Charmed: Peacemaker and Fashionista Brenda Rosenberg celebrates her lifelong commitment to diversity and peace

THE STORY BEHIND THIS PHOTO: Brenda Rosenberg welcomes her friend Ariana Mentzel at a launch event for Brenda’s memoir Charmed at the Detroit Institute of Arts on May 5, 2022. The 800-plus-page book celebrates Brenda’s long career, including work with the DIA as well as her co-development of the program “Tectonic Leadership” that has trained young people to break down barriers of religion, race, culture and class. A decade ago, Ariana was one of the college students who participated in the first week-long “Tectonic” retreat with Brenda and her colleague Samia Moustapha Bahsoun. Today, Ariana is Managing Director of the Detroit Center for Civil Discourse and an American Jewish Committee board member in southeast Michigan. Ariana is just one of countless young people who carry on the legacy of Brenda’s two decades of creative approaches to peacemaking.

.

Launching a Fun Book with a Serious Three-Fold Mission

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Many stories and photos in Brenda’s book highlight her work with young people in the U.S. and around the world. Click on this photograph from page 479 to see it enlarged. The photo shows a group Jewish and Arab students who participated in Brenda’s Reuniting the Children of Abraham (RTCOA) training. (For more on RTCOA, look below in this story.)

After 20 years as a peace activist, trainer and consultant tackling some of the world’s toughest religious and cultural divides—author Brenda Rosenberg now is working on several new initiatives to empower at-risk young people to join the next generation of peacemakers. A key milestone in these efforts is the launch of a massive, two-volume, hard-back scrapbook celebrating what Brenda has accomplished so far in her life.

Charmed: The Memoirs of a Changemaker weighs in at more than 10 pounds and is packed with thousands of photographs from Brenda’s long career as a groundbreaking Fashionista, followed by her decades as a peacemaker.

Her aim is three-fold: This book is a colorful documentary of her globe-hopping life that she hopes will inspire readers to embrace rather than to fear our world; second, it’s an “idea book” showcasing her many projects, designed to inspire new allies for her future projects—and, third, it’s a fundraiser. Brenda underwrote all costs of the creation and printing of these books. Now, any copy of this $150 set that is sold through Brenda’s website, from the DIA’s online store—or through Amazon will result in a matching $150 contribution from Brenda to the DIA’s ongoing community education programs in southeast Michigan.

For years, Benda has been a strong supporter of such programs. Among them—in early 2020 just before the COVID pandemic hit—she sponsored a special educational day that brought Christian, Muslim and Jewish Girl Scouts to the DIA. Together, they experienced a multi-media educational program that showed the girls how much their faiths and cultures have contributed to our shared global culture.

To read about that special day, see our January 27, 2020, story headlined Girl Scouts, Detroit Institute of Arts and Brenda Rosenberg Are Reuniting the Children of Abraham. In fact, the main photograph at the top of that 2020 story—showing a huge circle of Girl Scouts from around the state of Michigan at the DIA—is the first full-page photograph in the new book, Charmed.

This isn’t the first time Brenda has published her best ideas. Many of her creative resources for peacemaking are explained in more detail in Brenda’s two earlier books. Look below for more information about those books. Both earlier books are are relatively short and are focused on the nuts-and-bolts of bringing together people who might consider themselves to be enemies.

“So, first of all, this new book is different—obviously! It’s huge! It’s intended to be fun!” Brenda said in an interview this week, after a launch event for her book at the DIA on May 5. “I want people to smile and laugh and have a good time looking at all these photographs and reading the stories. But there’s so much more to this book than just the fun of it. With every copy sold, I’m giving the entire $150 purchase price to the DIA. Then, finally having all these stories published lets me share the excitement with readers about what’s possible for us to do together. You know me—I’m always making new friends, finding new allies—and that’s so important, because there’s so much more we need to do out there.”

Breaking Barriers

Barrier breaking is a theme that runs through Brenda’s seven decades. Charmed tells that story through photos with short texts—from her start in smashing racial barriers during her career in fashion to a brand new 2022 plan to empower children attending low-income schools in Detroit through coaching them in winning chess strategies.

One truth that Brenda has proven repeatedly throughout her career is this: Popular culture—especially fashion—can be shaped to help bring people together.

“Fashion and design are a visual history of life and love through the ages. They’re the ultimate influencers,” she says. “I was a fashion groundbreaker. I was the first woman vice president of fashion merchandising for the J.L. Hudson Co. And, I hired the first Black fashion models in Detroit and possibly in America.”

Then, in 1968, Brenda explains, “Bill Blass was here for a fashion show at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Troy, Michigan, where he saw the beautiful Black model Billie Blair for the first time. As a result, she was invited to one of his shows in New York City. And then Billie went to Paris with Bill Blass and the other American designers in 1973 for the historic Battle of Versailles Fashion Show that pitted French designers against American designers. The Black models stole the show for the Americans!”

Or, as The New York Times described the influence of those pioneering Black American models in a retrospective story about the landmark fashion event: “Hard as it may be to credit in an age of inclusion, the Grand Divertissement à Versailles was very nearly the first time that anyone in Paris had seen an African-American woman on a catwalk. Back in those early days, said Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘an ethnic woman was someone who was southern European.’ ”

Brenda says, “And because I first had dared to put Black models in our shows in the 1960s, I had played my part in all of that unfolding.”

Winning Moves

That’s just one chapter from the past, celebrated in some of the photos and texts in Charmed. However, clearly a major weight of this book—maybe 5 of the book’s 10 pounds—is focused on current and even future tikkun olam projects. In English, that’s the Jewish call to repair the world.

Among Brenda’s new projects, which springs from the stories in the pages of Charmed, is a tribute to her late brother Sanford Cohen, who died in 2020.

A story about Sanford in The Jewish News explains: “For 30 years, Sanford was a civics teacher at Southeastern High School in Detroit’s most impoverished neighborhood. He created a chess club as an after-school activity to engage and empower the students to think in new ways. He took the chess team to the national competition for these students three times. Some 1,375 high school chess players from 200 high schools in 33 states participated. Southeastern High sophomore Martell Collins swept to a perfect 7-0 score in the tournaments and to a National Championship title.”

Now, in honor of her brother’s commitment to chess as a creative way to empower some of the most vulnerable children in Detroit, Brenda now is helping to support the next wave of young chess champions. This year, she is embarking on a five-year collaboration with Chevelle Brown, one of Detroit’s leading chess coaches, and the PAL (Police Athletic League) program in the city’s public schools.

“This is a big new commitment, but it’s such a wonderful way to remember my brother, and to make sure that his legacy of coaching these young champions will continue,” Brenda said.

“Anyone who looks through this new book will see how all of these stories really are related,” she said. “As Sanford and I were growing up, nearly every week, my parents took us to the DIA where we saw the beauty in differences—differences from all around the world. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to go to Africa and Asia to see the artwork in the places where these wonderful works were created. Eventually, I was able to travel so many places. Then, all of those travels made me want to keep spreading that message that we need to creatively explore our world together. It’s really all part of the same big, big—obviously very big—story.”

Yes, Brenda is well aware that not many readers will ante up $150 for this massive set of volumes. However, the sheer fact of this book’s existence now means that Brenda herself—and anyone who reads this book—have all of these inspiring stories documented in dazzling color photos and text that just might spark future waves of creative peacemaking.

“And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, since 9/11,” she said. “I want to be part of finding and preparing that next generation of peacemakers.”

.

Care to see Brenda tell her own story?

Here’s the book trailer for Charmed as designed and produced by Brenda. (If you prefer, you can go directly to YouTube to see this video.)

.

Care to learn more?

Brenda Rosenberg’s two earlier books share inspiring materials she has used with groups of high school students and adults to help bridge barriers of religion, culture and ethnicity.

Her foundational book, which stretches back to creative work Brenda developed with high school students in the wake of the 9/11/2001 attacks is Reuniting the Children of Abraham: The Sacred Story that Calls Jews, Christians and Muslims to Peace.

ABOUT THE BOOKReuniting the Children of Abraham is a powerful, multimedia peace initiative created with Jewish, Christian and Muslim families to combat the fear, bigotry and bullying that fuels violence. The multicultural project described in this book includes inspiring true stories and educational materials that flow from the ancient story of Abraham, a patriarch in all three faiths. Just as Abraham’s own children were reunited, this project is a model for calling these vast families of faith toward building peaceful new relationships. The project was the focus of a CBS network special documentary, which pointed out: “Abraham, of the Old Testament, was the founding patriarch of a new, monotheistic faith, which included Jews and later Christians and Muslims. One of his two sons is historically tied to the founding of Judaism, the other to the founding of Islam.”

Recommending this book are …

“This project is a powerful experience that gives hope to the idea of these three religions being able to find their common heritage as a reason for mutual religious respect and spiritual healing in the future.”
Producer John P. Blessington, CBS Entertainment

“In her resolve to reconnect the Children of Abraham, Brenda Naomi Rosenberg recognizes that tension has eroded our shared traditions deeply rooted in our Abrahamic ancestry. Yet by harnessing the the tension that once separated us, Brenda and I now share an unshakable bond, rooted not only in our commonalities but also in our differences.”
Samia Moustapha Bahsoun, co-author of Harnessing the Power of Tension

“We all want people to be able to experience religious diversity and not be afraid of the differences that seem so new to them, at first. Our Girl Scout Law is rooted in the commitment to make the world a better place. Our girls come from every religious tradition. Whatever their individual background may be, we want our girls to see that their ideas, hopes and dreams can contribute to peace in our community and the world.”
Suzanne Bante, chair of Religious Relationships Committee, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan 

Also consider reading …

Harnessing the Power of Tension Paperback moves beyond the initial project that brought together Christians, Muslims and Jews—and expands the bridge-building principles to bring people together across divisions that include race, class, gender and our often conflicting roles in our communities.

This book was developed by Brenda Rosenberg, collaborating with co-author and co-presenter Samia Bahsoun. They call their “evolutionary leadership” approach to conflict transformation: Tectonic Leadership. By harnessing tension, the authors bridge their own personal commitments as Jew and Arab to directly address the tension that separates them and use it to build alliances at home, in the boardroom, on campus and in communities.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tell Us What You Think