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Justice is Not Love at a Distance: Presentation to Reconciliation Symposium

Social Justice Panel 5-Minute Presentation at Reconciliation Symposium Tulsa, Fri. May 27
Rev. Ron Robinson

When I think justice I think right relationship. For When I hear the word justice, because of my seminary training in biblical Greek and my first career as a newspaper journalist, I hear and think about justification, from where we get the use of the word justifying, as in justifying lines of type on a page, justify left or right or center, how is something brought into alignment, into right relationship, into reconciliation. 

We might think of justice, justification, alignment, right relationship, reconciliation then as acts of being in solidarity with others, being an ally, in an alignment with them.

And because of my faith, when I think about justice I don't think just about "any old them" to be in alignment or right relationship with; not those who look or think or have the resources and blessings I do, but I think about aligning myself with God who aligns or justifies or is in right relationship particularly in and with those who are we might say "out of alignment" as the world treats them, those who have been cast out of right relationship for a variety of causes and reasons but particularly as part of social and economic and political and even sometimes,  especially even sometimes, religious oppressions, and from the sufferings of body, mind and spirit. If I want to be in right relationship with the loving and liberating spirit of life I know as God then I need to be in right relationship also with those for whom God seeks to be in alignment with, the Sacredness identifying with them, and that is not the winners but the losers in our cultures, not the greatest and most prosperous and strongest but the least, the poor, the vulnerable, not the smartest and the most resourced, but the struggling and those alone, not those who hang out in cool trendy places or safe convenient spaces, but those who have been on the wronged end of the truth that so much of one's quality of life depends on what zipcode you live in. 

I live and work in the zipcode with now an 11 year life expectancy gap between us and the zipcodes on the southside of Tulsa. It has improved in the past nine years from 14 years difference, but is still outrageously high.  Social justice to me and my neighbors is a life and death thing then at its core, and those in our zipcode are poorer and more African American than the other zipcodes so this injustice of basic life and health is felt primarily by them, and not me except as how I am related to them, so it is rooted in the intersections of racism and classism, and because we have more women as sole or major breadwinners, and more women incarcerated, this injustice of life and death itself is rooted also in sexism.  

But what if we completely erase that life expectancy gap, Will we have arrived at social justice? No, because Social Justice is not something we arrive at, can declare is over, victory won, USA USA, but is a process we keep working to make a habit out of, a spiritual habit I would say. And that is itself one reason for its difficulty to engage more people in; there is no easy quick fix, no red pill you can take and the world becomes right. Instead, because we are the way we are, the universe is the way it is,  we will always be in the process of needing to be in deeper and truer relationships with those suffering, and more mindful of our own sufferings so we can be with others. We will keep getting out of justification, and as a result need to keep justice-making. 

As a friend in my Lead North class said about racial reconciliation, we can't be re-conciled if we were never conciled to begin with. Reconciliation is a way of life then too, though it itself has gotten a bad name in recent years as we have seen groups of people try to have a false sense of justification, justice, alignment, to have reconciliation without its requisites of repentance and reparations. Being in true relationship with the suffering means not letting words like social justice or reconciliation be used too lightly and loosely and cheaply, especially by those who have benefited from the misalignment of the world. 

Our justice task then in society is to focus on being rightly related, in justification with one another, especially those who are different from us in the many ways of our diverse world; it is about who we hang out with, who we live with, who we eat with, who we shop with, ride the bus with, who we get out of our comfort zone with. Only when we do that, then should we offer up solutions, legislation. When I hear people and especially elected officials denigrating those on food stamps, or who are too poor to qualify for Obamacare, or who struggle to find one part time job let alone the three that are needed for a middle class wage, or schools on the low end of testing scores, or seek to shame and ostracize gay, lesbian, transgender people and others, I want to interrupt and ask them first before they say anything to tell me about the poor, sick, unemployed, parent teacher student in a school in a low income area, or gay, lesbian, transgender person that they know, who they have spoken to about their life let alone who they have lived with.

Sometimes it is said Justice is love at a distance.  I would maintain you can't have justice or love at a distance, removed from the daily life of those to which you seek to be rightly related. Not by writing checks, sending letters, maybe not even by marching, though maybe each of those is a foot in the door to right relationship and justice. 

The guide I use is the 3Rs of social justice community forming work; the first R is for relocating, or returning, or remaining to be with those who are especially in need of relationships and the resiliency that comes from being in right relationships. Social justice is about being someone who sees those from whom others turn away from, who hears them into their own speech, who gets them, who learns from them. The second R is for the ongoing process of authentic reconciliation that is founded upon a constant state of repentance and reparations. It is the thing that keeps relocation returning remaining from turning into gentrification and injustice. And the third R is for the way to get real about reconciliation and what relocation teaches you and that is Redistribution, the realignment or justification if you will, the Redistribution, of goods, yes, and of the common good. 


Why We Exist; What We Have Done; Our Next Steps With Your Help

 Quick Look at our 74126, 74130 McLain/Turley Area And Our Response and Major Next Steps Needed

A Third Place Community Foundation,

We also serve Sperry through our free food store, and the gardenpark and orchard is for all with no geographic restrictions.

Proximate Boundaries: 46th to 76th St. North, Highway 75 to Osage County Line
We are more than our statistics. We have strengths and spirit, and beautiful land, and people helping people in many ways. But, also….

1.     We die 10.7 years sooner than in midtown just 6 miles away on Peoria Ave. We and others are making a difference; when we began in 2007, the life expectancy gap was 13.8 years. Life expectancy studies reveal 10 percent comes from clinical treatment, 20 percent comes from genetics; that leaves 70 percent of the impact to come from lifestyle choices (50 percent) and environmental factors (20 percent, much of which contributes to the capacity to make good lifestyle choices).

2.     Rated Second Worse Zipcode in Tulsa for health outcomes: based on 1 best and 5 worst scale, the 74126 is 4.320 and our neighbor 74106 is the worst at 4.570. 74130 is 3.950 the fifth worst. By comparison 74114 is 2.150, so more than twice healthier. Our zipcode has the Worst health care access rates.

3.     2009 OU and Third Place Foundation nutrition study: 60 percent can’t afford healthy food; 55 percent worry about amount of food they have; 6 percent use spoiled food; 29 percent adults skip meals. .31 percent receive food from church, 35 percent borrow food from family, 25 percent borrow food from friends, 25 percent adults skip entire day from eating, 29 percent adults skip meals, 26 percent did not eat and are hungry at time of survey, 43 percent eat less than they should, 60 percent eat low cost foods, 52 percent cannot afford nutritious meals, 57 percent run out of food. The Food environment: 29 percent have no affordable source of food in community, 63 percent know about a food pantry, 56 percent rate the food quality in Turley area as fair or poor, 59 percent indicate food in Turley area expensive or very expensive relative to budget. Overall Health: 56 percent not currently healthy, 41 percent health is fair or poor, 54 percent are overweight, 66 percent say they should weigh less, 47 percent smoke or use other tobacco.

4.     2013 OU and Third Place Foundation study just at our Food Store: 52.6 percent high food insecurity; 42.1 percent very high food insecurity, experiencing hunger symptoms when surveyed; 68.4 percent of households have at least one member with nutrition-related chronic disease; 53 percent depression; 47 percent anxiety; 53 percent high blood pressure; 32 percent high cholesterol; 47 percent obese and 21 percent overweight.

5. Our demographic at food store: 68 percent women, 42 percent black, 36 percent white, 63 percent under $10,000 annual household income; 5 percent employed, 47.4 percent disabled, 42 percent less than high school education and 16 percent have a high school degree.

6. We connect and serve with some 1000 of our neighbors monthly, of the 11,500 in our primary service area. Our population has declined by 1000 in the past four years which means the needs have increased as more has closed. Unemployment numbers are double the state average.

Our Response:
In 2007 we turned our church inside out and focused organization on community concerns and connections and opened up a community center with a computer center, library, clothing room, meeting space and soon housed an OU Health Clinic and began working with OU Graduate Social Work program on community forums and projects. Called it A Third Place as part of the global third places or third spaces movement of creating free public spaces where people could meet and work with people who are different from them to make a difference around them.

In 2009 we formed A Third Place Community Foundation as a non-faith-based non-profit, and began demonstration community garden on donated church land. In 2010 we raised funds aided by a project by the OU Graduate Design Studio, to buy the block of abandoned neglected burned out properties and illegal dump site across from where our demonstration garden was located, and with federal stimulus funds we began clearing it; that year we also bought a large abandoned church building to move the community center into for expansion. In 2011 as the OU health clinic closed with us, we began working with OU Graduate Social Work intern and classes to develop a lay health worker plan that would use our residents mentoring our residents who go to the emergency room the most, and the “medical mentors” would be trained by OU community medicine residents but funding never came to initiate the program.

In 2011 in our new space in the old vandalized church building we expanded our programs for the community center meeting space, free bookstore, computer center, art room, clothing and more room, and expanded our food pantry and store. We hold community festivals in both the Center and at the GardenPark and Orchard.

In 2011 we won an online contest for the community orchard; and we received a federal home loan bank grant for our park site preparation. For the past five years we have been living and growing in and adding to both of our properties, as well as working on blighted areas in the community.   

Next major steps

for the GardenPark and Orchard: finish the greenhouse, add aquaponics and kitchen; construct the 2100 sq ft hoop house; expand the Children’s Garden; build the 20 foot long Welcome Table; construct a stage, a deck, and a shade area. Launch the annual Grow Pots program to help families at the food store to grow their own food at home. Help people start smaller gardens on abandoned lots in their neighborhoods.

for the Community Center: Finish the Community Room in the south building for the free bookstore, computer area, classroom, kitchen, meeting space; move and expand the art rooms and studio and create a gallery in the Central Building; expand the food store with a third room for shopping and added storage; Finish the outside Permaculture Flood Management Project, and outdoor deck and gardens and benches and small hoop house.