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The Unique Event Aspires To Be More Than Just Another Lecture Event, But One That Gathers Together People And Their Opinions In Order To Foster Discussion
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 3, 2013 — The Gathering Justice conference will take place in Mesa on Oct. 5 to bring together elected officials, non-profit organizers and other community members interested in participating in a dialogue concerning justice in Arizona.
“What we’re intending to do is bring together various representative elements of our community, from families that are vulnerable that we tend to serve through social services programs on up to general community members, and elected officials, into one room with the same status to have a conversation as to what it would be like to create a just Arizona,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Arizona Community Action Association, the organization putting on the event.
The event will consist of three primary sections: Naming Challenges to Justice, Building Sustainable Foundations for Justice Work, and Crafting a Vision. Each section will focus on a different overarching theme related to justice in Arizona and feature speakers to inform attendees and facilitate the conversation.
The word “gathering” in the conference’s title is pertinent to the overall goal and intended atmosphere of the event. Rather than have the speakers deliver traditional lectures, event organizers are hoping for an open dialogue between the audience and speakers, said event organizer Luke Black of AZCAA.
“We want to gather folks together and spend the day together in discussion,” said Black. “Throughout the day, while you will see some of the regular elements of a conference in the breakout sessions and the keynote, those will really be a minor part that participate in a larger gathering where there are opportunities for folks to sit with one another and discuss their views of the state.”
The keynote speaker for the event will be Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker, ASU Foundation professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University.
“He brings a unique perspective to what justice might look like from both a political lens and through a lens that looks at how race and inequality play out in our state,” said Black.
Whitaker plans to discuss a “roadmap” that Arizonans can follow to create a more just environment within the state. Topics he plans to address include how people can have an honest and direct conversation about action items that would make life in Arizona more equal and more equitable.
“I think like-minded people need to know where others are and what they are doing, so they can seek refuge in each other’s company and devise strategies to move forward collectively,” Whitaker said.
He also plans to address the need for a coherent educational strategy in order to help young people understand the issues faced by the greater community as a whole.
Lastly, Whitaker will outline the ways people with knowledge of the problems facing justice in Arizona can leverage the information they have in order to promote progress.
“Everyone is not going to lead a march; everyone is not going to work at a non-profit; everyone is not going to write about these issues,” Whitaker said. “But we all have different talents and different avenues.”
Whitaker will draw on his knowledge as a history professor as he discusses justice in the state and what justice in the future could look like. He plans to draw on lessons of the past while looking towards the future.
“Shakespeare suggested that the past is prologue to our future, so I’m a historian who firmly believes that all history is a current event,” Whitaker said. “It’s all interconnected, so to an extent I can help folks understand that the struggles we are dealing with now are tethered to historical matrices that were never really addressed sufficiently.”
The conference will also include breakout speakers broken into two sets. One set will focus on the injustices Arizona faces as a state.
“The reality is, if we are going to talk about justice then we have to start talking about the injustices that we face,” Black said.
The second set of breakout speakers will discuss how to build sustainable foundations for justice and equality in the community. Speakers like the Phoenix Non-Violent Truth Force and Black himself will speak on how construct a framework for different groups and peoples to promote justice together.
The conference will also include discussions on various tangent topics affected by the justice debate in Arizona, including the environment, sex trafficking, white privilege, and community mobilization.
Breakout speakers include West Cosgrove of Kino Border Initiative, John Dorhauer of the United Church of Christ Southwest Conference, Dominique Roe-Sepowitz who is an associate professor of social work at Arizona State University, Jessica Smith of Project Rose, and Bjorn Peterson of ArcWorks Consulting.
The event will take place at the Marriott Hotel, 200 N. Centennial Way in Mesa.
Registration for the event costs $30, but there are scholarships available for people from low-income areas wishing to attend. Anyone planning to inquire about a scholarship or become a sponsor can contact Black at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 602-604-0640.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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