What does social justice mean to me? This is a very difficult and thought-provoking question I ponder daily. Not because I don’t have the answer, I do, but because I have expectations to be a participant to impact social injustice in the world and I am not there yet. During our Cardinal Stritch December Service lecture, Professor Lansing spoke about social justice and provided a definition in my opinion expresses what social justice means to me:
“Our shared and growing concern that as the world becomes more complex, society more diverse, and former certainties more ambiguous, even those who are well educated and trained may become overwhelmed, discouraged, sometimes frightened.”
What I have learned from some of the most prestigious leaders in the world like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King (MLK), Margaret Wheatley, and the list goes on, is that the capacity for the human race’s welfare is boundless, but that on the path to social justice, sometimes we grow weary and burdened with pressures pushing against social justice.
The experience that impacted me profoundly on the topic of social justice was during an exercise the Cohort was conducting in my Leadership year. Our professor asked the class to read the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written by MLK, and afterwards discuss in small groups. I was immediately drawn to MLK’s courage to address the social injustices impacting civil rights at that time, and especially his devotion to suffering for the cause of righteousness. But what really impacted me the most was MLK’s assertion to the White Moderate “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”. Why, Because I would have fit that role as a white moderate. I questioned myself, what would I do in those circumstances, would I sit on the fence and ask the movement to let the issues work themselves out, or would I take the risk and join the movement for social justice. I difficult answer for a difficult time.
I have spoken about my background and written about my background numerous times during my transformation process. What I like about the Cardinal Stritch program is how we are allowed to talk fearlessly and honestly about my background and theirs and learn the positives and negatives from our backgrounds to forge into transformational, servant leaders. My childhood upbringing was on a dairy farm in Iowa. My parents are together, I have two brothers and a sister that are close, and my paternal grandparents lived separately, but on the farm. Not only did my mother and father work on the farm, but my dad was a principle in the school district we lived in, and my mom worked as an accountant for a firm in the local area (i.e. and still does). Our grandparents were integral with our upbringing and I worked many days with my grandfather on the farm. We didn’t have a whole bunch of money, but we weren’t starving either, I would say my childhood was enjoyable and uneventful. What I find courageous are the stories from my Cohort classmates that didn’t have the best childhood environment, but yet not only survived, but are making differences in their professions and their communities. To me, that is the epitome of social justice, for leaders like us to understand what is needed to improve the playing ground for the folks less fortunate, prejudiced against, and not receiving the same opportunities. Not because we want to make ourselves feel better (i.e. that is an added benefit), not for monetary benefits, but to enrich the lives of others humbly and with heartfelt appreciation for social justice.
To step over the ledge, and take risks for humanity.