According to Derick Harris, “Jesus and justice go hand in hand.”
Harris, the director of Seminary Administration in the School of Theology, served as master of ceremonies for “Justice Speaks!” this past weekend.
Hosted by the John Perkins Center, the first-ever, two-day event took place in Upper Gwinn Friday and Saturday. “Justice Speaks!” was designed to provide creative spaces where the community could experience their motivations for faith and social justice, according to the event description on the John Perkins Center website.
The Friday evening kickoff began with worship and breakout groups, allowing participants to get to know each other, and a lecture by boxer, servant leader educator and SPU alumna Laura Wright Landrum.
Landrum began the conference by asking, “If justice speaks, what silences need to be broken?”
The all-day Saturday event included sessions, workshops and worship following three key themes of the event: Justice for the Stranger, Justice for the Prisoner and Justice for the Land and its People.
Speakers consisted of community activists such as Sel Bariamichael and Emannuel Mancilla, who are teachers are Seattle Urban Academy. Rather than talking about justice in a broad sense, Bariamichael and Mancilla spoke on the specific actions they have done to bring justice to their communities.
“Justice for the Stranger” included talk of faith-based activism in the form of a spoken word performance and speech by senior T.J. Sawyer. Sawyer expresses his life experiences through spoken word and dance, and on Saturday he spoke on the individual and how people tend to judge others.
“There’s a lot you can tell about someone by looking at them, but there’s infinitely more you don’t know,” Sawyer said.
“Justice for the Prisoner” delved into how injustice seeks to imprison people included discussions of privilege and racism.
Speaker Christian Bravo, an after school program coordinator, shared his experience with racism and how it is a system that oppresses students every day.
The speakers emphasized the importance of the arts in public schools and how access to creating art makes students more likely to become functioning members of society — members that are more likely to stay in school, peaceably protest and hold up their civic duties.
Speaker Christian Bravo suggested that everyone recognize their privilege and help out, especially in this incredibly diverse city where there are countless ways to help. He discussed three ways to seek justice: mentoring someone, finding ways to utilize privilege and being realistic with personal goals.
Another speaker was SPU GOLD Alumnus of the Year Jerrell Davis, an educator, activist and artist who serves at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle.
He spoke on how easy it is for privileged communities to put other communities in the dark unless they recognize how they may be disconnected from that group or those groups of people. He encouraged the audience to pass on their privilege and to implement restorative justice.
The final topic discussed was “Justice for the Land and its People.” Mary DeJong, an activist in South Seattle, talked on her work restoring Cheasty Greenspace, the largest green space in the Rainier Valley, and working to make it accessible to everyone.
“When we have that relationship [with the land] in play, we are more fully who we are supposed to be,” DeJong said.
There were performances by dance group Good Foot Collective, Afro-folk singer-songwriter Naomi Wachira and DRAZE, a local hip hop artist now living in LA, whose music has been featured on FOX’s Empire and ESPN.
The audience left with an inspiration to pursue justice, with Harris’ final words to the audience:
“Our students have the capacity to do a lot more than they realize.”