Posted by: Gordon on 10/29/2015
ACTS Syracuse solitary cell pic
Tim Kirkland, an ACT-Syracuse criminal justice task force leader, speaks in front of the mock solitary confinement cell where the group had planned to highlight the county's abusive confinement of 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. The county announced at the news conference it was reversing its position.  

While New York State is still at odds over whether to treat 16- and 17-year-olds like youth or adults in its prison system, some 35 young people won’t have to face solitary confinement in Syracuse's county prison anymore.

In the end, leaders of ACT-Syracuse who announced a news conference where they would begin witnessing on the issue by entering a 6-by-9-foot solitary confinement “cell” did not need to spend a week, or even a day, in the cell to make their case.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney attended the event to say that after considering their arguments, she had decided to move youth under age 18 to an alternative facility and end the practice of putting them in solitary--which many had faced for as much as 23 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Grace Church, a member of ACTS that operates a restorative justice ministry, first alerted leaders to the fact youth has been moved to the facility and routinely received solitary confinement punishments. The group prioritized advocating for an end to the practice because it is so inhuman and because the damage to people who experience solitary so well documented

“During my days locked in I battled suicidal thoughts, I talked with myself every day to remain focused, I refused to become what I had seen,” a 17-year-old who was recently released shared with the group (anonymously, to avoid legal repercussions). “To keep above the water is major. This is why incarcerated minds need hope, fair treatment and another option.”

Last spring leaders began to research the issue, criminal justice task force co-chair Mike Hungerford said. They filed a Freedom of Information request, met with corrections officials, and began to understand a system in which overcrowding at one local facility had pushed the youth to a new site and led to the abusive practice.

“Rikers has an average about 500 youth in New York City. They don’t do it anymore," Hungerford told a local radio station. "If they can figure out how not to do it at Rikers, it seems to me that Onondaga County ought to be able to.”

Hungerford and ACTS Criminal Justice Task Force will monitor the relocation and ensure that officials provide restorative programs and services in the county jail, where the youth will now be held. They also are considering where to go next, addressing solitary confinement of adults, join the nationwide movement to end mass incarceration, or address the related core social issues of poverty. Leaders of ACTS believe incarceration is both a symptom of poverty, and a contributing factor to keeping individuals and communities of color in a perpetual state of poverty.

ACTS remains an active participant in a statewide group which is continuing their push to pass legislation that will treat 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, join the nationwide movement to end mass incarceration and address core social issues of poverty.

Posted by: Gordon on 10/25/2015

Miss River Bridge pic
Local hire is one of a number of policies that can be used to increase access to jobs and training for people of color, women and others who have been under-represented in infrastructure construction. Photo from MoDOT Mississippi River Bridge Project, on flickr

Experts on geographic hire preference policies, or local hire, will provide a how-to webinar for advocates across the country on Friday, November 13. Details and registration available here.

Jackie Cornejo, Campaign Director, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), and representatives from L.A. Metro and the U.S. Department of Transportation will discuss best practices and their experience in implementing local hire provisions on transportation projects.

There’s renewed interest in local-hire since March, when Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the USDOT was establishing a one year local hire pilot project. The Federal Highway Administration added some additional specifics here

The local hire pilot project provides us with the opportunity to prove what local leaders have always known:  that a good local and targeted hire policy strengthens community control of the local economy and puts low income people, people of color, women, and other disparately impacted groups of people to work on career paths that they have previously been unable to access. More importantly it provides us with the opportunity to carefully select, craft, and implement local hire projects that will set the standard for and inform future U.S. DOT local hire policy.

Gamaliel, The Partnership for Working Families and PolicyLink are work together across to help groups on the ground take advantage of the federally-funded local-hire initiative.

Posted by: Gordon on 10/14/2015

In September at an annual banquet celebrating South Suburban Action Conference’s 29th anniversary, the group's president, Deacon LaVonn Traylor (pictured) shared this reflection on the group's struggles and successes, and its future direction.

Deacon LaVonn Traylor

Describing all we have done and faced, the one issue that runs through it all and sticks out like a sore thumb is structural racism. We have been dealing with racism at all levels for years but we have not seen many changes of significance, because racism is still alive and doing well.

I challenged the community leaders and politicians to get involved with the fight to combat structural racism by doing two things differently in our work in the future:

Think about systems AND problems: Winning an issue without changing the systems that brought it about is a short-term win. Issues are important but we at the South Suburban Action Conference will go beyond reacting to and dealing with specific issues. We are going to identify and address laws that allow room for racism to flourish. We will organize and take our demands to the doorsteps of our elected officials.

Change what people believe: There’s a “dominant narrative” – the story that people believe and tell about why we are in these situations we face.  It is the perception that governs how lawmakers and law enforcers write and enforce the laws. To put it plainly, it is the story too many people believe that says white is good and black is bad. This is the fuel that drives racism and the consequences can be seen when people of color get treated one way and whites get treated differently.

We can change the dominant narrative and create an environment where all people will be treated equally and afforded the opportunity to be all that they can be in the United States of America.

It won’t be easy. It will take our community leaders to stand up and organize to take on Goliath; it will take people of color and white allies saying enough is enough. We have to use the power of our vote to put people in office that will stand up for the people of color and be courageous enough to take on the structural racism head on and vote out those who won’t.

Posted by: Gordon on 10/13/2015

This fall thousands of faith and community leaders will turn out to public meetings across the country organized by Gamaliel and affiliates (a few, such as Faith Coalition for the Common Good, have held theirs already).

One thing that will be different this year is the focus at many of these meetings on both fixing some of the worst problems in our cities and suburbs and trying to understand and address underlying systems of racial injustice that lead to the same problems coming up again and again. 

As a leader from Pittsburgh said: “In the past we focused on the consequences of racially-biased systems. This fall we’re declaring our intent to go after those flawed systems themselves, and change them one by one.” Here is a quick run down of the meetings planned for the fall:

Action of Greater Lansing

6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 15, Cristo Rey Church, 201 W Miller Rd, Lansing, MI

Nehemiah Public Meeting: Leaders will celebrate a policy win of insuring families remain eligible for child care subsidy for up to one year, even if their income rises, to provide greater stability for families as people transition into employment. The group will also continue its efforts to educate legislators on disability rights issues, and announce a new initiative as part of the statewide Power to Thrive campaign in partnership with departments of public health across Michigan.

ACTION of Ohio

3:30 p.m. Sunday, October 18, St. Edwards Catholic Church, 240 Tod Ln, Youngstown, OH

Leading with its new work on race and power, leaders will continue their work for re-entry and job creation for formerly incarcerated Ohioans and promote the Kitchen Incubator, a shared-use commercial kitchen that aims to lower the cost for starting or expanding local food businesses to help create jobs working with food, increase food security and promote economic development.

Rochester ACTS

6:30 p.m., Thursday, October 22, In Christ New Hope Ministries, 155 Pinnacle Rd. Rochester, NY

Just a year after holding a covenanting or formal organizing ceremony, Rochester ACTS is calling on county executive candidates to expand access to childcare, after orchestrating a campaign in which thousands of Monroe County residents signed postcards and petitioned leaders to invest in children. 

North Bay Organizing Project

3 p.m. Sunday, October 25, Unitarian Universalist Church, 547 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, CA

What Side Are You On? - Public Resources for the Public Good: Families in Sonoma County face a crisis with out-of-control rents, an inaccessible transit system and a culturally disconnected education curriculum. In the face of this, public resources are continually being used to concentrate wealth into the hands of the fewer and fewer. Now more than ever it is critical that people concerned with equity and justice assume their public role and responsibility to battle the forces of greed and isolation.

Ezekiel Project

3 p.m. Sunday, October 25, First Congregational Church 403 S Jefferson Ave, Saginaw, MI

Stronger together than apart: In Ecclesiastes 12, it says “…A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The Saginaw Region has been experiencing revitalization, and so has the New Ezekiel Project. Leaders are coming together to take action for racial and economic justice around education, transportation, and police & community. After winning a transportation millage vote in August with a wider margin than ever supported the fee in the past, came news from the regional transit authority that it was running out of funds and the current funding would be inadequate to support current levels of service. Leaders will use the meeting to focus on the value of public transportation to the community and seek an end to proposals for a high-stakes test in local public schools that third graders would have to pass to avoid being held back a year.


7 p.m., Monday, October 26, Elim Christian Fellowship, 70 Chalmers Ave, Buffalo, NY

Binding the Fabric Together: Two nursing homes in a Buffalo suburb are hiring, but the local transit authority has resisted extending a bus line from the city to carry residents to the jobs there. Advocating a change will be one focus of this meeting, as will support for the Buffalo Peacemakers, who have helped to reduce levels of crime and reduce violence in the city. Announced at this meeting will be a date for an upcoming visit to Buffalo by Labor Secretary Tom Perez in the spring, and a victory in implementing community navigators who can register returning citizens for Obamacare at the county jail, who will then have health insurance upon returning home.

NOAH Niagara

6 p.m. Thursday, October 29 at Bethany Baptist Church, 1328 Calumet Ave, Niagara Falls, NY

Jobs and Justice: Leaders will call for an increase in the number of people of color working on a publicly-funded Amtrak train station project in Niagara Falls and passing a citywide community-benefits agreement that would have strong stipulations for local and minority hiring.


6 p.m., Thursday, October 29 at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, 2500 W. Medford Ave. WI

The achievements of youth leaders who have been working together for the past year will be a focus of the meeting. The organization will also highlight its Safe Surrender program, coordinating area churches, law enforcement agencies, the county court system and other partners in its 53206 Task Force. Each of MICAH Task Forces will present a issue they are working on and how the plan to over come it.

MCU-St. Louis

3 p.m. Sunday, November 1 at Busch Student Center-St. Louis University 20 N Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO

Accountability for All: This meeting will be an opportunity to advance some of the key recommendations of the Ferguson commission, Holding ourselves and our regional public officials accountable for: Youth at the Center, Justice for All, Racial Equity , Opportunity to Thrive. These are the priorities that encompass the work of MCU and our partner organizations throughout the region. These are the priorities set by the Ferguson Commission. It's time to make these priorities reality!

Genesis California

10 a.m., Saturday, November 7 at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, 525 29th Street, Oakland, CA

After celebrating a victory that was several years in coming last year with its youth winning a commitment to fund transportation to school in Alameda County, leaders will gather to prioritize new issues from among a list they have been winnowing for months: affordable housing and protecting renters, school discipline, access to healthcare, human trafficking, and police accountability.


3 p.m., Sunday, November 15 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church ELCA, 201 N. River St, Ypsilanti, MI

Leaders will advocate for reducing the use of suspensions as a punishment in Ypsilanti, Lincoln, and Ann Arbor Public Schools; following work they’ve already done to get Ypsilanti to make reforms to make discipline more equitable (an October 2015 Center on Reinventing Public Education study found that black students are twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as white students). Leaders will continue their work on a statewide earned sick-time ballot initiative and announce a new initiative as part of the statewide Power to Thrive campaign in partnership with departments of public health across Michigan.


Exact time TBA Monday, November 16 at location TBA

Honest Conversation About Race: the meeting will kick off a series of honest conversations in which congregation members across Kansas City delve into thei history of structural racism in their community, through a series of conversations that lead to action. Last spring more than 40 St. Louis congregations developed this process, meeting within predominantly African-American, white and mixed-race faith communities followed by a mass gathering; these events led to actions for racial justice including meetings with local police chiefs and the mayor of St. Louis. A similar process is planned for Kansas City.


7 p.m., Wednesday, November 18 at Rodef Shalom, 4917 5th Ave, Pittsburgh, PA

Toward The Beloved Community: Fighting For The Dream—PIIN’s public meeting will call for a clear set of standards to define and create more community schools in Pennsylvania. They will announce a Customer Assistance Plan to protect customers of the regional water-treatment utility (after it hiked prices more than 6 percent in each of the past 3 years and will continue for at least 10 years) and commitments from the police chief to change training, hiring and retention of personnel to reform his department. More than that, the meeting will be a declaration of PIIN leaders commitment to racial justice and focus on structural racism.

Posted by: Gordon on 10/9/2015

Ntosake Group 2015

Ntosake leadership training 2015 -- women who "carry their own things and walk with lions"

Last week, 50 women came together for the annual Ntosake women’s leadership training. Rev. B. De Neice Welch, a leader at Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, opened with an agitation to women to be wise hunters:
Posted by: Gordon on 10/7/2015

A local reporter shot this video of NBOP leaders and allies marching for rent stabilization earlier this year. Since door-knocking during a civic engagement campaign last fall uncovered massive gentrification, the group has been working to make the local economy work for everyone in the region. (from YouTube, by ELOÍSA RUANO GONZÁLEZ / The Press Democrat)

While knocking on doors last year, leaders from a North Bay Organizing Project member church met neighbors in a Santa Rosa, CA apartment complex whose rents were about to go up by $500 a month—rats and rodents included.
Posted by: Gordon on 10/1/2015
Capitol Building crowd listen to Pope Francis
Leaders from Asamblea de Derechos Civiles and Rev. Willie Brisco were in Washington, D.C. to hear Pope Francis speak last week, and Asamblea leaders traveled on to hear the Pope speak on immigration in Philadelphia. Below are reflections from them and from other leaders across the Gamaliel network, on the impact of Pope Francis' statements and what we can takeaway from his trip for our own work. (Photo by Walda Lanza of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles)

Pope Francis spoke for us and to us

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