What Social Justice Means (to me) 2

Social Justice

Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.

National Association of Social Workers


Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.

Quote from The Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), established in 1984, promotes a free enterprise approach to global economic justice through expanded capital ownership. CESJ is a non-profit, non-partisan, ecumenical, all-volunteer organization with an educational and research mission.

Following are my notions about Social Justice (this post was prompted by a recent Community Leaders breakfast I attended that left me demoralized and a bit outraged.)

  • Social justice is not a group of scholars studying, measuring and determining what it is.
  • It’s not people declaring that they are social justice activists.
  • It is not community-based organizations whose staff doesn’t reflect any of the people in the communities they serve.
  • It’s not giving an annual social justice breakfast for a bunch of suits at prices that only corporations can afford.
  • Social justice is not a once-a-year Martin Luther King, jr. Breakfast nor is it a day of service in honor of his birthday. (That’s a great birthday tribute but it is not social justice.)

Social justice is action, consistent, daily action to make things accessible/just for “the people” in all of our configurations.

An example of a tiny piece of social justice is the fact that public transportation is now wheelchair accessible – it was a long time coming but that’s social justice. For years there was no access at all for people with mobility issues. (And the T is still not fully-accessible – some stations, like Symphony Hall – don’t have access.)

  • Social justice is a community development corporation that actually has staff members, board members, and leadership that is fully representative of the community it serves, rather than being staffed by posers who get in their cars each night and leave the neighborhoods they serve far behind.
  • Social justice is job creation not job elimination. (Bump the right-sizing of organizations and “streamlining and consolidating services” – this always eliminates jobs).
  • Full-employment is social justice. There are certainly enough jobs that need doing.* It is full-time work with living wages and benefits.

Social justice is not a company of 100+ employees in the city of Boston only having 2-4 people of color in its employ.

  • It is scholarships so that students of all ages can further their education – be it college, technical school or other skills training.
  • Social justice is the best education for all – not just the exam school students, not just the charter school students, not just the private school students. Social justice is superb public education that teaches students to think and analyze and not just ingest enough to pass the test.
  • Social justice is peace – with strict gun laws, consistently enforced and mediation centers in every neighborhood.

Social justice is not jailing people for the public health problem of drug addiction or the economic health problem of making a living selling drugs when the entry-level jobs are dwindling.

It’s no mystery to me what social justice is. I didn’t have to do a study to come to these conclusions! I just had to live and witness the changes in lifestyle and decreased ability to provide for self that I’ve witnessed. (Growing up in St. Louis everybody in our family was employed no matter their level of education. Everybody, including all of the  men. Only one cousin was in jail. How different that is today.  When did the shift occur?)

“I don’t want nobody to give me nothing, open up the door and I’ll get it myself” Brother James Brown declared.

Social justice is open doors.

It is not a bunch of privileged academics patting themselves on their backs and making pronouncements that are so vague that you cannot figure out what was promised. It is not yet another institute named for another community leader that produces nothing tangible.

Social justice is a belly full of wholesome food – every single day.
Scholarships, jobs, good schools, full- access to quality health care, peace, etc., that’s social justice . Social justice is the foundation on which productive lives, sound families and strong communities are built.
If you liked this post, you might also like:

Jobs that need doing by Candelaria Silva
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About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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