By Barney Blakeney
November 5, members of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) met to conduct the organization’s Community Problems Assembly. The nearly 500 members in attendance voted to address transportation as the organization’s 2019 focus.
Since its 2011 inception, CAJM annually has adopted a social justice issue to address. The organization has focused on education and juvenile justice, wage inequity, criminal justice, affordable housing and now public transportation from the start. Last week, the gathering heard reports on the police audit work, the wage recovery program, and work happening in the Charleston County School District to lower suspensions and arrests. Attendees also heard testimonies about the problems in crime and violence, education, and transportation then went into caucuses before voting on the problem they wanted to work on this year.
CAJM is an affiliate of the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) which has helped establish over 20 locally affiliated organizations in six states and trained over 10,000 community leaders and 150 professional Community Organizers. DART is committed to building powerful, diverse, congregation-based and democratically-run organizations capable of winning justice on issues facing communities. CAJM’s membership currently includes some 26 faith-based congregations, one mosque, one synagogue a student group from the College of Charleston and the YWCA of Greater Charleston.
Over the past 5 years, CAJM has gained commitments for 280 more preschool slots, keeping kids out of jail for non-violent offenses, better schools, protection for workers and for police accountability. Last year it won a school district wide commitment to implement Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and Restorative Practices to lower suspension and arrest rates and to raise academic achievement. And CAJM succeeded in a hard fought effort to influence Charleston city officials to conduct an independent bias-based audit of the Charleston Police Department.
In September, CAJM announced the Charleston Legal Access (CLA), Charleston’s first sliding scale law firm that is committed to expanding CAJM’s Wage Recovery Program so that workers of all income levels, including undocumented workers, have access to legal representation. CLA has received a grant from the South Carolina Bar Foundation for a Wage Recovery Project started October 1. The grant funds a half-time attorney for the project.
At the April Nehemiah Action assembly, elected officials representing all four major governing bodies in the Charleston region agreed to support CAJM’s Housing Action Plan as a first step in establishing a Regional Housing Trust Fund with permanent funding from all local governments.
CAJM President Rev. Charles Heyward said CAJM will continue to follow up on those past initiatives and to remain a positive force improving the quality of life for residents of the region. The decision to address public transportation in the region is part of CAJM’s continuing effort to put hard issues on the table relative to the quality of life for people, Heyward said.