NCCJ honors five community leaders


Local attorney Harvey G. Schneider, current president of the Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, and a past president of Congregation Shaare Emeth, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Central Agency for Jewish Education, was among five community leaders who were honored last week at the 63rd Annual Brotherhood Sisterhood Awards banquet of the St. Louis Region of the National Conference for Community and Justice (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews). Over 390 people attended the event at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis.

“Harvey Schneider is well-loved by those he knows,” said emcee Christine Buck. “His leadership in the Jewish community, the interfaith community and the NCCJ of St. Louis is respected and cherished. We salute Harvey for his commitment, support, and energy toward interfaith dialogue and the mission of the NCCJ.”

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Sherry Delo, chair of the NCCJ Board, and Otis Cowan of Ameren Community Relations and event chair offered words of welcome to the large number of attendees in an auditorium at the America’s Center, where the awards were presented prior to the banquet. Christine Buck served as emcee for the program.

In addition to Schneider, the other four honorees were: Joe Edwards, entrepreneur, honored for his work in developing the Delmar Loop Area in University City into one of the nation’s most vibrant neighborhoods; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic multiple medalist, who was honored for her personal courage and for her contributions to disadvantaged youth in her home town of East St. Louis, Ill.; Jeanette Mott Oxford, Missouri state representative and advocate for greater visibility of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and Martin J. Rafanan, immediate past executive director of the NCCJ, for his “work to bring together people of all backgrounds for the purpose of building a more inclusive and just community.”

Denise DeCou, recently appointed executive director of the NCCJ, extended warm greetings to the attendees and introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. James Kimmey, president of the Missouri Foundation for Health, who outlined the health care crisis among the poor and underserved in Missouri, and the complex number of steps that need to be taken to address the situation.

Dr. Kimmey began his remarks by asking the audience to stand, and asking different groups to sit down based on race or gender. “There is a 13-year gap between the average American life span and the average life span of an African-American male,” Dr. Kimmey said. “This is just one illustration of the results that people of various backgrounds do not receive adequate health care.”

Dr. Kimmey pointed to surveys of minority populations of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in which it was found that many patients do not return to health care providers if they feel disrespected. “We thought perhaps the doctors were not being sufficiently respectful, but we found that in many instances it was the receptionist who was perceived to be disrespectful. A much too short amount of time is spent in training our doctors and health care support staff in how to make their patients feel welcome and respected. When patients do not come back, they do not receive the health care they need.”

Kimmey stressed that the gaps in health care in America are not a result of a lack of adequate resources. “The United States has the economic resources and the advances in all areas of medicine are great. We can take care of those who need health services. There are two persistent myths on this subject relating to gaps in health care. One myth is based on alleged biological differences among the races. Research on the human genome has proved that we all share 99.9% of our genetic, DNA makeup. The second myth places emphasis on income disparities. It is certainly true that a lack of parks and recreation spaces, inadequate housing and overt discrimination can contribute to serious health issues, including obesity, asthma and diabetes, among others. But the fact that such a high percentage of African-American and other minorities feel they are treated with disrespect is certainly a major factor that is often overlooked or ignored.”

Kimmey said “we have plenty of people we can blame for the problems in health care in America: insurance companies, health care providers, legislators, presidents, etc. But the real ‘villains’ are all of us who lack the will to say that this situation is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that we have 47 million people, including 9 million children in this country who are uninsured. This organization and its supporters, who are concerned with community and justice, must help develop a concrete platform with the goal of not just reducing these problems and gaps in health care, but in eliminating them. The U.S. has the economic resources and the technical expertise to solve these problems, which were enumerated as long ago as 1932 in a government report. The time has long passed, and we can not afford to delay action to deal with this growing crisis.”

At the banquet, words of greetings and congratulations to the honorees were offered by Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

The NCCJ was founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, fostering the advancement of amity, peace and justice among people of all faiths. The St. Louis affiliate began operations in 1930. In September 2005, the National Conference for Community and Justice was formed as a successor to the operations of NCCJ in St. Louis, working to fight bias, bigotry and racism in our community. The NCCJ sponsors the Anytown Youth Leadership Institute, an eight-day residential program that prepares youths to be effective leaders and agents of change, dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and oppression.

For more information about NCCJ, call 314-865-3042, or visit the Web site at