Reflection on Cultural Leadership: Emma Ehll

Emma Ehll is a junior at Clayton High School and a member of Cultural Leadership’s Class 8.

By Emma Ehll

Tikkun olam, fighting for equality and performing acts of loving kindness, are principles that we Jews strive to live by. These are also core values of Cultural Leadership, a year-long program primarily for Jewish and African-American students that teaches us to be social activists who strive to make the world a better place. I’m privileged to be a member of Cultural Leadership Class 8. 

During my time in Cultural Leadership, I have learned and experienced so much. From weekend retreats, to a three-week “transformational journey” this summer, I have met people and visited places I never would have otherwise. The time I have spent with my Cultural Leadership classmates has been just as educational as the time I spent speaking to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) while on our transformational journey. 

When I entered Cultural Leadership last January, I was really struggling with my Jewish identity. I didn’t know if I wanted to be Jewish my whole life; I didn’t know what Judaism meant to me. Most important, I didn’t know how to move forward as a learner and teacher of the culture. Our first retreat brought on many deep conversations and made me appreciate the bond I shared with other Jewish Cultural Leadership participants.

As we discussed the stereotypes and hardships we have faced as a people, I knew that the connection I had with my Cultural Leadership classmates and so many others was based around my religion. Later on, the group of non-Jewish and non-African Americans lamented that they felt they didn’t have much of a culture and didn’t have a group to whom they felt connected. I guess I never fully recognized as a Jew, I am lucky to be part of such a tight-knit group of people. I realized how much of my life is about Judaism. After that retreat, I spent the car ride home telling my mom how I now knew that I wanted to remain Jewish and be confirmed in religious school that spring. 

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The lesson I learned that weekend will last me longer than this year; it will last me the rest of my life.

Being part of a minority, I understand the automatic connection one can have with those who share a race or culture. My time in Cultural Leadership also has taught me about the special bonds that African-Americans share. From slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, they have had the ability to come together and make change. As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on our journey, I envisioned the struggle that many endured on Bloody Sunday and felt both thankful and proud—thankful for their hard work and proud to continue it. Even though African- Americans have been mistreated for hundreds of years, that has never stopped them from sacrificing their comfort to overcome their situations. I am inspired by this lesson, one that we must strive to emulate today.

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of Class 8 of Cultural Leadership and cannot wait to get out in the real world and practice all the skills I have acquired. I will stand up and speak out when I see racism or oppression. Before entering Cultural Leadership, I didn’t know how to find allies and make change. But now, I don’t know how not to. Cultural Leadership has changed my life—not just for this year or for the next 10 years, but until the day I can no longer march, speak, or even stand.