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Kol Ami’s Rabbi Alpert to receive civil rights award from NAACP’s KC branch

Rabbi Doug Alpert

Rabbi Doug Alpert of Congregation Kol Ami will receive the Harold Holliday, Sr. Civil Rights Award from The Kansas City Missouri Branch of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

Kansas City’s NAACP branch will present the annual award to Rabbi Alpert at its 50th-anniversary dinner Oct. 14 at The Westin Crown Center at Kansas City.

Rabbi Alpert learned about social justice from his parents, and from growing up with Rabbi Morris Margolies at Congregation Beth Shalom.

“I don’t know whether it’s become more important to me as a rabbi, but being a rabbi gives me a greater opportunity to do the work,” he said. “It puts me in spaces with other people, other clergy who are doing the work. As clergy, you’re seen as a voice in the community … and that creates opportunities.” 

The Rev. Dr. Rodney E. Williams, president of the NAACP’s Kansas City branch and pastor of Swope Parkway United Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, has known and worked with Rabbi Alpert for several years. One of the reasons Rabbi Alpert will receive the award is that he “has been tirelessly working on issues along racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds,” Rev. Williams said.

“He is a person who, I believe, believes in fair play and justice for all people,” Rev. Williams said. “We’ve done a lot of work together. All he does is grounded in his faith tradition. He’s my rabbi. The reason I’m biased is because we’ve been working together for the past several years and we’ve developed a magnificent friendship. My life truly has been made better by my relationship with Rabbi Doug Alpert.” 

Some of Rabbi Alpert’s most important work, Rev. Williams said, is with Stand Up KC, a movement advocating a $15 an hour minimum wage for fast food and retail workers.

“I was arrested in November 2016 at Meyer and Troost for civil disobedience (regarding the minimum wage),” Rabbi Alpert said. “We sat down in the middle of the intersection and waited to be arrested.”

Rabbi Alpert is “all about helping other people,” Rev. Williams said. 

“I think his work intersects very well with the African-American community because it benefits our community,” he said.

Rabbi Alpert said that his father, the late Donald Alpert, did a lot of work in the black community and “was certainly a role model for me.”

Rev. Williams recounted a recent conversation he had with Rabbi Alpert about “leadership and space.”

“One of the things he said was that, as a white person and a Jewish person, he has privilege,” Rev. Williams said. “And he said he needed to make space for those who don’t have that privilege, who wouldn’t ordinarily have an opportunity to have that voice.” 

Rabbi Alpert said that the NAACP’s Kansas City branch didn’t tell him what the criteria were for choosing him for the award but that most of the causes he works on “are things they have some concern about.”

“A lot of the work I do, Dr. Rodney Williams does, as well,” he said. 

That includes working together with the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, Missouri Faith Voices and the Missouri steering committee of a national poor people’s campaign, part of a national movement called Moral Mondays, which was started by The Rev. Dr. William Barber, past president of NAACP North Carolina.

Rabbi Alpert also is the faith co-chair for Missouri Jobs With Justice and president of Missouri Health Care For All.

“I stay busy,” he said. “I do a decent amount of work in the LGBTQ community. I’ve been a speaker at The Gay Pride Interfaith Service for a number of years. I spoke at the city’s vigil after the Pulse (nightclub) shootings in Orlando (in June 2016). I was also a speaker at the Women’s March in January.”

Rabbi Alpert also said he was proud that Congregation Kol Ami has a community garden in the Manheim Park Neighborhood at 43rd Street and Forest Avenue, on the East Side of Kansas City, Missouri. Kol Ami’s congregants volunteer to work in the garden, and the congregation holds services there “when the weather’s decent,” he said. 

“It puts our congregants with people in a neighborhood where they otherwise would not be,” he said. 

Receiving the Harold Holliday, Sr. Civil Rights Award is “incredibly meaningful to me,” Rabbi Alpert said.

“I’m certainly humbled by receiving the award,” he said. “It seems to honor relationships that are meaningful and joyous to me, and it seems a little funny to receive an award for having these relationships. But I’m very, very appreciative. I’m passionate about the causes, as well. They’re important. Justice is important to me. Ultimately, it starts on a one-on-one level. On all levels, it gives meaning to my work and to my life.” 

According to the Dictionary of Missouri Biography, Holliday (June 28, 1918-March 21, 1985) dedicated his entire career to advancing civil rights in Missouri. For 25 years, he was either a member of the executive committee or an officer, including president, of the NAACP’s Kansas City branch. 

Holliday was the first black person to receive a law degree from the University of Kansas City (which later became the University of Missouri-Kansas City) Law School. He was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1964, was later a magistrate judge in Kansas City and then was associate regional counsel in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, from which he retired in 1983.

Holliday was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and moved to Kansas City with his mother and sister in 1920.