Last Chanukah, Raven Schwam-Curtis made a big discovery.
“There was this really nice Chanukah audio trending at the time. I made a video [on TikTok] dancing to it and the text above me said something like, ‘Your yearly reminder that Black Jews exist.’ I wasn’t expecting much from it, I just really liked the audio.”
Schwam-Curtis, who uses the pronoun “they,” received a massive outpouring. Some comments were from other Black Jews, who thanked Schwam-Curtis for bringing representation to the community, while other people were shocked that Black Jews even existed.
“I realized that there weren’t enough Black Jews having conversations in the TikTok space,” Schwam-Curtis explained. “I thought maybe I could fill that void.”
The 24-year-old Cornell University graduate is now pursuing a graduate degree in African American studies at Northwestern University. When not in class or playing on the guitar, Schwam-Curtis is occupied with their full-time job as a content creator.
On TikTok, they have amassed more than 80,000 followers and 7,800,000 likes, to showcase Jewish diversity and share their experience as a Black Jew.
But until their Chanukah revelation, Schwam-Curtis focused entirely on commentary about the Black community.
Since then, on their account @ravenreveals, Schwam-Curtis makes posts teaching Hebrew phrases, exploring lives of famous Jews and advocating for more representation and diversity in the Jewish community.
Schwam-Curtis began their social media career by posting almost exclusively on YouTube. It was their mother who suggested that they move to TikTok.
“It really resonated with people,” Schwam-Curtis said about their original TikTok videos, “That’s when I realized how powerful the platform is.”
Schwam-Curtis hopes that their content can “build a bridge” between the Jewish and Black communities. They explained that Jews and Blacks have long thought of their respective communities as entirely separate and distinct from one another, but there is far more overlap than many realize. Schwam-Curtis gave the example of antisemitism and anti-Blackness, which are “deeply interconnected.”
In a video with more than 700,000 views, Schwam-Curtis shares a Tweet talking about recent controversy surrounding rapper Kanye West after he wore a racist shirt and tweeted antisemitic statements.
Within the Jewish community, Schwam-Curtis hopes that members “can arrive at a place where we can respect how everyone else arrives to their Jewish identity.”
Schwam-Curtis pointed toward their own experience as a patrilineal Jew. Patrilineal Jews – those born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother and are accepted in the Reform community if they are raised as Jews – struggle to be universally acknowledged as Jewish.
“At the end of the day, we’re all choosing to be Jewish. We’re all choosing our community. We’re all choosing to show up. That’s a beautiful and special thing and we need to honor that,” they said.
Schwam-Curtis’s activism isn’t limited to TikTok. They are involved with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a grassroots organization fighting against racism, poverty and antisemitism in Chicago, and are a service corps member for Repair the World.
For those who want to become activists, Schwam-Curtis has two words: “teach” and “learn.”
“You have to teach and you have to learn. You always have to be doing those two things simultaneously. I am able to do what I do online because I’ve spent so many years of my life reading, dialoguing and thinking deeply. Those ideas don’t just pop up because you want to make a TikTok. There’s work, energy and love that goes behind it every day. Never stop learning and never stop teaching.”
For those who want to follow activists, Schwam-Curtis recommends checking out the Twitter of cosmologist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who is known for her work in intersectionality.
“I want the Jewish community to be a more capacious, loving and welcoming place. I want all kinds of Jews to be able to show up to synagogues and not be interrogated as to why they’re there. I want us collectively as a community to understand how much we all have to offer and to hold one another accordingly,” Schwam-Curtis said, “My greatest hope is that we more fully understand one another so we can more fully love one another.”