About 300 students, faculty, staff, and community members attended the Third Annual Bay Area Social Justice Forum at Holy Names University on February 2. The theme of the forum was “People of Hope, Agents of Change.”
“Anytime you gather . . . 300 people who are passionate about justice and care about making a positive difference in the world, there is a natural positive energy that is generated,” said Sister Susan Wells, director of the Center for Social Justice at HNU and organizer of the forum. “That is what we had hoped for when we envisioned this event three years ago and we are so pleased to have the amazing collaboration of so many different organizations who, together, create the space for learning, sharing and acting to create a just world.”
The morning keynote address was delivered by Mark Wexler, executive director and co-founder of Not for Sale, an organization dedicated to combating modern slavery. Modern slavery is one of the fastest growing industries, generating profits of approximately $32 billion per year and enslaving more than 30 million.
Wexler said that while individually assisting those who are enslaved is compassionate, broader efforts are needed to address the roots of slavery and achieve justice. “You can be the agent of change within your community,” he said, calling for business methods that empower exploited communities. “What we have learned about the abolitionist, anti-slavery . . . (movement) is that compassion alone does not bring justice.”
As an example, Wexler described how Not for Sale is helping to reshape the impoverished Madre de Dios region of Peru, which he said is at the crossroads of environmental and human exploitation.
Not for Sale and Madre de Dios community members assessed how local resources could be utilized for sustainable change. With input from leading academics, professionals, and spiritual leaders, they developed REBBL, a tea that is harvested in Madre de Dios and sold in the United States and elsewhere. New jobs have been created, and a portion of the tea profits is reinvested in community social programs.
Led by the Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the afternoon keynote addressed immigration.
“We want people to live in genuine security. We want people to have all (of) the necessities that they need for life,” she said. “Keep the big vision about the kind of world that we want. There is so much that is unsacred about the world that we live in. How can we bring about sacredness?”
Her address included a panel of four young adults—Wardah Chowdry, Wei Lee, Mario Lio, and Yvette Jimenez—who shared how the immigration system has affected their lives and the lives of their families.
Chowdry is an American Muslim who moved to the U.S. from Pakistan in 2011 and has faced anti-Muslim sentiments at her high school.
“Please do not focus on what divides us, rather focus on what binds us as human beings,” she said.
Workshops dealt with a broad range of social justice issues including poverty, restorative justice, and youth homelessness. Representatives of the Covenant House, Food and Water Watch, Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, United Way of the Bay Area, and other organizations led the workshops.
The leadership at Holy Names University thanks the forum co-sponsors: Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, JustFaith Ministries, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Saint Mary’s College of California, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, Sisters of the Holy Family, St. Anne Catholic Community, Stop Slavery, United Religions Initiative, and URI North America.
A DVD of the keynote sessions and an immigration workshop facilitated by Jose Arreola of Educators for Fair Consideration is available for $14. For more information, contact Sr. Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.