Four Trinity parishioners attended the Children Defense Fund (CDF)
2012 National Conference on July 22-25. The CDF is a national advocacy group for children, especially poor and minority children. Over 3,000 people from around the world attended the conference to discuss “Pursuing Justice for Children and the Poor.”
I sat down with the parishioners one Sunday morning to discuss their experience, and found four people passionate about poverty and justice. Emory Edwards is on the Vestry Faith and Action Committee and Chair of Discovery Adult Education and Stewardship Committees; Toni Foy is on the Witness and Outreach Committee, including the Prison Ministry and Taskforce against Racism, and Co-Chair of Lively Arts; Roz Hall is the Co-Chair of the Taskforce Against Racism and involved in the Prison Ministry; and Patricia Thomas is a relatively new member, involved in the Prison Ministry and the Taskforce Against Racism.
About the Conference
Roz: You walked in and everybody felt so at peace and at one. Everybody in attendance knew what they were there for and it was so diverse in terms of age, race, culture, class, education.
Emory: The preaching was just [awesome]. You go from Ben Bernake talking about the importance of education in the economy, and then you hear Trayvon Martin’s parents talk about how their son was shot, and then you hear form the young woman who has three brothers who are currently incarcerated, and then you hear from two kids who want to be part of the Dream Act. And then there’s Maya Angelou reading a poem.
The day was 12 – 14 hours long. About the time we thought “information overload” you go into the workshops and they said, “This is what you do with your information. This is where you take your first step. This is where you can go.”
Roz: They had Muslim presenters, they had Judaism represented, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Baha’i, Buddhists. They each showed us how justice is a part of every religious faith. And they went into their scripture and read that part of it and affirmed that those are the things we have in common with one another.
Toni: It supported us as a church and in our ministry. It validated what we are doing and what we’re trying to do.
Patrice: One thing that I took away from the CDF conference is that [there’s] an onus on the not-for-profits and the churches to help the poor kids all across the nation because many government programs are not only cutting back, but they’re not interested in investing in the lives of these children.
Emory: Head Start costs about $10,000 per child per year and most children that go through Head Start now are likely to finish high school, and if you finish high school you’re more likely to get a job that pays and to be successful. The average cost per prisoner in the United States is over $25,000 per year. So basically you’re cutting ten thousand dollars per child and you’re going to be paying [much more] to have them incarcerated.
Race and Prisons and Guns
Toni: One of the things that really was highlighted is the issue of race, and how that impacts the funding.
Emory: In the early 1970s there were 300,000 prisoners in the United States. Now you look at the prison population of the United States over the next 30 years or 40 years, there are 2.3 million prisoners in the United States. Mostly people of color. And the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prison population. So you finally overcome one hurdle when it comes to civil rights yet you can see the system creating another way of diverting people of color away from society.
Patrice: The prison industry is unfortunately an exploitive business off the backs of minorities. And I think that as a church it is [good] to not just be aware of it, but get that information out there, make people more aware of these facts. Not just getting these issues out there but doing something.
Roz: The other major issue that was discussed was the gun violence. Between 1979 and 2000, 116,385 children and teens in America were killed by guns. The number of black children killed was 13 times the number of black men, women, and children lynched between 1882 and 1968, and in America children die by guns at a rate of 43 times higher than the combined rate of other nations. So, clearly, we can see the range of issues that are tied on our children’s lives.
On Young People and Education
Emory: One of the things Marian Wright Edelman [founder of CDF] expressed concern about was what happens when the civil rights leaders die? Who’s going to pick up the mantle? So CDF put their money where their mouth was. There were 3,000 people at the conference. 1,500 were youth, young adults. They raised up a lot of young speakers, they raised up a lot of new voices.
Roz: [One] program that we talked about is called Young Adult Leadership Training program and they assemble at a location called Haley Farms in Tennessee. They receive intense training in community development and personal development, and they prepare them onward to college so that they come out leaders and take up leadership in their communities.
Getting Involved at Trinity
Emory: We have the Taskforce Against Racism which is active. We have the Prison Ministry. The Knitters knit articles for clothing for children of incarcerated parents. I think if you look across all of our areas of ministry you’ll find that [poverty and race] is a common focus.
I’m really looking forward to the children’s Sabbath which is going to be October the 21, which is a service in which you uphold, pray for, and acknowledge the difficult things people who are poor, especially children, face. I’m excited about how we connect our existing work in with them and I’m excited about what we can look at that we can do together.
Roz: I think that the biggest thing that we as a church and a community can do is to become more informed and become more active. But you’ve got to actually do the work. You’ve got to actually be committed. It has to be a unified effort and people of all races, cultures. Right now in this country we all need one another.
On Speaking to Each Other in Love
Toni: The reason you gather that many people is because it’s not individual , not one great white hope, or great black hope, some great hope, the next Martin Luther King, but everybody together, and out of all of that rises the leaders who have all of this support.
Patrice: The more we can invest in this, as they say, you’ll be spending less money in the long run with future prisoners. More kids’ lives will be changing. And that negative generational pattern of incarceration, shame, stigma, unemployment, all these problems [will change]. You can start off with a new generation of hope, prosperity.
Emory: Really, what we have to do is find a way to have the hard conversations, to encourage people to go deeper personally, to go deeper with their friends, so that we truly do become one parish. Almost everything we talked about at the CDF conference was at some point grounded in love, grounded in hope for a better future, grounded in hope for a better America, hope for a stronger church.