By Madison Kitchen
The Fortune Society’s Justice 4 All Summit on August 1st was “a summit convened by young leaders to address issues within our communities and the justice system.” Approaching Columbia University’s School of Social Work, I knew that much. What I didn’t know is how much I would learn and how inspired I would be to take action after this summit.
After partaking in some delicious breakfast snacks, the attendees gathered and were welcomed by Stanley Richards, the master of ceremonies and the Executive Vice President of The Fortune Society. After a few words, he passed the baton to Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito for welcoming remarks. “I believe in my core that equality and justice belongs to everybody,” she declared, unknowingly presenting the perfect segway for the performance by The Fortune Society’s Theatre of the Oppressed troupe.
The three scenes presented by the TONYC troupe excited the audience (“This is the coolest thing ever,” the woman next to me announced), and motivated them to create change within the scenes. In one scene, a man was told that although he was overqualified for a job, he could not fill the position because he had a small criminal record. In another scene, two men were pulled over for driving “too nice of a car,” and were subsequently arrested for having criminal records. In the final scene, an individual was treated poorly by a lawyer because of their history with the criminal justice system. The eager audience of spect-actors were excited to intervene, and tried to assert their rights and stand up for themselves as the protagonists in each of the scenes. In real life, however, making this change isn’t always so easy. Change in the institution was necessary.
More ideas for making change came from the first panel of the day: “Equal: Resources, Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law.” This panel continued the discussion of knowing one’s rights and making change in the community, a discussion that sparked by the TONYC performance. The consensus: it is the people, not the officials, who must take the initiative to make change. As Khalil Cumberbatch, Current Manager of Training for Just Leadership USA and future Associate Vice President of Policy of The Fortune Society, announced, “We are the change that we have been waiting for... the people have always demanded change.” This quote got me thinking about the work that TONYC does, and how we motivate the people in our community to not only demand but also to create change in the world around them. We especially love when people close to the issues participate, which is another thing Khalil touched on, saying “those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”
Our community is bursting with people close to some of the most pertinent problems. After this summit, I couldn’t help but feel that a revolution leading to the solutions was near.
See you in action, friends!