By Joyce Rothermel
Late last year, The NewPeople reported on the beginning and early stages of the Social Justice Seekers (SJS) in the South Hills. Much has happened since then and the Seekers are now extending even broader opportunities for engagement with them.
Started in January 2017, SJS is a Pittsburgh-based group seeking a diverse membership from all faith practices. Social Justice Seekers are people of faith who share common goals for positive change. They are committed activists working for justice, peace, and reconciliation in their community and world. Rooted in prayer, they act with hope that their resolute efforts yield fruitful outcomes. Their overall plan is organic; they will develop based on the interests of their members. They have focused thus far in trying to become a local presence in each of the four directions of Pittsburgh: South, West, North and East.
Kevin Hayes, Coordinator of SJS, explains, “The SJS-South group has been the most active, having monthly meetings for over a year and focus groups on issues, politics, and prayer/ outreach to faith communities. The West and North groups have begun to organize meetings. The West group will have had their first meeting on May 22 at 6:30 pm at the West Allegheny Library. The North group will have their first meeting on Monday, June 4 at 7 pm at the Kearns Spirituality Center dining room behind the Divine Providence Motherhouse and adjacent to the LaRoche College campus” (9000 Babcock Blvd, in Allison Park). Part of the agenda for both first meetings is a discussion on what social justice issues in their respective geographic areas the groups wish to focus. All are welcome, especially those who are curious and want to learn more about SJS.
The SJS-South group meets on the third Monday of the month. The next meeting is Monday, June 18 in Benedict Hall at St. Winifred Church, 550 Sleepy Hollow Road in Mt. Lebanon at 7 PM. In May, the group heard Rev. Sally Jo Snyder, an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church currently serving as the Director of Advocacy and Consumer Engagement for the Consumer Health Coalition. Sally Jo spoke about PA HB 2138, which would require some/most Medicaid recipients to be employed or in a job training program. The heart of the fight is: “Is Medicaid health care or is Medicaid welfare?” To ask any questions about the group or meeting, or express an interest in being on the SJS-South email list, please email Kevin Hayes at email@example.com.
The SJS-North group is planning a bipartisan Candidate Night in September with Rep. Conor Lamb and Rep. Keith Rothfus, to discuss the congressional candidates’ positions on various social justice issues (the environment, economic disparity and jobs, health care, reasonable gun control, immigration, and more). To RSVP for the meeting (not required), ask any questions about the group or meeting, or express an interest in being on the SJS-North email list, please email Jim McCarville at jim. firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The SJS-North welcomes the chance to collaborate with the Pittsburgh North People for Peace (PNPP),” says Hayes. “We certainly don’t see ourselves in competition with any other peace and justice group; in fact, some of the SJS members are members of the PNPP! SJS doesn’t see the need to ‘re-invent’ what any other group is doing. Instead, we would hope to support and complement them.”
“We do not yet have an active group meeting monthly in the East part of the city. But we hope to soon,” Hayes adds. If you are interested in leading a SJS-East group, or in being involved in helping to organize the first meeting of this group, please contact Hayes.
Prior to the beginning of the SJS, Hayes worked with the TMC and faith-based groups like the Association of Pittsburgh Priests and Pittsburgh Area Pax Christi, offering retreats for reflection and community building. Hayes said, “I do hope we can have more retreats. My vision is that these can be mutual endeavors enlisting the help and support of people from various groups as we have done in the past.”
What are the challenges and opportunities of the SJS? “The major challenge,” says Hayes, “has been to find people willing and able to commit time to help organize SJS efforts, including someone to help manage our ever-growing database of names and emails. We live in a time when everyone is busy with many things, and so it has been a challenge for many people interested in social justice to ‘carve out’ time to spend on nurturing the growth of SJS.
Finally, Hayes summarizes, “The opportunities SJS has had include resonating with younger people who see social justice as a way to make sense of their religious faith in today’s world, whether that faith is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other. It has also offered support and encouragement to people who are committed to social justice but were not sure other people were. SJS allowed individuals to connect with others who share this value.”
Joyce Rothermel is a member of St. James Parish in Wilkinsburg and serves on the Editorial Collective of The NewPeople.