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from Joan Hawxhurst

Passionate Work in Our Community

May 10, 2016 at 9:30 am
By Joan Hawxhurst

Last Wednesday evening, the CCPD co-sponsored a special “Passions to Professions” event with the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. The four Regional ACSJL Fellows who are winding up an eight-month stint with the Arcus Center each shared the community organizing work they have accomplished during their fellowships, and I had the honor of moderating the question-and-answer session afterwards.

Experiencing first-hand the conviction and energy of these four individuals, the inaugural class of ACSJL Regional Fellows, was a powerful experience.  Learning about their projects and how they turned their social justice passions into real change-making entities was exciting and inspiring.  For K students in the audience, the opportunity to hear about the joys and challenges of making a career of doing social justice work in Kalamazoo was both eye-opening and empowering.

Jacob Pinney-Johnson outlined the work he has done to nurture Project X, a social justice based community organizing and leadership development program for young adults in Kalamazoo.  Through a curriculum series of two-hour sessions, the project focuses on critical pedagogy, structural racism, economic equity, identity work and team-building. Jacob remembered the “moment I knew this was what I would do with my life,” and he affirmed the importance of finding partners in this work, rather than trying to do it alone.

Lolita Moss, who also works at ONEplace at the Kalamazoo Public Library, described her work to create Re(sisters), a critical media literacy curriculum designed to offer African American girls positive female role models in the face of the oppressive lack of diversity in mass media. Lolita affirmed the importance of finding and following one’s passion despite the fearful and discouraging “voices in your head.”

Fernando Ospina described the importance of the Kalamazoo Infant Mortality Community Action Initiative in a community where black babies die at four times the rate of white babies. Fernando is an anti-racism organizer and trainer with Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality (ERAC/CE), and he is building effective coalitions among local organizations concerned about addressing the disparity between infant mortality rates by race.

Janai Travis exuded passion, humor and enthusiasm as she described KultureShock, the theater-based work she is doing with youth to create performance pieces that embrace alternative narratives around race, culture and class to combat injustices in our society. Janai is also a founding member of the Black Arts and Cultural Center’s Face Off Theatre Company and the coordinating program director of Educating for Freedom in Schools in Kalamazoo.

The four Fellows encouraged audience members interested in high-impact social justice work to find supportive mentors. They agreed that working together is more effective than trying to do this type of work alone, and they admitted that making a living in this field can be challenging.  Several rely on different “day jobs” to fund their expenses while they pursue their passions as volunteers, so the opportunity provided by the ACSJL fellowship to underwrite their work has made a real difference in their ability to make progress on their projects. Understanding the financial realities inherent in doing social justice work is important for current students as they prepare for their post-graduate lives.

After having this opportunity to learn from these four wise and committed local activists, I’m grateful that the CCPD is able to partner with the Arcus Center on its goal of increasing the capacity of K students, faculty and staff, as well as local and global partners, to exercise effective leadership for human rights and social justice. 

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