Drazin ready to lead North Texas region in civil rights arenas
By Aaron Greenberg
Special to the TJP
DALLAS — The new regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, Cheryl Drazin, is no stranger to the organization and its mission.
The Shreveport, Louisiana native has been working for the ADL since 2013, but her involvement goes back to a summer internship while in law school in 1999. During the years in between, she found herself working on the same kinds of issues both professionally — protecting clients’ rights on labor and employment litigation — and as a volunteer in the Dallas area.
“My initial plan was that my Jewish community involvement would all be in the volunteer arena. While I was writing the script, I was a lay leader,” Drazin said.
But as she continued to get involved with leadership positions and training through the ADL and other Jewish groups, her view began to change.
“I was getting just as much satisfaction in my volunteer efforts as my legal efforts,” Drazin said.
The North Texas/Oklahoma region encompasses the parts of Texas from Waco across to Odessa and northward, plus the entire state of Oklahoma.
It’s a sprawling area with many different kinds of challenges and communities, but that description also matches her most recent position, Southwest Area Counsel, which included six offices (Dallas, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, Albuquerque, New Orleans) and seven states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi). While issues of race and anti-Semitism were a considerable focus in all of the states, immigration came up more in the more western states, while voting rights became a major concern in the eastern ones after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In that capacity, she visited places where she was the first Jewish person people had met, or the Jewish congregation met once a month for services with a visiting rabbi. And then there were bustling areas like the Metroplex.
“Dallas has such a plethora of opportunities in the Jewish community, great organizations doing great things,” Drazin said. “I grew up in a tiny Jewish community. It was a learning curve to recognize the many great opportunities and to invest deeply in the ones you care about and know the rest will succeed.”
As an ADL counsel, Drazin was kept busy on the ground level. In her new role, she gets to tackle the region’s strategy at a very challenging time.
“North Texas has always had white supremacists and these (types of) extremists,” she said. “There are more and they are more active right now. But I don’t want to insinuate that Texas is worse than anywhere else.”
There’s been an uptick nationally in anti-Semitism and other bigoted behavior, as well as an increased focus on thorny issues regarding the police-civilian dynamic, the place of religion in public schools, gender and LGBT issues and more.
All of these civil rights issues fall under the ADL’s areas of concern.
Drazin defines the two missions as “stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and justice and fair treatment for all. You can’t do the first one well if you’re not doing the second well.”
“I’d argue civil rights are a current event,” Drazin said. “But that’s an exciting job. What you see in the headlines on the top fold of the paper or on social media is what we’re working on.”
Actively working with law enforcement, government agencies, organizations and businesses sometimes keeps issues of prejudice out of the news, too.
“There is so much we (the public) don’t hear about because it is resolved before we hear about it,” Drazin said.
The ADL has numerous partners, nationally and in the local community. One such resource is the Dallas Holocaust Museum. A significant part of the ADL’s work comes with law enforcement, with training and support to aid authorities in combating bigotry and prejudicial crime while also addressing the rights of community members. The Law Enforcement and Society program took local law enforcement on a tour of the museum.
“The ADL facilitates a conversation about the responsibility of law enforcement to uphold the constitution. It’s been a very fascinating conversation to hold,” Drazin said.
The partnerships often bring together groups at odds on the issues, and sometimes even at odds on particular issues with the ADL.
“We are not only in coalition with people we agree with in every area,” Drazin said. “In some ways, it’s familial. There will be disagreements. But we tend to have longstanding relationships which should withstand disagreements.”
Bullying, both on and offline
One area of focus now is bullying and cyberbullying. For those who are victims of or experience bullying, the ADL can be brought in by a victim, teacher or administrator.
“The Internet is the biggest unchaperoned playground,” Drazin said. “Social media has put us in a whole new way to be in contact without physical contact and around the clock.”
The ADL also has been busy with issues where laws and customs cite religious freedom — but sometimes they are created or used to infringe upon others.
“We’re seeing people across the country, under the guise of religious liberty, trying to enact laws against civil liberties,” Drazin said. “Basically saying ‘my sincerely held religious belief does not allow you in my restaurant or hotel because of who you are.’
“The ADL has always argued for religious accommodation in the workplace. It’s meant to be a shield, not a sword.”
Because issues are sometimes tricky, it helps to draw from the national organization and the various regional offices.
The regional office also has a staff Drazin is very proud of, including educational director Dr. Rachelle Warren.
“I have a much greater opportunity to work with her and bring resources to schools and administrations,” Drazin said.
They co-facilitated a session on stereotypes and bias at the UNT School of Law in Dallas recently.
Development Director Kerri Aikin is handling growth and engagement in the region, and Drazin said the board and many graduates of the youth leadership programs also act as ambassadors.
Drazin is herself an example of how youth programs and outreach can make a difference.
“The passion started when I was in high school and Louisiana had the ‘high honor’ of the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation,” she said.
The school board decided to go with an abstinence-only program from a religious organization. That did not sit well with the 10th-grader. She reached out to local groups, and the first to offer her advice and support was the ADL’s regional director in New Orleans. She worked hard to prepare a speech for the school board. In less than 90 seconds, her proposal was voted down unanimously.
“But it really gave me the passion to stand up and say something is not right or fair. You don’t win every fight,” Drazin said.
She encourages anyone interested in helping the ADL as a volunteer, learning more about what it does or to find out what kind of training or resources it provides to contact her, visit the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ADL.NTO), or visit the website (dallas.adl.org).
The regional office, located south of LBJ near Montfort Drive, can be reached by phone at 972-960-0342.