JMM Insights: Becoming Upstanders

This week’s edition of JMM Insights comes from Tracie Guy-Decker as she shares JMM’s journey to Upstander-ship and her new adventures ahead. We are all going to miss the positive, can-do spirit and personal courage that Tracie has demonstrated during her tenure at the Museum. Many thank yous to Tracie for her wisdom, intelligence, and drive that has pushed JMM forward to today.


Though I use it all the time now, I believe I first encountered the word “upstander” (i.e. the opposite of a bystander, or someone who acts to make change when they witness injustice) through the work of our colleagues at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center and their Take a Stand Center. While we’d been talking about Upstanders from my very first month on the job, when JMM staff watched the video our colleagues in Skokie created for their center, it redefined the way we thought about our work. We finally had a word that articulated a position we’d been working toward.
That was a little more than two years ago now. Around the same time, I attended a Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) conference, and came away musing about how museums can help our visitors become Upstanders. In the time since then, the word Upstander has come to define much of the Museum’s brand. Indeed, when the board took on the task of rewriting our mission, vision, and values last year, the new statement incorporated action as a part of our vision and our values.

Our work to embrace becoming Upstanders puts us in very good company in all of the three worlds we inhabit: museums, the Jewish community, and Baltimore. Among museums, some of our colleagues encouraging Upstander behavior include Eastern State Penitentiary who mounted an exhibit about mass incarceration several years ago (read about a JMM visit to see ESP), and earlier this year, CAJM’s conference was very focused on upstanders.

The Jewish community has a long history of promoting upstander behavior (I’m thinking of Leviticus, Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Einhorn, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and organizations like Keshet, Jewish Volunteer Connection, and Jews United for Justice today). And our third realm, Baltimore, is also full of Upstanders, from the squad responsible for Baltimore Ceasefire, to the coalition of Upstanders who make up Baltimore Votes, to the NAACP, which has been headquartered in Baltimore for generations.

So, what does this look like today in the midst of this aptly labeled unprecedented time? Well, for one thing, next week it means we’re officially closed on Tuesday, November 3, so that our employees can vote or volunteer. For another, we have been and are presenting a whole host of programming that either features role models or helps us to become Upstanders.
In recent weeks, I’ve had the honor of helping to present or moderate at several upstander-relevant programs, including Why History Matters Even Especially the Difficult Parts, Who We Are: Identity and Diversity in Our Jewish Community, and Celebrating Sadie J. Crockin. (We also hosted Fighting Back Against Hate. I was not directly involved.)

Coming up we’re preparing for The Consequences of Acceptance: From the “Jewish Race” to White Privilege, Illoway vs. Einhorn: A Battle for the Jewish Soul, and Who Belongs: Racial Profiling in the Synagogue, with more coming in December and January. (Take a look at our Exhibits + Events page for a full listing.)
How do you become an Upstander? There are many ways, but one step will be to learn about other Upstanders! What are you waiting for? Register for these events. All of our virtual programming is priced on a “pay it forward” model. In other words, you’re welcome to come on the house, but if you have the means, we invite you to be an Upstander with your wallet and help underwrite others’ tickets.

As for me, this Upstander is on the verge of a new adventure. Today is my last day in the office at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Starting on Monday, I am officially an independent writer and consultant.

I’ll be focusing on my podcast Jews Talk Racial Justice with April & Tracie, my blog, B’more INCREMENTAL, and facilitating anti-racist education such as the 18 Days Exploring Racial Justice program I’m currently curating and facilitating for the Baltimore Jewish Council. If you’d like to stay up-to-date on my activities, you can subscribe to the podcast or the blog, or send me a message through my website

Until our paths cross again, it has been a privilege to walk the JMM’s Upstander path these past five-and-a-half years. 


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