A Morning Spent in the Church of Social Justice

A chapter meeting for the National Action Network (NAN)

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“NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” a chaplain shouts into the audience.

“NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” the people in the pews shout back at the chaplain.

The National Action Network (NAN), founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton, is a leading civil rights organizations with chapters across the US. NAN works within the “spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, nationality or gender”.

In short, NAN is your neighborhood church of racial and social justice, and I attended a service at a Syracuse New York chapter this weekend.

The NAN meeting is held in a local church, with a predominately African American population. As people filter into the room and take seats in the pews, the NAN chaplain sings prayer and scripture at the front of the room. An imam gives the sermon today, and singing follows. Next up is the main lecture given by a revered community member, who speaks to many of the current issues surrounding education, criminal justice, jobs and economic development health and wellness and corporate and community responsibility on the South side.

Finally, the president of NAN takes the center stage, and concludes the meeting by reminding the group that being an advocate for the South side of Syracuse, and being a social justice advocate for all people of the world means a lot more than showing up for a few meetings during election season (with this she looks out at the two potential mayorial candidates in the audience and gives them a good moment to think on this). She is taking no shit, and explains that her community has heard promises from politicians before and are not going to be fooled again. She wants answers, and she wants them now.

She asks for a closing prayer, at which time everyone in the room grabs hands- crossing pews and laughing as toes get stepped on- until everyone in the room is connected. A collection basket is passed around for donations, and the chaplain asks for $10 from every man in the room, in a half joking half serious manner. He says he has been noticing that it’s the ladies who always do a lot of donating, and it’s the men’s turn today.

I feel like I attended the church of social justice today, and I appreciated NAN for welcoming me into their space.

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