JCRC to sing praises of seven unsung heroes

The mural was intended to memorialize Malcolm X. But the student artists creating it slipped in images of bloody dollar signs superimposed over a Star of David.

Such anti-Semitism would not stand, and San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan had the mural sandblasted.

That was back in 1994. Corrigan, who is not Jewish, took plenty of heat for his principled stand then, and he did so again and again, constantly sticking up for tolerance on his campus.

Now the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council will publicly thank Corrigan and other community activists at an Oct. 28 fundraiser at the JCC of San Francisco. It’s the second such fundraiser in JCRC history.

In addition to Corrigan, other recipients of the Courageous Leadership Award include the Rev. Douglas Huneke of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon and the Rev. Dr. Archer Summers of First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto. Both clergymen have long histories of working closely with the Jewish community on interfaith and social justice issues.

Natalie Berg earned the Rita Semel Jewish Civic Leadership Award.

Tom Lantos Memorial Humanitarian awards are going to three Jewish activists working to halt the genocide in Darfur: Gayle Donsky, Martina Knee and Gerri Miller.

“This time we honor unsung heroes of our community,” says Abby Michelson Porth, the JCRC’s associate director. “The JCRC’s work is to create positive change in the community and foster interethnic cooperation and understanding. All of these leaders have championed Jewish causes, Israel and strong interfaith relations.”

Miller was astonished to hear she had won. Like the JCRC, she prefers to keep a low personal profile while raising the alarm about the ongoing slaughter in Africa.

“You see the suffering, you’re called upon to help,” says the Tiburon resident. “It’s genocide. When I as a Jew hear the word, and see what’s going on, I give license to it if I don’t do something.”

What Miller did was start a North Bay Darfur activist organization in 2005 called Dear Sudan, Love Marin.

Porth says the JCRC has long worked closely with the Bay Area Darfur Coalition, which is composed of 26 member organizations. She cites the three honorees as having made a particularly strong impact.

“Gayle Donsky is producing a documentary film on genocide, which was invited to be exhibited at an international conference on genocide,” she notes of Miller’s co-honoree. “Martina [Knee] is president of the Darfur Coalition, and helped to resettle a large Darfuri family here.”

Porth also has nothing but praise for Corrigan, who has dealt with his fare share of controversies at SFSU. Twelve years after the Malcolm X contretemps, Palestinian American students at SFSU designed a mural commemorating the late Palestinian writer Edward Said. It, too, featured images highly offensive to Jews. Corrigan demanded the students remove them.

“We spent more than a year discussing how you could in fact put up a mural celebrating one culture without denigrating another,” Corrigan recalls. When the new mural was unveiled, he adds, a large number of Jewish community members were present. “They saw this as a victory for tolerance and compromise.”

“His message was unequivocal and extremely strong,” Porth adds. “Under his leadership, the university developed a flourishing Jewish studies department, an appropriate educational reaction to this kind of activism.”

From one to the next, the JCRC honorees share a spirit of courage and social responsibility.

“I believe we don’t have a choice,” says Miller, speaking for all of them. “Just because it’s difficult, we cannot turn our backs. We are making a difference.”

The JCRC Gala and Auction takes place 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St., S.F. Tickets: $100 per person. Online auction runs until Oct. 27. Visit www.jcrc.org. Additional information: (415) 298-1089 or rbernstein@jcrc.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.