George Hrbek - an Amazing Man - I was Lucky to Briefly Meet (through Zoom)


 6/27/31 - 2/19/23

I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of George Hrbek yesterday, February 19, 2023.   I’m very glad that I moved forward to co-produce a workshop featuring him - November 15, 2022 - which is available to watch on YouTube at: .

One can also learn more of George’s amazing life at: and/or

George, at 91, was a role model for me, and perhaps all of us!   He spoke of Sexism being important,, along with Racism.   He wanted to listen and learn from the younger people, including much, much younger than both he and I.    He was gentle, but strong and assertive, also.  He had a sense of humor.

He was so, so much - that words fail me in describing him!   To work to ally Black and white churches in Selma, Alabama - from 1958-1961 was amazing - incredible, even!   To then - become a friend and ally of Fred Hampton in Chicago in the years before he was murdered by the Chicago Police - with the FBI deeply involved - working on racism and worker’s rights  set an huge positive example for all of us.

I, like most of us, had never heard of George Hrbek, until I got an invitation - to his (Zoom based) 91st Birthday Party - which was an invitation to get to know him a little.   I reached out to his ally and friend Lynn Burnett - to try to plan a workshop - so we could hear his voice more deeply.

I’ve said enough!   My tears are intense!   I’m sad!   I feel lucky - to have been involved in a tiny snippet of his amazing life!

Social justice giant George Hrbek dies at 91

George Hrbek
Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry
A Lutheran pastor who spent much of the civil rights era in Alabama where he attempted to desegregate churches. Hrbek helped create the Selma chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the early 1970s, Hrbek was hired as one of the first staff members of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, a Cleveland social services organization.

Rev. George Hrbek, a social justice giant in Northeast Ohio and former head of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, died over the weekend. He was 91.

The Lutheran pastor spent much of the civil rights era in Alabama where he attempted to desegregate churches. Hrbek helped create the Selma chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization founded by Martin Luther King Jr.

“In advocacy or social services, more and more people today think of, you got to include people in all parts of the planning that you’re trying to serve,” longtime family-friend Michael Sering said. “George has been doing that for 70 years.”

Hrbek had a personal relationship with King. Hrbek moved from Alabama to Chicago, where he worked to educate other white people about allyship and racism. His messages were often advised by King, who was also working in Chicago at the time.

In the early 1970s, Hrbek was hired as one of the first staff members of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, a Cleveland social services organization that began operating the 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter when Hrbek became the ministry’s interim executive director.

Hrbek was brought into the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry fold by Rev. Dick Sering, co-founder of the ministry and Michael Sering’s father.

The families were very close. Michael Sering, who was babysat by Hrbek’s children, is now the ministry’s current vice president of housing & shelter. He said Hrbek was the perfect person to manage the shelter.

“Talking to the guys at the shelter. What did they need? What can we do better? How do we advocate? What services? And it was such a good launch to bring the culture that was necessary and helpful,” Sering said.

Sering described Hrbek as bold and said he lacked fear of consequences.

“He was ‘roll up the sleeves, let’s make stuff happen,’” Sering said. “He’d been arrested multiple times for advocacy and demonstrations and every thing else and that was the least of his worries.

Hrbek hired Charles See to work for Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry in the 1970s. The two became close friends.

“If it was racial injustice, George was at the forefront,” See said. “And always challenging white folks standing in the way of that.”

See says Hrbek was never afraid to step up to institutions that stood in the way of equality.

“He would always point out where Jesus stood. That Jesus stood with the poor, with the forgotten and the oppressed. And he said that’s where he belonged. That was his ministry,” See said.

Hrbek was an activist until the end – advocating last month at City Council for residents to control how part of Cleveland’s budget is spent.

Just after this 90th birthday, Hrbek did an extensive interview with historian Lynn Burnett.

“When we think in the days ahead and the years ahead, we certainly will remember George,” See said. “We’ll be encouraged and his example will continue to be there to spur the best of us on.”

(Lynn Burnett's words - below):

I appreciate this obituary about my dear friend George, which emphasizes his connection to Martin Luther King. However, I feel the need to offer some correctives. There’s often a tendency, whenever people have connections to King, for the press to overemphasize those connections… and to under emphasize others. It feels especially important to me to point out that George was actually far closer, emotionally and personally, to Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton than he was to King. And yet Fred Hampton isn’t mentioned in the article.
George met Fred Hampton while Fred was still in high school, leading demonstrations against segregated swimming pools. George organized numerous speaking engagements for Fred Hampton, and personally drove him to them. Fred Hampton is obviously famous for his commitment to multiracial organizing, and was interested in the White antiracist spiritual community George Hrbek ran. He spoke to that community as well, which was affectionately called “The Mansion.”
Fred shared much of his emotional life – his passions and his fears – with George during their many personal conversations, and George grew to care for him deeply. As I wrote in my story about George Hrbek, “During the twenty-five hours of interviews on which this writing is based, George Hrbek expressed more fondness for Fred Hampton than for any other single person, with the exception of his own family.”
In comparison, George Hrbek only had one conversation with Martin Luther King… but it was a long and important one. Their meeting took place in the basement of a union hall, where George brainstormed with Martin around how to best create the White antiracist spiritual community he was envisioning… a community that would educate and train White folks to go beyond fighting racism in surface-level ways, and learn how to tackle the roots of systemic racial inequality. Martin Luther King strongly endorsed those ideas, and spent over an hour helping George brainstorm how to implement them. That single conversation helped lay important foundations for George’s work for years to come.
George would work much closer, however, with an important leader in King’s organization: Jesse Jackson, who also isn’t mentioned in this obituary. Members of the Mansion would volunteer on the weekend with Jackson’s Breadbasket Campaign, and George was part of a small group of leaders from different organizations who met regularly with Jackson to coordinate ideas and actions… usually over drinks in an upscale cocktail lounge.
The last thing I want to say is that I’ve seen many articles where George Hrbek is described as one of the founders of the Selma chapter’s SCLC, but in all of my conversations with George, he was very careful to emphasize that he was merely there. He was present and he was a supporter of the Selma chapter of King’s organization at its inception, but he didn’t play much of a role in organizing, maintaining and building that chapter. In my understanding, George Hrbek’s main role in Selma was being the rare example of a White Selma resident speaking out, and ACTING out, against Jim Crow. Doing that publicly, and especially as the leader of a congregation in Selma, was huge. Building relationships of trust across racial lines in the Jim Crow South was huge. And figuring out how to use his influence as a minister to support Selma’s grassroots Black leadership was huge.



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