My internship at Georgia Justice Project has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. This is in part because of the current pandemic and the global racial unrest that is currently happening. But I think it’s more about how I have explored justice organizations relationships to communities in this moment. By trade I’m not just a student, but I’m also a theologian and historian and that places me in the unique position to see how people’s faith and lives intersect and are lived out in moments of extreme trauma. Recently I had a really powerful conversation with an attorney at GJP about how we can begin to reach out and educate people about the Second Chance Bill that passed in Georgia. We talked at length about how not only is it important to engage in policy work but it’s equally important to educate communities about policies and how it will affect them. It was in this moment that we realized that faith leaders in this state would be some of the best people to work with in this endeavor. When people are in crisis in their lives most often they turn to faith leaders to provide answers, advice or prayer. This served as a reminder that in order to engage with marginalized communities it’s important to work alongside community leaders.
This also made me reflect on the deep ties between law and religion in our nation. It also made me think about the restorative ways that religion and the law can be used to build people back up after facing some of the worst moments of their life. One thing I’ve learned during my internship with GJP here was that creating access to the law means bridging the gap between organizations and communities. It means building relationships with churches, community activists, organizers and leaders because in the words of activist Lilla Watson “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”