relations. The study/travel involves a month-long trip within the United States to places of importance for both African Americans and Jews. Students meet with civil rights leaders, explore museums and perform community-service projects. The third element--speeches and diversity workshops--allows students to deliver speeches and conduct diversity workshops in organizations in the Washington metropolitan area.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

The work of the students and the program has become well known in the local community, and has had an impact on individuals and organizations nationally. In program evaluations dating back to 1995, Operation Understanding students have cited growth in the areas of racial tolerance, appreciation of different cultures, knowledge of their own cultures and the development and cultivation of leadership skills. Parents of Operation Understanding DC participants have met regularly throughout the year. In essence, the students are serving as role models for their parents. Operation Understanding DC also works with area clergy. Interested clergy, including rabbis, ministers and imams, regularly participate in discussions on issues like the 1995 Million Man March and welfare reform. They have also formed partnerships with one another so their congregations may have cross-religious experiences. Operation Understanding DC is now recruiting students for a fourth class. Roughly 55 students have completed the program, and countless others have been affected by their leadership. Alumni are engaged in a process to continue their development as they enter colleges and universities nationwide.

-More South-Page 4

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