Jesuits West CORE Ignite: training young leaders as community organizers

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BY KELLY SWAN | September 30, 2021 | in Spanish

In September 2019, more than 270 leaders of Jesuit works gathered at Santa Clara University for a leadership workshop, united by their ministry and work in the Jesuit Western Province. At this gathering, then Provincial, Fr. Scott Santarosa, SJ asked in his opening address:is there enough injustice against the people we love to consider flexing our Jesuit muscle again and on a regular basis? The beloved is there before us: the immigrant, the gang member, the starving, the incarcerated, the single mother separated from her deported husband. Do we offer our loved one all the gifts we really have? Can we also offer our power?

This provocative question was part of a larger movement in the Jesuit Western Province, a vision that manifested in January 2019 with the hiring of Annie Fox as provincial assistant for the organization of justice and ecology. Fox’s role was created on the premise that Jesuit ministries in the West were already doing incredible work around justice and service individually, but this collaboration could enhance the power and effectiveness of that work.

The September 2019 gathering at Santa Clara University kicked off a six-month province-wide discernment process to identify opportunities for collaboration on social justice initiatives. But three Jesuit Western Province educators, Jesse Rodriguez and Jamal Adams of Loyola High School in Los Angeles and Will Rutt, then at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, AZ, came out of the workshop already excited about an idea. engage students in cross-curricular activities. -collaboration with the Ministry of Justice. “We [the three of us] consumed the whole weekend,” Rodriguez shared. “I think that was what we aspired to. This group of community organizing practitioners, leaders in parishes and schools, would form the foundation of Annie and Fr. Santarosa’s vision.

West CORE Jesuit Leadership Team

The leadership team of the Jesuits West organization in 2019.

This process culminated in the development of a roadmap that ultimately led to the creation of Jesuits West CORE (Collaborative Organization for Racial Equity)– an initiative integrating 12 regional teams all committed to “listen, learn, organize and advocate together to be a more powerful force for racial equity and justice”.

Rodriguez, Adams, and Rutt began dreaming of a forum to train their students in the basics of community organizing and to center students as leaders in CORE’s work. Along with Fox, the three convened a group of high school teachers from across the province – Kelly O’Neil (then in Cristo Rey, San Jose); Amanda Montez (then at Nativity School in San Jose); Sara Brabec (Jesuit Sacramento); Rachel Ford (then at Seattle Prep); and Justine Javier (Cristo Rey, Sacramento). This team has developed plans for a summer 2020 training, titled Ignite. With the onset of the pandemic, the planned in-person event pivoted to a digital platform, welcoming 35 students from six schools for four days of intensive training, preparing students in attendance to take on leadership roles in fall 2020.

Ignite 2021 Participants

The initial cohort aimed to organize their communities to take a total of 10,000 racial equity actions by October 2020. This work, entirely student-led, took the form of advocacy calls and postcards to elected officials, an education evening on the ballot initiative, advocacy for restorative justice, and more, resulting in 15,400 actions, far exceeding the original goal.

Speaking about Ignite’s first year, Rodriguez shared that “Ignite introduced a cohort of young people to some of the core skills essential to community organizing work, including raising awareness, listening, building, relating, issue development, strategy and campaign development, leadership development, and movement building through workshop-type readings and exercises with the desired outcome that they continue to engage with each other others and their school community on issues that speak to our faith in doing justice.

After the success of the first year, The 2021 event attracted over 60 students and 25 adults from eleven schools across the province and partner organizations. This year’s cohort worked to prepare for a fall 2021 listening season, incorporating research meetings, coalition building, and learning to take action. In the spring of 2022, the cohort will take prophetic action through advocacy, vigils and more.

“It was good to be in a community of many supportive people who also share a common desire to want to do something for their communities back home,” shared Christian Sigua, student at Jesuit High School Sacramento and summer intern. CORE. Sigua spoke of the power of making personal connections in this work with other participants and powerful speakers, especially Saúl Rascón Salazar, a graduate of Brophy College Preparatory and current student at Loyola Marymount University, who powerfully shared the ways recent legislation has affected him and his brother as Dreamers. “[His story] called on us to act to change the system so that people like his brother, and others like him, have the opportunity to enter the United States without worry.

“There is a feeling in Jesuit education that we have truly understood how to serve a faith that does service and mercy, but we still strive and strive to walk in righteousness as well,” Annie Fox shared when speaking of ‘Ignite. “The racial reckoning that happened in the last year, along with the inability to physically go out of service during the pandemic, has really created an opportunity for those who want to start a conversation about justice and advocacy, especially secondary school teachers who ask how to equip their students. do advocacy”.

Fox shared his excitement about the growth of Ignite as an integral part of CORE, which is a major growth area for Jesuits, bringing together regionally based parishes, high schools and universities to work together to make advocacy. “Ministries that didn’t know each other are able to listen to each other and build relationships,” she shared, “and furthermore, Ignite centers students as leaders in this space to bring ministries together in as equal partners working for justice”.

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