As I listen to the television news and read in the newspapers about the changes taking place behind the Iron Curtain _ Russia, East Berlin and South Africa _ I was filled with happiness for the people and their future, for I knew firsthand of the oppression that existed there from past travels behind the Iron Curtain and seeing the people with their sadness and helplessness. Then the news said that anti-Semitism was on the increase in Russia and that Jews were afraid for their lives. Immediately, my happiness was replaced with deep concern for their future _ and the remembrance of my childhood in St. Petersburg where there was discrimination of Jews, blacks and anyone else who appeared to be different. There was an active anti-Semitic anti-black group in the area, and a sign at St. Petersburg Beach and all beaches that said "No Blacks or Jews Allowed." As a child, I did not understand what this prejudice was, or what those signs really meant, but as I grew older I realized how hurtful it was and how much discrimination existed at that time. I never remember, as a child, anyone ever standing up against that practice or action, it was an accepted practice.
It's 50 years later, and times have changed. Things are better in our area and throughout the nation. It's not, however, all over. Our consciousness must continue to be raised, and we must be ever watchful of any discrimination that may creep into our society. We cannot change the attitudes of the whole world, but we can make a difference in our own community and we can change our little corner of the world.
The National Council of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was formed for the sole purpose of improving human relations among groups and individuals.
As stated in the bylaws of the Tampa Bay Regional NCCJ: "We are an association of individuals, not officials commissioned by their religious bodies. We do not aim at any sort of amalgamation of religious bodies, or at modifying any of the distinctive beliefs of its members."
The mission is to promote good will, justice, understanding and cooperation among all people irrespective of religion, race, national origin or economic status and to eliminate intergroup prejudice with a view to establish a social order in which the ideas of brotherhood shall become the standard of human relationship. To accomplish this mission the NCCJ is sponsoring the Mayors' Brotherhood and Sisterhood luncheon this month, as part of the national Brotherhood/Sisterhood week.
I encourage all of us to seriously consider reflecting on our relationships with our fellow man, reflect on how we judge others and actively participate in any related event associated with National Brotherhood/Sisterhood week.
We can't take away the hurt experienced by those who have been discriminated against in the past; however, we can take part in such an event that will reinforce the belief that we will not tolerate or be part of further discrimination and that we will not accept the status quo. We will work for more acceptance and tolerance of all people. We will do it in our little corner of the world and set an example for our friends, family and associates.
The Brotherhood/Sisterhood luncheon is today at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Tampa City Center.
Ramona Updegraff is now in her second term as mayor of Redington Beach.