With the polished phrasing and timing of a seasoned politician or megachurch preacher, Wes Moore commended The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore for its work over the past century at the organization’s annual meeting on June 19.
“On behalf of the city of Baltimore, Israel and the Diaspora, todah rabah,” said the best-selling author and social entrepreneur to approximately 400 Associated supporters seated in Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Sagner Auditorium, using the Hebrew phrase for thank you. “Your work is not only meaningful but life-altering.”
Referencing Mr. Rogers’ famous adage to always “look for the helpers,” Moore said, “For 100 years, you have been the helpers to those who are hurt, scared, hungry, who’ve lost everything. And that’s why this organization matters. We have to show people wherever they are that the helpers will be there for them. You are fighting for someone — even if you never know their name or see their face — when they feel most alone or in pain.”
While preparing for his keynote address, Moore said he researched the Jewish federation system in North America and found that The Associated was at the top of the heap in terms of fund-raising.
“When I first looked at those numbers, I called my friends Rachel Monroe [president and CEO of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation] and Darrell Friedman [former president of The Associated] and said, ‘Are these numbers for real?’” he said. “They said, ‘Yeah, they’re for real.’
“That didn’t happen by accident,” Moore said. “That took place because of will, forethought and determination.”
Prior to Moore’s talk, Associated President Marc B. Terrill announced that the federation raised a record-breaking $33 million for its 2018-2019 annual campaign, to thunderous applause. He also said The Associated — which will celebrate its centennial next year — raised in excess of $58 million in general over the past fiscal year.
But with escalating expenses – including security costs in the wake of such recent anti-Semitic incidents as the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif. — Terrill called on the federation’s leadership and rank-and-file not to grow complacent.
“People of goodwill need to lock arms and work together,” Terrill said. “May this community, city, region, Israel, go from strength to strength.”
In his talk, Moore, author of the best-sellers “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” (Spiegel & Grau) and “The Work: Searching for a Life that Matters” (Spiegel & Grau), spoke about the challenges he faced as youngster.
A Baltimore native, Moore was 4 when his father died suddenly and his family moved to New York to live with his grandparents.
While in elementary school, Moore struggled academically and became involved in petty crime. “I was 11 when I felt for the first time the feeling of handcuffs on my wrists,” he said.
Moore’s mother decided to send him to Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania. He said he initially attempted to run away from the boarding school on multiple occasions.
“But what happened to me was that I found myself surrounded by people – teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, friends, clergy and mentors – who helped me see that the world was bigger than what was just in front of me, and taught me essentially what it means to be free,” he said.
Moore, 40, compared his epiphany to the federation’s mission. “The work of The Associated comes down to one word – freedom,” he said. “The freedom to be able to move around and be free of fear, persecution and insecurity, to know wherever you go, you are protected by the shield of God’s love and you should feel at home, because you are.”
Eight years ago, Moore said that he was cross-examined by friends when he and his wife, Dawn Flythe Moore, decided to move back to Baltimore from New York.
“My friends were, like, why? Is your mom OK?” he recalled with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Yeah, she’s OK.’ My answer was, ‘This is my home, my community.’”
Despite all of the city’s complex socio-economic challenges, Moore — who is CEO of the New York-based Robin Hood Foundation, which combats problems related to poverty — spoke optimistically about Baltimore’s future.
“Our city’s story is being written as we speak,” he said. “Each of us has our hands on the pen, and we are the authors of the next chapter of Baltimore. This organization has known this for a long time and you’ve made it your responsibility.”
Moore noted that his family today lives in Guilford, a neighborhood once considered strictly off-limits to African-Americans and Jews. When moving there, he said, “I felt like a 12-year-old kid again whose mom said, ‘Don’t go there, you won’t be welcomed.’ But we live there now, and I feel pretty welcomed.”
Moore called on audience members to never forget the injustices and atrocities of the past, but also to remember and honor the sacrifices of those who strove for fairness and equality.
“Progress doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “It happened because of will and push, because we made it happen and we’re aggressive about it and don’t believe in a plan B.”
With hate crimes, discrimination and white supremacy on the rise, Moore said African-Americans and Jews must draw from their legacy of cooperation during the civil rights movement and continue working together on social justice matters.
“This is an important time and we need to do it together,” he said. “Some battles are stubborn. Sometimes, they come back bigger than ever. You can say, ‘This is too hard, too difficult’ or ‘I can’t believe we’re still fighting these battles.’ But many of those things that happen in the black and Jewish communities look very much the same because at the core, they come down to one word – hate.
“We can sulk or we can make those faces out there look at us and say, ‘They’re still there and they’re not going away.’ We can love them away. Love can conquer.”
At the conclusion of his talk, Moore asked audience members to hold hands while he recited a blessing for them, their friends and family, Baltimore, Israel and the world.
“For 100 years, you have been the helpers, he said. “I thank you for what you do for the city, my city.”