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Photo by Brian Cohen

Profile by Shannon Fogarty

As a person of color, Tim Smith, pastor and founder of the nonprofit Center of Life, understands what it feels like to experience discrimination and marginalization. So when the shooting occurred at the three Pittsburgh synagogues that were meeting at the Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill, Smith knew he wanted to stand with the Jewish community in face of this tragedy. 

“In the friendships that we have created over the years, with the Jewish community, we see that we have some things in common,” Smith said. “Our best bet would be to stand together and work to try to eliminate the hate and discrimination against both of our people.” 

Smith is being honored with the Righteous Among the Neighbor’s award for the actions he has taken to fight back against antisemitism. 

Smith has been integrated with the Jewish community for most of his life. Living in Hazelwood, Smith’s father had friends in Squirrel Hill who were Jewish, and through him, Smith had formed relationships with the Jewish community.  

In 2001, Smith founded the Center of Life, which is a nonprofit organization based in Hazelwood that is meant to bind and empower communities.  

“Our value statement is that everything is about people,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter what color the person or culture or ethnic background, we believe everything is about people, we believe in putting people first, we believe in using things and loving people, not loving things and using people. We’re going to continue to partner with the Jewish community and the JCC and the Center for Loving Kindness.”  

Smith’s morality stands on the basis of equity. 

“We all bleed blood, breathe the same air,” Smith said. “When other human beings decide that they want power and control over us, it’s important for us to stand up for each other. We’re all created equal. That’s true, it’s written down, but it’s not practiced well in our country.” 

He believes that no being is inherently hateful. “People are taught hate,” Smith said. “They’re taught to hate certain people and are taught to want to have power and control over certain people. That’s a taught thing. Just like we learn to hate, we can learn to love too.” 

“Most people in our country, I believe, want to get along with each other,” Smith said. “I think the key here is to respect people’s true traditions and values, as long as those values are not trying to hurt somebody else or trying to bring you down.” 

He encourages communities and people from different backgrounds to empower each other, and to fight hate with love.  

“There are so many people, whether it be people of color or Jewish people, who so want to come together and have peace, and be able to work together and stop to violence,” Smith said. 

With Center of Life, Smith is allowing communities to form alliances so that they can fight through hate as a larger, inseparable force. 

“As organizations, we can both protect each other, speak out, and make sure that people are trying to do harm to Jewish people know that there’s going to be consequences behind that, and they’re not going to be able to separate us,” Smith said. “The more we experience some of these crimes, the closer we’re going to get. We’re going to press into each other that much more. We’re going to lock in, and we’re going to work together even harder to eliminate this hate.” 

With the bias of today’s media, the information that people consume causes them to take sides, and to make assumptions and stereotype groups.  

“The stereotypes that exist around Jewish people and around people of color are just not true,” Smith said, “and the way that we can work against these stereotypes is by building significant, personal relationships with each other.” 

In 2017, when the shooting occurred, Smith and the Center of Life were around to support the Jewish community. Smith is determined to fight discrimination against marginalized groups. 

“We’re going to continue to stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, as they stand with us against hate against violence,” Smith said. “As far as I’m concerned, if it takes the rest of my life, I’m going to stand with all of my brothers and sisters who are against discrimination and marginalization in whatever way, whatever form or shape that it takes.”