The following is a guest post by Jordan Sherman, an Assistant Teacher at Kennedy Krieger Institute, where she works with young people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
As a lifelong resident of Baltimore City and a graduate of Baltimore City College High School, Sherman has a deep interest in social justice and equality issues. Sherman’s commitment to community service began early in her in life and her desire to “imagine justice” has found expression in a variety of projects, locally and abroad, including a five-month service mission in Ashdod, Israel. Sherman is a recent graduate of Guilford College, where she majored in psychology and minored in art. She and her dog, Milo, live in Charles Village.
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” ― Malcolm X
In the two years that I have participated as a Community Leader in the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish, Studies’ Imagining Justice in Baltimore (IJB) initiative, the principles of truth, justice, and a common humanity that Malcolm X espouses in this quote have become increasingly more meaningful to me. Through learning, conversation, and action within a diverse community, I have experienced how faith and religious perspectives can inform these important ideals.
The IJB Community Conversations in fall 2016 invited community members to commit to four meetings over the course of four months. Participants met to discuss justice from the viewpoints of the three Abrahamic religions and their theologians.
One of the good challenges of the program was that it required participants to be open-minded and to be able to listen carefully to each other’s truths. The program also required us to be respectful in listening and in dialogue, and to understand that one person’s truth, coming out of his or her experience of the world, may not be the same as my own truth. In being open to each other’s truths, we were inspired to seek a greater and collective truth that could bring justice to Baltimore.
The concept of justice and the conversations surrounding social injustice, proved to be one of the most challenging dialogues ICJS participants confronted. Since the IJB initiative stemmed from the events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray and the civil unrest in Baltimore, I had the opportunity to look at the issue of justice through the lenses of many different and diverse religious perspectives. Participants and scholars worked together to create a safe space and working definition of what justice could look like in our city of Baltimore.
As a true community of seekers who learned to trust one another, we committed to working together in the search for a common humanity. In order to do this, we needed to see the basic humanity in each other. As a group, we embraced the diversity of our religions, cultures, and backgrounds in order to engage in a dialogue that was determined to benefit Baltimore and humanity as a whole.
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ― Elie Wiesel
After the death of Freddie Gray and the deaths of so many other unarmed, young, black men at the hands of the police, there were times when I felt powerless in being able to prevent injustice. These words from Elie Wiesel and my experience with the IJB initiative, reminded me of the importance of each individuals voice through protest in preventing social injustice. Having a voice in protest is something that is not only our right, but also our obligation.
As I participated in dialogue with fellow activists, my sense of powerlessness faded. I began to believe that our voices, when united in protest, could create real awareness and evoke real change. I discovered that the diverse voices of the IJB group could and did cause a bigger ripple in the fight against social injustice in Baltimore. In the past, my experience in fighting for social justice has been as an advocate within a group where most people identified similarly and where there was a commonality of backgrounds and experiences. In my IJB group, I found that in mobilizing our individual religious communities we were able to be a united and powerful voice against the forces of injustice.
I want to conclude by sharing that this experience has been a gateway for me to understanding the voice of protest as also the voice of imagination. If we fail to protest, as Elie Wiesel says we must never do, then we also fail in our ability to imagine a better world. As we protest, however, each of us must recognize and respect the person’s voice that we are trying to raise up with our own. We must confront the shortcomings of privilege. We must accept the realities of privilege. But we must never fail in the fight that it will take all of us and all of our imaginations to win.
The city of Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race and community. At this pivotal moment in our city’s history, indeed our nation’s history, the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies highlights the continued importance of bringing diverse religious perspectives to address civic and social challenges. In the initiative Imagining Justice in Baltimore the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about justice, and injustice, in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspective and are not seeking a single definition of justice between traditions, nor denying the multivocal nature of justice within traditions. The long-term goal of the Imagining Justice in Baltimore initiative is to create a model of interreligious learning and dialogue around differences that demonstrates how a robust commitment to religious pluralism can shape public life.