“I knew I wanted to be doing racial justice work, and as a white Jewish woman in Baltimore, I wasn’t sure what role I would be able to find where I wasn’t like being a white savior and like going into communities of color and trying to solve their problems.”
Molly Amster founded the Baltimore branch of Jews United for Justice in 2014, after seven years at CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. She explains what motivated her to make the change: “I knew I wanted to be doing racial justice work, and as a white Jewish woman in Baltimore, I wasn’t sure what role I would be able to find where I wasn’t being a white savior and going into communities of color and trying to solve their problems.” Jews United for Justice gave her the opportunity to do the racial justice work she longed to do in her community.
Over time, her journey as a leader at JUFJ has grown with the job, first as the sole visionary and employee, and over time, as the supervisor of two other organizers who now do most of the field work while Molly engages with other coalition leaders and undertakes lobbying work. “I’m still getting used to being…the most senior…most knowledgeable…person in a coalition space…it’s hard and it’s a lot of new learning…and it’s kind of scary.” She cites, “striking the balance between how much we’re agitating and how much we’re maintaining relationships in order to push for the change we want” as one of the most significant challenges she faces in her work, always seeking to find a balance.
When asked about the leadership strengths she brings to the table in order to manage this challenge, Molly shares, “I’m very honest…I value authenticity more than most things…from other people and for myself…and I feel physically uncomfortable being untruthful.” Early in her career, this “authenticity” was sometimes seen as “radical transparency” and was a liability. She has learned how to use her strength of honesty coupled with authenticity with “more control” and as a bridge to build relationships.
Lessons learned through her experience as a leader also have become life lessons. “I really did have to learn how to moderate…and just not taking things personally.” Having a career that, by definition, is focused on bringing about change begs the question: “How do you find a balance between your work life and other aspects of your life?” Admitting that she doesn’t do it well, she credits her observance of Shabbat for bringing a 25-hour break in her life each week, hours filled with a lot of reading. “I strive to observe the Sabbath and to honor the work of the labor movement.” Other activities she enjoys are spending time with friends and family, spending time outside “in nature (learned after living in London for a year),” going for a walk without her phone, and watching TV. “I really love having a campfire and sitting by a fire and talking to people. I just ordered a fire pit for my backyard. So I’m very excited.”
Her activism both keeps her awake at night and motivates her to wake up every morning. “You know, if we don’t do anything about it, it’s only gonna get worse.” She is driven by her work and making a difference. “I don’t know how I would have functioned, honestly, in a job that wasn’t doing this work all day, every day for the last six years, because the last six years have been really hard. And it’s really the thing that has helped me to cope, because…I’m worried and upset. And I can just put that into trying to make it better.” This passion and drive for racial justice is what makes Molly a force to be reckoned with and a beacon of light on our community’s pathway toward its achievement.