On Tuesday, September 16, Ernest Adams, a successful author and psychologist, visited Colgate University as part of Colgate’s first annual Diversity Week, themed “Race and Culture in the 21st Century.” Dr. Adams, who has a PhD in psychology from Columbia University and a law degree from New York University, spoke to Colgate students and faculty about his experiences and his own personal challenges of living in the culturally diverse United States. He discussed his African American upbringing in a Harlem basement apartment to his conversion to Judaism and marriage to a white Jewish woman.
As far as the theme of diversity is concerned, “I live it,” Adams said.
The lecture began with a brief background of Adams’ life. Growing up in an era where the remnants of the Civil War had transformed into what he coined the “uncivil rights movement,” Adams spoke candidly of his childhood memories of undeserved racism. Moving into his teenage years he took comfort in black power ideals and an anti-white sentiment.
But almost as soon as these ideals had blossomed, Adams was introduced to the most unlikely of characters. Meyer Goldstein, who Adams met in college, soon became his closest friend. Goldstein, along with his father Rabbi Baruch Goldstein, welcomed Adams into their family. The Goldsteins also introduced him to Judaism through invitations to Shabbat dinner and the synagogue. Although his experiences forced him to relentlessly wrestle with the concept of conversion, he did not officially make the conversion to Judaism until twenty years later. Adams internally struggled to ask himself, “How can I be a Jew? I didn’t look like a Jew.” But it was Adams’ final conversion and encouragement from friends that sparked the writing and publication of his book From Ghetto to Ghetto: An African American Journey to Judaism that led to his vast success.
Perhaps more important than his story are the lessons of diversity that Adams learned and shared with the Colgate community during his lecture. Adams’ time with the Goldsteins taught him the “keys to developing cultural relationships especially in polarized societies.”
While the Goldstein family shared with Adams the tragedy of their experiences in the Holocaust and the struggle of building a new life in America, Adams offered his childhood recollections of American racism. In this way they created a “notion of intimacy and genuine trust” that overtook most of Adams’ anti-white impressions. He maintains that open-mindedness is “a lot of work” but to “keep at yourself.”
Through this kickoff lecture and the many other campus activities that will continue throughout Diversity Week, Colgate students have stamped out a mission to appreciate diversity.
“Having events that target multiple groups and get them to work together is a vital part of celebrating diversity. It shows us that we really aren’t that different from each other and really can relate to one another,” senior Jewish Studies student Annie Ben-Ami said.
Diversity Week will run from September 15 to 19.