Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

160 posts categorized "Social Justice"

Second Chances: Reforming Policy for Returning Citizens

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Dominic Duren, assistant director of the HELP Program for returning citizens, poses with his son Dominic Jr. in Cincinnati, Ohio. Learn more about the HELP Program in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Collateral damage is not always the first thing one notices, but laws and rules regulating citizens returning to society after imprisonment have caused a national wound. It's time we start the healing process. Individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color – are paying the price for our broken justice system.

America has always valued the second chance. Our prison system was built on the principle that if you pay your debt to society, you can rejoin society with a fresh start. That is not how it works anymore. Even the smallest of infractions lead to lifelong exclusion.

The practice of mass incarceration – imprisonment of citizens at record levels – traps individuals and whole communities in cycles of hunger and poverty. And it should trouble us even more that it is disproportionality affecting black and brown communities. Civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, defines mass incarceration as a form of racialized social control that creates an undercaste.

In the past 40 years, the criminal justice system has expanded, and now includes 45,000 laws and rules that create barriers for returning citizens to rebuild their lives. The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world, its state and federal goverments spend an estimated $74 billion a year on corrections. As prisons are privatized, the incentive to incarcerate citizens is driven by windfall profits and access to government dollars. The American Civil Liberties Union says the business model of for-profit prisons is dependent on high rates of incarceration.

A report by National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers points out that lack of access to public resources creates barriers when the citizen returns home. Barred resources that are vital to reestablishment can include "employment and licensing, housing, education, public benefits, credit and loans, immigration status, parental rights, interstate travel, and even volunteer opportunities.” With 1 in 4 citizens estimated to have a criminal record, a large portion of American talent is being squandered due to exclusion.

Exclusion is addressed in Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Hunger becomes a byproduct of social exclusion when citizens are pushed to the margins of society. "Policies that make millions of returning citizens ineligible for nutrition assistance,” writes the Institute, “only exacerbate the problem." The report goes on to note that “studies show that access to public services that improve economic security, especially soon after people are released, reduces recidivism rates."

People of faith should be concerned with the dignity of returning citizens, as we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Restorative justice for the returning citizen is supported by biblical tradition, and should be a matter for the faith community. Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, was subject to oppression at the hands of the Roman Empire and imprisoned. He paid the ultimate price for our second chance. It’s time to pay it forward. Grace is about redemption and reconciliation through God’s unwavering love for humanity. When society embodies that grace, we stop punishing people long after they have completed their sentences, and stop turning their families and communities into collateral damage.

Bread for the World Letter to U.S. Senate on Smarter Sentencing Act

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Photo: Nate, a returning citizen in Ohio, who has been able to overcome the employment barrier, and now works to feed his family. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Today, Bread for the World President David Beckmann sent the following letter to U.S. senators, asking them to support the Smart Sentencing Act, which would alleviate costly prison overcrowding, reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses, and those resentence cases subjected to mandatory minimum sentencing.

As stated in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, we cannot end hunger without confronting knottier social issues—and hunger and poverty often result from social exclusion and discrimination. Men and women who have spent time in prison often face difficulty finding jobs and feeding their families—and they are less likely to have access to social safety net programs. For example, most states restrict or ban certain returning citizens from using food stamps (SNAP).

Read the full text of the letter below.

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Senator:

 

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA), sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL).  This bipartisan legislation, which will soon see a vote in the Senate, alleviates the costly overcrowding crisis in our prisons. It would reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses and authorize judicial review for possible resentencing of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity. Bread for the World calls on you to vote in favor of the bill and asks you to consider co-sponsoring the SSA. Additionally, we hope you will oppose any additional amendments that harm the bill’s integrity, such ascreating mandatory sentences for other offenses.

As a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization, we view federal policy through the lens of its impact on hunger and poverty.  Hunger is often a byproduct of social exclusion and discrimination. People who have spent time in prison are more likely to face barriers to work and thus less likely to have the resources to put food on the table. The toll on families and their economic security is significant. Furthermore, outdated, overly punitive, and unnecessarily restrictive drug sentencing disproportionately and unfairly incarcerates people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses.

Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased by an astounding 800 percent even though crime rates are lower. Half of the people in prison are there for a drug offense. Fewer people incarcerated for nonviolent, low-level drug cases would have a marked improvement on hunger in America.

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, protect it from additional harmful amendments, and consider co-sponsoring the legislation.

 

Sincerely,

 

David Beckmann

President

The Road to Advocacy: A Conversation at The Justice Conference

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Lynne Hybels listens as Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy speaks during the "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" panel discussion at the 2014 Justice Conference in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 21. (Robin Stephenson)

Once you have seen injustice in the world, it cannot be unseen. You want to do something – but what? How can we work toward restorative justice in our communities, our nation, and our world?

Restoration of God’s vision of the world as it should be, as opposed to how the world is, was a theme of this year’s Justice Conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World, participated in the panel "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" with teacher and advocate Belinda Bauman, Willow Creek Community Church co-founder and Ten for Congo founder Lynne Hybels, Kilns College vice president of development Melissa McCreery, and moderator Chelsie Frank.

The road to advocacy had different on-ramps for each of the women. For Vaillancourt-Murphy it began by living and working with migrant workers in Oregon after finishing college. Frustrated with a system that prevented people from flourishing, she needed to do something. Biblical examples of advocates like Nehemiah and Ruth pointed her toward Bread for the World, and the need to address root causes of injustice. “When we connect our story and God’s story, the world transforms,” Vaillancourt-Murphy said.

McCreery used her training as an educator as her foothold in justice work. The response to injustice is often driven by emotion, but she pointed out that injustices also have political, cultural, and even economic roots that must be considered. A holistic approach is vital to avoiding burnout. “We need to educate people to be successful leaders, so they don’t spin their wheels around the emotional context,” McCreery said.

Bauman's journey to advocacy began with a sputtering engine. “The pothole I fell into,” she told the audience, “was because I was waiting for someone to give me permission.” She emphasized that once you have found something you are deeply passionate about, finding good resources and educating yourself is your responsibility. The moral of her story is that persistence pays off. “Failure is one of our greatest assets and we learn from it,” she said. Bauman encouraged new advocates to keep moving forward in their roles as citizens, and said they must push through fear to change the world. “Capitol Hill feels like Kansas, but you begin,” she said.

When Frank asked the panel how an advocate without a position in an organization could begin, Hybels turned to Vaillancourt-Murphy and said, “That is why I’m grateful for Krisanne and Bread for the World. They make it easy.” Hybels said her view of the church’s role as praying and building awareness expanded to include advocacy once she saw that transforming unjust systems required changes at the policy level. “The first thing I did was I got on the computer, found my representative and my senators, and emailed them," said Hybels. "They just need to know.”

Searching for a foothold in transformational advocacy can feel lonely for the new faithful advocate, but Bauman offered a piece of advice for them: find others who are passionate at the soul level and, “stir each other up to good works.” The most important thing, she advised, is to “fearlessly, courageously, humbly, and intelligently begin.”

Escaping Poverty: Looking at U.S. Economic Mobility

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During his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is expected to talk about income inquality and economic mobility—issues that he has called “the defining challenge of our time.”

Indeed, the idea that the United States is a land of opportunity is becoming a myth, especially when this nation is compared to other rich countries. According to a new Harvard study, "the U.S. is better described as a collection of societies, some of which are 'lands of opportunity' with high rates of mobility across generations, and others in which few children escape poverty."

This morning, an NPR Morning Edition report examined the study, which shows that social mobility—the ability to climb the economic ladder through income-earning power—hasn't changed in the United States since the 1970s.  and that the consequences of not being able to climb the social ladder—such as limited job prospects and low-wage work—are far more dire than they were 40 years ago. 

“The notion that America is a special place where any kid can grow up to be president, is very important to the American psyche," David Wessel, a journalist and Brookings Institution analyst, told NPR. "But when you look at the data, it’s harder to rise from the bottom to the middle or from the middle to the top in the U.S. than in other rich countries around the world.”

Harvard economist Nathan Hendren, a co-author of the study, told NPR that data shows that a child born into the bottom fifth of wealth in the United States has only an 8 percent chance of reaching the top fifth, compared to a 16 percent chance if you are born in Denmark. 

The Washington Post recently used the Harvard study data to create an interactive map of economic mobility in the United States. While most children of lower-income parents make more money than their parents did, their ability to do varies substantially in this country. The map above gives an overview, but the full version allows you to see, down to the county, if children in your area have opportunity to earn more, and achieve more, than their parents. 

To learn more about income inequality, economic mobility, and what the United States can do to close the gap, read Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

Coming in February: The Justice Conference

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Bread for the World staff at last year's Justice Conference.  Left to right:  Michael Smith, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Sarah Miller, and Kyle Dechant (Robin Stephenson).

By Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
                                                                                               —Isaiah 43:19

Does your church or campus community want to share God’s concern for poor and hungry people? Seek inspiration for the long haul of its social justice journey? Desire to connect with a national, biblically-grounded rising of teachers, business people, artists, stay-at-home moms, and others who have a passion for justice?

For the past three years, Bread for the World has been a sponsor of The Justice Conference, an annual national gathering that educates, inspires, and connects a generation of men and women around a shared concern for biblical and social justice, and the vulnerable and oppressed.

In February, Bread for the World will again bring its proven Christian legislative advocacy experience to the conference, and look to find new ways to collaborate around addressing global hunger and poverty. 

Here’s how your faith community can get involved with this year's Justice Conference, which will take place Feb. 21 to 23 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles:

If you, or your church, are participating in this year’s conference, either attending or serving as a host site, please let us know—we’d like to connect with you. To learn more about this year's conference, watch the conference promotional video, featuring poet Micah Bournes, below.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy leads national evangelical church relations at Bread for the World.

Realizing the Dream: September's Bread for the Preacher

'Holy Bible' photo (c) 2009, Steve Snodgrass - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Did you know that each month the church relations department at Bread for the World produces a resource specifically for pastors? Whether you are searching for inspiration for a sermon you're writing, or just a lectionary enthusiast, Bread for the Preacher is for you.

After reading this introduction, explore this month’s readings on the Bread for the Preacher web page, where you can also sign up to have the resource emailed to you each month.

By Rev. Gary Cook

A few blocks down the street from Bread for the World’s Washington, D.C., offices, thousands of people crowd the National Mall, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On Wednesday, they will join Americans across the country in commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. There will be some celebration of what has changed in 50 years, but the people on the Mall are keenly aware that the Trayvon Martin verdict, the curtailment of the Voting Rights Act, and the mass incarceration of people of color are all signs that the dream is far from being realized.

Many of those on the Mall are people of strong faith. They know that "Let justice roll down like waters" was a divine mandate long before it was a Dr. King quote. And they come trusting that the God of deliverance is still at work in this world. Remembering that God also had a role for Moses in delivering Israel from bondage, they raise their voices before those who have the power to change things for those who face hunger, poverty, imprisonment, and deportation.

The September lectionary begins with the Letter to the Hebrews admonitions for Christian love that encompasses concern for brothers and sisters in need, for the stranger, and for those in prison. Throughout the month, we are reminded that relationships of solidarity, understanding, and love are essential to the realization of justice.

I pray that your September preaching helps connect your listeners to the faith and passion of those who mark this important moment in our country's history — and rekindle hope that the dream will be realized.

Rev. Gary Cook is director of church relations at Bread for the World.

Closing the Gender Gap: Miles to Go

Heather_turner_and_daughterToday is Women’s Equality Day, a time to commemorate the right of women to vote. Although we've come a long way in the fight for equality, there are still miles to go. The face of poverty is most often that of a woman and the lopsided statistics below help make it clear that hunger and poverty disproportionately affect women.
  • In the United States, single-parent households are the most likely to be poor. A snapshot from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice for 2011 reports 34.2 percent of single-parent homes headed by females were poor, compared to 16.5 percent of those headed by males. During that time, more than 5 million more women than men lived in poverty.
  • U.S. Census figures also show that women are still earning an average of  77 cents on the dollar compared to wages for men. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of men working full time increased by 1.7 million, compared to 0.5 million women.
  • Although women account for a little over 50 percent of the U.S. population, only 19 percent of our representatives in Congress are women. Women make up nearly half the labor force but they still only hold 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.

We have miles yet to go.

  • Globally, women make up 45 percent of the world’s workforce, yet they are 70 percent of the world’s poor.
  • In impoverished nations, girls are less likely than boys to receive a basic education and globally, 584 million women are illiterate.
  • The World Economic Forum has reported that 82 out of the 132 countries improved economic equality between 2011 and 2012, but globally only 60 percent of the gender gap has been closed.

We have miles yet to go.

Each new policy that supports full inclusion and equality as it related to economics, politics, education, and health are mile markers on the road toward closing the gender gap. Closing the gender gap is part of the journey to end hunger. In the United States, policy is influenced and driven by the will of the people through exercising our voting rights. A day that reminds us how precious that right is, especially for women, is a good day to remember how powerful our voice as faithful advocates can be.

Part of the process to build the political will to end hunger includes keeping our legislators accountable, which is why Bread for the World has created the 2013 midyear voting scorecard.  For Christians, voting is part of the work we do to realize a just and equitable society where every man, woman and child has enough to eat. 

Photo: Heather Rude-Turner, 31, kisses her daughter Naomi, 5, after attending church, October 2, 2011.  (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).

 

An Afternoon at the D.C. Central Kitchen

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Bread for the World interns Katy Merckel, Theresa Martin, and Hampton Stall volunteering at D.C. Central Kitchen. Bottom photo: Bread for the World interns assembling salads at D.C. Central Kitchen. (Photos by Bread for the World intern Donald Soffer) 

By Theresa Martin

Clad in aprons and hair nets, Bread for the World interns were busy chopping onions and arranging salads on the eve of July 4. While our time at Bread is usually spent working on advocacy in the office rather than direct service, we spent the afternoon volunteering at D.C. Central Kitchen.

D.C. Central Kitchen is an organization that focuses on providing both food and skills training for those in need. However, as its website reads, it is “not a soup kitchen.” Through programs like the 14-week culinary job training program for the unemployed, D.C. Central Kitchen provides those it serves with tools for ending the cycle of poverty. Rather than just offering food, the organization teaches others how to prepare food and then deliver meals to food pantries and other agencies around the city. Fresh Start Catering, D.C. Central Kitchen’s revenue-generating arm, which employs culinary job training program graduates, catered Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering.

As volunteers, we had the opportunity to work alongside culinary students and to get to know some of the people we advocate for and with at Bread.

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“D.C. Central kitchen gave me a great chance to get to work for a good cause while learning a lot about the people I [volunteered] with!” says Bread intern Hampton Stall. 

Intern Sara Doughton said the experience “was a powerful reminder that, although we may seem to be on different paths, or using different tools, we’re traveling together – and with countless others – as we work to end hunger.”

It was encouraging to learn about the work of the DCCK, and above all, it was a reminder to be creative in the pursuit of a just food system. Through their passion for cooking, the founders of D.C. Central Kitchen’s culinary training program have "changed the lives of over 1,000 men and women." Are you passionate about cooking? Writing? Politics? Music? Use what YOU are passionate about in the fight against hunger!

Theresa Martin is an intern in Bread for the World's Church Relations department.

Hope for Immigration Reform: The National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference

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Rev Luis Cortés, president and founder of Esperanza, speaking at Bread for the World's National Gathering last month. (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Theresa Martin

More than 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants in America live below the poverty line. Many of them flee hunger in their home countries only to arrive in the United States and find themselves struggling to feed themselves and their families yet again. In a country where 33 million tons of food is wasted each year, and roughly 75 percent of our farm workers are migrants, how is it that so many immigrants go hungry? “For I was hungry and you gave me food… I was a stranger and you welcomed me”—have we forgotten Jesus’ words?

I recently had the opportunity, along with immigration advocates from across the country, to attend the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference, hosted by Esperanza, an organization that works to support Latino communities in the United States. Both Democratic and Republican leaders spoke to the topic of immigration reform, and attendees had the opportunity to lobby members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

Continue reading "Hope for Immigration Reform: The National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference" »

Hear Rev. Dr. James Forbes Speak Near You

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Rev. Dr. James Forbes speaking at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

When the Rev. Dr. James Forbes was a child, his family’s Raleigh, N.C., dinner table was a place not only where meals were shared, but where accomplishments were celebrated and compassion encouraged. After saying grace, the family members ate and talked about how they could best extend kindness and love to each other and the members of their community. “If we had been faithful in caring and sharing then we had the sense that justice and peace had a chance in the world,” Rev. Forbes, senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York City and president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, said in a recent sermon.

During Bread for the World’s 2013 National Gathering, “A Place at the Table,” Rev. Forbes offered words to fortify advocates working to ensure that all families can gather around dinner tables filled with compassion, love, and nutritious food. Now, Rev. Forbes, who is often called "the preacher’s preacher," is traveling the country, conveying God’s message that we can end hunger.

In the coming months, he will be preaching in churches across the nation and leading homiletics workshops for ministers, pastors, and others who also preach to end hunger. Click here to see if Rev. Forbes is coming to a church near you and to obtain registration information.

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