Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

197 posts categorized "Social Justice"

From Selma to Now: The Unfinished Agenda of a Pan-African Anti-Poverty Movement

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Demonstrators participate in the 1968 Poor People's March in Washington, D.C. Warren K. Leffler/U.S. News & World Report via Wikimedia Commons.

By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith

In 1968, the world mourned the loss of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  His journey as a leader in the civil rights movement ended when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. Most people are familiar with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the early and major events in the movement. The recent film “Selma” has given further visibility to the legacy of Bloody Sunday, another of the movement’s seminal events, and the fight that ended in the Voting Rights Act.  King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, concerning his challenge to Christian leaders to act now and not later, has taken its proper place in the memories of many.  

Less is said about King’s final work concerning his position against the Vietnam War and an anti-poverty agenda spelled out in his work From Chaos to Community.  This agenda was addressed when King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy worked with the civil rights community to erect Resurrection City at the same location as the March on Washington. This initiative would be known as the Poor People’s Campaign and had thousands of participants stay in tents on the National Mall in 1968.  The rains were heavy that year. Some in the government proved rigid and set in the old ways. Others objected on the basis of fear. Participants faced many challenges but continued to move forward.

Since 1968, there have been other boycotts advocating for economic empowerment and other socio-political movements led by and supported by African-American churches and organizations as well as other institutions. There have also been aspects of a pan-African anti-poverty faith agenda as well. Despite all of this, the specific tenets of King’s proposal of how to end poverty, such as a guaranteed income for all, still have not been systematically addressed.

Bread for the World is convinced we can help to end hunger by 2030 through praying, acting, and giving, but there is much work ahead of us to get this done. As recently as this month, African-American church leaders said they need to seek ways to deepen their commitment to a pan-African anti-poverty agenda of faith. Our country’s history is tied closely to Africa, and now, generations later, Africa is on the rise again with its emerging economies.  

Bread will soon further outline its proposal for work with African-American church leaders and partners. We look forward to any input you might like to give in this regard.  Please send your comments to bread@bread.org or (202) 639-9400, toll-free: (800) 822-7323.

Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is the associate for national African-American church engagement at Bread for the World.

Participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring on Super Bowl Sunday

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Wikimedia Commons.

By Stephen H. Padre

"Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat" is a prayer that began a movement to take action against hunger on a day when Americans come together around football, fun, and food.
 
The Souper Bowl of Caring takes place every year on the day of the Super Bowl—Feb. 1 this year. The idea is simple: Led by youth, your congregation or community collects money and/or canned goods before or on Super Bowl Sunday. You report your results at tacklehunger.org, where national results are compiled and reported. You then donate 100 percent of your collection to an organization of your choice that is fighting hunger.
 
Make participation in this national event fun in your congregation. Some congregations serve a soup lunch after worship services. Use football images and sports metaphors to build excitement. Send youth out to collect money and canned goods from homes in the neighborhood.
 
The event is locally driven—you choose where your collection goes—but why not make broader connections in your participation? Pass on in-kind donations to a local organization, and give part or all of your monetary donations to an organization that works nationally or internationally, such as Bread for the World or your denomination’s hunger program. Groups across the country have donated to Bread in the past.
 
Start planning for your participation now. Promotional materials that you can use and adapt are available at www.souperbowl.org, where you can find information about other events around the Souper Bowl, including a service blitz.

Stephen H. Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.

For You Always Have the Poor With You

3963306049_3d6267a1f5_oBy Bishop Jose Garcia

Outgoing Texas governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry was asked in a Dec. 9 Washington Post interview about the growing gap between rich and impoverished people in his state. The article on Perry’s interview states, “(Texas) has had strong job growth over the past decade but also has lagged in services for the underprivileged.” Perry’s response: “Biblically, the poor are always going to be with us in some form or fashion.”

Perry expressed an explanation that many Americans believe. He appears to be referencing a Bible passage in Mark 14:7: “For you always have the poor with you.”

I celebrate that the Bible is accessible to everybody. However, it must be understood in context and not used out of context.

Jesus uttered the words recorded in Mark 14:7 in an exchange in which some were criticizing a woman who chose to anoint Jesus before his burial with what was probably one of her most precious possessions, an ointment of nard. She could have been saving this very expensive nard for her wedding. During biblical times, brides were traditionally anointed with this oil. Yet in this passage, we see that the woman chooses to use the oil as an offering to honor Jesus.

It is interesting to note that some in our modern times use Jesus’ response to the criticism of this woman to make poverty seem like something inevitable—or even worse—to not make it a concern. Jesus praises the woman for her choice. His earthly ministry was about to end, and he was telling the disciples they would not have the opportunity to honor him in that fashion on earth again. Yet people living in poverty among us remain an opportunity to honor and serve God.

Maybe Jesus was referring to a sentiment expressed in Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”

If we take this passage in context, verses 7 to 11—or the whole chapter, for that matter—we can see that it addresses the priority of caring for people struggling with poverty. God did not want people to live in extreme poverty and want. The laws established by God in this passage and many others make provision for economic justice.

However, because of the sins of greed and disobedience to God’s commandments, humanity experiences social and economic disparity. That should not be the case. Money and wealth should be tools with which we are given the power of choice to use for the welfare of all. The Bible does not discourage wealth but rather encourages us to use it as a tool for good works that reflect God’s love.

The Bible should not be used out of context as a pretext for government officials or anyone else to rationalize the lack of action toward the end of hunger and poverty. In our nation, the most prosperous, most technologically advanced in the world, nearly 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table, and 45 million live in poverty. One in five children are not sure where their next meal will come from. We cannot choose one Bible text, out of context, to ignore the plight of millions who do not have a fair choice for their nutrition, decent housing, education, health, living wages, and job opportunities.

By faith, at Bread for the World we believe that if the president and Congress can, in a bipartisan way, summon the political will to end hunger and extreme poverty, this desire can become a top priority in our national policies and a goal achievable by the year 2030.

Jose Garcia is a bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy and the director of the church relations department at Bread for the World.

Photo: Bread for the World

Holiday Gifts That Give Back

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Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer Gonzalez

Everyone knows that Christmas is the season of giving. So this year, why not try something a little different? Ditch the clothes, electronic gadgets, and expensive jewelry and instead embrace socially responsible gift giving.

Give your family and friends gifts that show them how much you really care about them. With less than a week before Christmas, here are some ideas to help you:

Give your time

  • Make a homemade dinner and deliver it to the person’s house.
  • Provide a ride to someone in need.
  • Remember those who cannot get home for the holidays. Invite them over to your home so they can experience a Christmas filled with food, laughter, and good company.
  • Offer to house and/or pet sit for friends and family traveling out of town.
  • Offer babysitting services for a night to parents so they can have a “date night.”

Give your experience

  • Share your love and expertise by teaching someone how to play a sport, write a poem, play an instrument, how to cook, use a computer, or take a photograph.
  • Sign someone up for language or dance classes.

Homemade gifts

  • Remember that ceramic bowl you made in art class for Mom and Dad years ago? Well, it’s time to turn it up a notch. Embrace your artistic and crafty side and create photo albums, collages, and scrapbooks.
  • Put together an oral history by recording interviews with family members. Share the stories on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
  • Draw your family tree and frame the artwork.
  • Put together a book of family recipes or family stories.

Give your money

  • Donate money to a nonprofit organization in the name a friend or family member. Bread has received high ratings from charity-rating organizations.

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.

The Faithful Light the Way to Justice

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Church members from various faiths light the way to justice. Jay Mallin/United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

By Jennifer Gonzalez

Over the weekend, hundreds of people from various faiths stood on the sidewalk along 16th Street, a major thoroughfare in Washington, D.C., from the White House to Silver Spring, Md., in solidarity with those hurting from the recent slate of injustices perpetrated against the lives of African-American men.

“Vigil for Justice: People of Faith Lighting the Way” was organized by clergy from the Greater Washington, D.C., area as a way to respond in a peaceful manner to the recent police shootings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. Roughly 30 churches participated, including those from the Unitarian Universalist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, and Baptist denominations.

Rev. Robert Hardies, senior minister at All Souls Church Unitarian, said faith traditions contain a promise that all human beings have inherent worth and dignity, but that the criminal justice system is not living up to that promise and that the vigil was “lighting the way to a more just society.”

The faithful held candles, flashlights, and even lanterns. Thousands of luminaries dotted the east side of 16th Street. Every now and then a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine” broke out, and candles were raised high when passing drivers honked their horns.

I was one of the many standing in the cold on Friday. I participated out of my conviction for the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. What has happened in our country lately has been shameful. Rev. Ruben Tendai, interim senior minister at Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., likened the current injustices to a festering wound that erupts from time to time in this country.

“Garner’s words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ is a metaphor for the marginalized people in our nation,” Tendai said. “We actually can’t breathe how God intended us to.”

Vigilpic3After the Ferguson grand jury decision, I figured the demonstrations would just peter out like they have so many times before. Instead, I have been heartened to see the protests continue.  Most recently, medical students organized a massive “die-in” protest across the country. Students from institutions such as Howard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University dropped to the ground in their white coats.

The hunger and poverty experienced by people of color is deeply rooted in the racial injustices they have experienced. Education, healthcare, housing, and employment opportunities grow dim when the lives of African-Americans don’t matter. That’s when programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) can help families and individuals move out of poverty.

On Saturday, thousands descended on the National Mall to protest the police shootings and the larger issue of racial injustice. I don’t know what is going to happen next. But I am hopeful like I have never been before. As a person of faith, I have to believe that justice will prevail and that goodness will be done.

Bread for the World is ending the year with the theme of “Shine your light. Give life,” taken from John 8:12. My hope is that more lights like those that were on the streets of our nation’s capital on Friday night will pierce the darkness of injustice. It is only when we shine a light on injustice that life in its fullness can be lived by everybody.

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.

Inset photo: Luminaries light the sidewalk along 16th Street, near the border of Washington, D.C. and Silver Spring, Md. Jay Mallin/United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

We Pray for Justice in Ferguson

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(Bread for the World)

Bread for the World issued the following press release earlier today. 

Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, issued this statement today as the country awaits the grand jury’s decision on the Michael Brown case. Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer, on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. The grand jury is expected to render its decision to indict or not to indict Officer Wilson this month.

“Bread for the World holds the community of Ferguson, the City of St. Louis, the State of Missouri, and all in this nation in prayer. We pray for shalom, the peace of God thatconveys health, completeness, wholeness, integrity, soundness, welfare, security, reconciliation, prosperity, harmony, and justice.

We confess that we as a nation have allowed racial injustice and the circumstances like those in Ferguson and elsewhere throughout the country to persist. As we pray for forgiveness for ourselves and peace for Michael Brown’s family, we also pray for Darren Wilson, his family, and police officers.

“We support the young people and faith congregations in St. Louis who have vowed to solve these problems through non-violent means. They have sparked renewed interest in activism for a just society, where all can thrive, be respected, and be safe. Bread member and activist Mary Gene Boteler, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis; Bread board member Dr. Iva Carruthers of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy United; the Metropolitan Congregations United; and the Missouri-wide coalition Hands Up; Clergy United; the Don't Shoot Coalition; along with hundreds of courageous young people struggle to create a local resolution to this national problem and to recommend effective responses.

“We look forward to joining them and others during the Faith Table Gathering in Ferguson in early December to seek effective ways to hold public systems accountable and a unified, national, change agenda.

“Amid the soul searching that the death of Michael Brown revived, Bread recognizes that the legacy of slavery must be reconciled if we are to end hunger and poverty in the United States. Bread takes note that Missouri is the sixth-hungriest state in our nation. Nearly one million Missourians cannot adequately feed themselves or their families. This includes more than 308,000 children, many of whom rely on meals they get while at school.

“Bread also notes that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and incarcerates people of color at alarming rates with an expansion and militarization of police forces. These factors contribute to hunger and poverty in many communities. We are encouraged that members of Congress from both parties have spoken out about injustices in the legal system, and Bread for the World will support legislation to address these issues.

“Bread is committed to ending hunger and poverty by 2030 while addressing these injustices today, and it works with all people of good will to accomplish that goal. We pray that in the end, justice will ’roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ (Amos 5:24).”

 

 

For Third Year, Eric Mitchell Named a Top Lobbyist

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Eric Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread for the World, addresses anti-hunger advocates before the 2014 Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. (Bread for the World).


For the third time in as many years, Eric Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread for the World, has been named in The Hill newspaper as a top grassroots lobbyist.

The tribute is given each year to a selection of individuals deemed by the newspaper as instrumental in shaping federal policy. Mitchell was recognized for his work influencing anti-hunger legislation.

Mitchell and his policy team spend hundreds of hours on Capitol Hill speaking with and providing data to lawmakers and their staffs on legislation that will help end hunger. But, Mitchell stresses, Bread for the World members actually get them in the door.

“We might have the specialized knowledge to speak about the details of a piece of legislation, like how The Food for Peace Reform Act will get more food aid to millions more hungry people,” says Mitchell, “but members of Congress would never listen to us if they were not hearing from voters back home that ending hunger should be a priority.” 

And when advocates report in-district visits with their members of Congress to their regional organizers, Mitchell and his team follow up with the D.C. offices, increasing the impact of our members' congressional visits.

Mitchell says it is a privilege to represent the faith voice on the Hill.  “We bring something special to the table. There is a church in every congressional district in every state.”

Working closely with members of Congress, he knows the influence the faith voice carries.  “Members of Congress constantly say that the faith community’s voice is important on so many issues,” he says. “Probably more so than any other special interest group, the faith community has leverage to influence public policy both at home and in D.C.”

Congratulations to Mitchell, his staff, and faithful advocates for this distinction.

 

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.”

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