Anita Gray knows exactly when she knew she had to make a difference.
Gray spent her first 11 – and most formative – years in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood, then largely Jewish and Italian. Things were about to change.
Gray was 7 when the first African-American family moved in.
She was playing with her friends when a little black boy came up to the group “and very shyly said, can I play with you? And the white kids looked at him and said, ‘No, we don’t want to play with you.’ And I looked at this kid’s face.
“He was so hurt, he was so crestfallen, and I looked at him and I said, ‘I’ll play with you.’ And the group said, you don’t want to play with him, and I said, ‘No, I’m staying here. I realized how hurt he was, based on the color of his skin, and that was the day that I became what I call a citizen of the world. His pain was just seared into my soul.
“And from that moment on, I have been helping whom I call ‘the other’ and helping the downtrodden and I never, ever deviated from that.”
Gray became friends with the boy that day and that day only. She never saw him again. She speculates that when he went home, the boy told his parents what happened and they wouldn’t let him out again.
“I wish that I could know who he is so I could tell him the huge lesson he taught me.”
At a Glance
As a professional: Anti-Defamation League
Children: Lottie; Rachel Gray Stolley
Synagogue: Solon Chabad
In the community: Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Shoes and Clothes for Kids, Abrahamic Center of Notre Dame College, FBI Citizens Advisory Foundation, past chair and member of Jewish Federation of Cleveland community relations committee
Noteworthy: Gray has been consistently involved in interfaith efforts and building ties between the Jewish and Palestinian communities.