Chestnut Hill College’s Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation and Uplift Solutions co-hosted its 2nd Annual Transforming Justice Conference on Friday, November 13, 2020 through a virtual format that allowed for a large and diverse audience to be in attendance. Despite not being physically present, lots of creative energy and passionate commitment were palpable throughout the conference which was themed around the topic of "System Change and Our Interconnectedness."
Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director of the Kairos Center for Justice in New York and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, a national movement for the moral revival of our country, provided the keynote address. Dr. Theoharis focused on and addressed the five key injustices upon which the Poor People’s Campaign has built its platform and toward which it mobilizes people from every walk of life to work together to reweave the moral fabric of our tattered United States: Systemic Poverty, Racism, Ecological Devastation, a huge Military Budget, supporting violence as a way to confront conflict even on our city streets, and a Distorted Religious Narrative of the U.S. as the chosen, superior country. For many attendees, Dr. Theoharis’s well-informed and passionate presentation was both eye-opening and compelling, as she explained how interconnected each injustice is.
Two panels took place following the keynote. The first, which featured Keir Bradford-Grey, Esq., Chief Defense Attorney of Philadelphia, Josh Staub, Director of Restorative Programming for the School District of Philadelphia, Donnell Drinks, who after years of his early life in prison is now co-founder of GROWN, an organization that develops mentoring programs, violence prevention and advocacy on behalf of under-represented youth, and Brian Foster, who is a youth court educator and advocate for expanding these important justice avenues across Delaware County and Pennsylvania. The focus of the panelists was the infamous "school to prison pipeline," as each of the panelists has committed their professional lives to transforming this systemic injustice, targeted against youth who are poor and of color.
The second panel, which focused on addressing the systemic issues that prevent equal justice for all featured Diane Wagenhals, Program Director for the Lakeside Educational Network, whose work is helping so many, particularly teachers and administrators, learn how to recognize and respond to the effects of trauma which impact so many of our young people, as well as adults today, Kevin Bethel, who in his role as Chief of School Security for the School District of Philadelphia brings an enlightened mind and heart to the needs of young people and the role police can and must play in serving them both in their neighborhoods and in our schools, Leroy Hall, Principal of Houston K-8 in Mount Airy whose commitment to create the kind of school environment that calls forth the best in both students and faculty, as well as staff, is central to his daily work, and Dashaun Harden and David Harrington. Harden and Harrington both grew up in North Philadelphia and spent years, as teenagers and young adults, in the city's prison system where they witnessed first hand the tragic effects of this lack of care for our young boys and girls of color. Harden and Harrington, who work for YASP (Youth Art and Self-Epowerment Project), now see each other as mentors and role models, having turned their lives around when they met adults who believed in them. Their goal is to provide the same for young children who are in the same situation both Harden and Harrington were in their formative years.
The conference wrapped up with Tricia Way, Coordinator of the Restorative Justice Program at Chestnut Hill College, and Hannah Capaldi, pastor of the First Unitarian Church pf Philadelphia, who conducted a brief town hall to gather together the threads spun so beautifully throughout the event.
Planning and preparation for next year's conference is already underway. Save the date for Friday, November 12th, 2021, where whether virtually together or together in person, CHC and its partners hope to continue the life-saving work brought about by transforming justice in our world.
- Sister Cathy Nerney, Coordinator of the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Chestnut Hill College
See below to watch the conference in full (two parts).