CCC’s Racial Justice Circle (RJC) has its roots in our church’s Anti-Racism Covenant, adopted in 2006, after two years of study. For some years, we held our RJC meetings at “Impact Silver Spring,” a local community social-justice group, in order to add impetus and reach to our effort. In 2015, we moved the meetings to our church, while making clear that other organizations and individuals would be most welcome. Our email list-serv reaches a wide section of the community.
Sampling of Recent Racial Justice Circle Activities
- Sponsored two church study groups on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, after which we determined that criminal justice reform would be one of our priority issues.
- October 2015, Christ Congregational Church became a member of the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR), a bipartisan statewide coalition that educates and advocates on issues of criminal justice reform and works to change the over-incarceration of persons of color.
- Attended MAJR meetings and supported MAJR’s advocacy efforts which achieved 3 notable 2015 state legislative successes: creation of a state study to examine incarceration policies and make recommendations to the governor and legislature for reform; shielding convictions for minor crimes after 3 years of the sentence completion; and restoration of voting rights to ex-felons upon release from prison. Our members gladly contacted officials concerning these measures, with coaching from RJC.
- Supported our pastor in the decision to place a large “Black Lives Matter” banner in front of our church.
- Began hosting after-church educational sessions, called “Lunch and Learn,” devoted to racial justice topics.
- November, hosted a session conducted by RJC and Interfaith Action for Human Rights of Maryland (IAHR) on the state’s use of solitary confinement. IAHR brought two former felons (re-entered citizens) who spoke of their time in prison and of their experiences in solitary confinement, which was psychologically devastating to both.
- January to mid April, assisted with MAJR efforts to get a comprehensive criminal justice bill passed in Annapolis, with success (Justice Reinvestment Act). This act derived from the 2015 state study of Maryland incarceration practices and the state report on same. Church members were very supportive in contacting their officials on this issue.
- January, hosted ‘Lunch and Learn’ on juvenile justice, featuring presentation by Just Kids organization.
- February, hosted ‘L and L’ on county criminal justice system, with two presenters from the county – a prosecutor and a public defender.
- Spring, contacted our county council and advocated for bus service by county bus system to serve Tobytown, a historically black community which was isolated due to no public transit. County Council decided to provide service.
- June, hosted general meeting of MAJR at our church, drawing participants from Baltimore and neighboring counties. Focus was on new activities related to criminal justice reform.
- Fall, held two church study groups on Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
- Fall, explored cooperation with A Wider Circle, a local effort to assist low-income families with housing, furnishings, clothing and support.
- Our church’s “Black Lives Matter” banner was vandalized three times. RJC supported pastor’s leadership on continuing to display the banner. After third vandalization, on election night 2016, the pastor held a press conference that week about the vandalism, attended by both local and national officials. The conference received excellent media coverage, both print and TV. So far, our replacement “Black Lives Matter” banner has remained intact.
- January to mid April, assisted with MAJR efforts to work for reform of monetary bail reform in Maryland. Church members were invaluable in contacting their officials on this issue. Result was the prevention of a damaging measure that would have enshrined bail bondsmen’s interests.
- January, hosted ‘Lunch and Learn’ conducted by the local organization Gandhi Brigade Youth Media who showed and led a discussion on their production “To Serve and Protect” about Black Lives Matter and police relationships with the community.
- Began exploring the immigration issue as it plays out locally. Some members went to be trained as observers for those whose presence in the US was being officially questioned.
- Began explorations with other churches about cooperation on issues of mutual interest on racial justice.
- April, conducted two study groups in our church on white privilege, using the UCC curriculum, ‘White Privilege: Let’s Talk,’ available online.
- May, participated in the MAJR general meeting to discuss their criminal justice reform focus for the rest of 2017 and into 2018.
For more information contact Jim Henkelman-Bahn