On Saturday, February 9th, our first event was the 19th Annual Social Justice Teach-in organized by the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) along with CWRU organizations like Alpha Phi Omega, the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning, Lambda Eta Mu, and the Social Justice Institute. The gathering took place at the Tinkham Veale University Center at CWRU and offered over 30 workshops on pressing topics.
To no surprise, the workshop we chose to attend was titled “Immigration and Anti-Colonialism,” Reverend Dr. Dustin White, Pastor of Radial Church in Canton, Ohio as well as a board member of UNIDOS Ohio led the workshop. Rev. Dr. White spoke about how the 2018 ICE raids of Fresh Mark in Salem and Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky devastated the surrounding communities and directly touched his church as well as himself. He then introduced Ms. Madhu N. Sharma, Executive Director of the International Institute of Akron, who gave a short but effective account of how difficult it now is to legally immigrate to the United States. Indeed, our firm exists as it does because it is such a difficult process.
We then heard from a young woman (via translator) who left Honduras at age 17 and dangerously negotiated her way to the United States largely by jumping trains under the direction of corrupt smugglers. She faced long odds of making it here, but she did. Now she faces perhaps even longer odds of gaining legal status.
Even though the content of the immigration workshop was grim, the overall mood of the teach-in itself was very upbeat. It was full of genuinely committed people coming together in order to investigate ways to confront the challenges currently facing the United States, as well as the earth. Other topics included how to use the private sector as a force for social good, the relevance of medical ethics in healthcare, the present and future of fracking in Ohio as well as other environmental issues, increasing the power of workers, alternatives to violence and ways of coping with stress, and how the arts can be an effective force for change. Ms. Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez, IRTF Co-Director, recalled that 19 years ago the teach-in was attended by only 50 people but this year over 700 people rsvp’d.
Mr. Anthony Grimes, a young man described in the program notes as “an internationally recognized organizer, thought-leader, and storyteller,” gave an emotion keynote speech. In the course of his presentation, Mr. Grimes acknowledged that the current trend of nativist populism is quite formidable so he encouraged us to not think of ourselves as being individually isolated like a drop of water but to see ourselves instead as a component of a powerful river which has the capacity to be a force for social change. Of course, as Mr. Grimes pointed out, the river metaphor was appropriate because areas that have access to water are more likely to prosper.
While we were waiting for the program to start, we sat in the proximity of a high school student named Lexie who likes to take part in the yearly Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, DC. This year, in fact, she is looking forward to organizing a workshop concerning women in advocacy because Lexie is aware that there are still societal tendencies to take men more seriously than women and thus she wants to explore ways to counter this trend. For us, meeting a young person like Lexie was truly inspirational.