This Community Organization Says Mayor Ginther Continues to Ignore ThemAugust 3, 2020 11:47 am Taijuan Moorman
When it comes to service work, food banks, clothing drives, affordable housing developments and the like are typical of faith-based organizations. But 24 years ago, those efforts didn’t seem to go far enough for local clergy and their congregations.
A diverse group of religious organizations came together out of frustration that the root causes of the issues they were seeing weren’t being addressed. The result was an organizing project that would eventually lead to the creation of BREAD, or Building Responsibility Equality And Dignity.
“We have our own faith traditions that we have which are different. One thing we do agree on is justice,” says James Wynn, BREAD co-president and a member of the Genesee Avenue Church of Christ. “And that’s what we work toward, getting justice for those who are suffering in our community.”
Members may be made up of a racially, economically, geographically and religiously diverse group of people, but they are connected by a concern for injustice.
However, that’s not to say faith is not the reason they are interested in this work.
“My passion comes from being a 70-year-old Jew,”says Cathy Levine, co-president and a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel, one of the founding synagogues of BREAD. “When I was growing up, my parents experienced anti-Semitism. But when they saw what was happening to black people in the 50s and 60s, they immediately identified with that movement.”
“It’s in my DNA…to fight for justice,” she says. “It’s very much a part of my faith.”
BREAD works through a four-step process, which includes listening to their congregation’s concerns and identify community problems, researching those issues and coming up with solutions seen in other communities, gathering support for those solutions to attract the attention of decision-makers and following up.
So with local protests ongoing but potentially riling down, BREAD has solutions at the ready for city leadership to consider.
“People are protesting police violence and also 400 years of racism,” says Wynn. “The marching in the streets is not just about police violence, which clearly is a horrendous problem in Columbus and in the country, but it’s also systemic racism.”
To make sure these solutions are implemented and the city-wide demonstrations aren’t dismissed, BREAD knows that last step in the process — following up — is key.
“We make sure that promises made are promises kept. And we stay after leaders for years to make sure that our solutions come to pass and really help people,” says Levine.
Some of their successes include pushing the implementation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which has provided housing for eleven thousand low-income families since 2001 and the establishment of the Franklin County Land Bank in 2012.
Now, BREAD has a six-step road map that has been a few years in the making, including addressing a lack of decent jobs, suspensions in schools, municipal IDs and affordable housing.
BREAD began pushing for the implementation of restorative practices in Columbus City Schools in 2018.
Columbus City Schools reportedly has had as many as 26,000 out-of-school suspensions in one year — 2015 — including first and second graders all the way through to high school. 75% of the students suspended were African-American.
As a result of BREAD’s push, over 100 staff were trained by the International Institute for Restorative Practices, whose program builds relationships between staff and students. If bad behavior does arise, teachers and administrators would better understand the issues that have caused the behavior, still holding students accountable but also helping students peacefully work out their issues.
“The kids are coming to school with problems. So [staff] create an environment of trust so that kids can heal while being held accountable for bad behavior,” says Levine. “The safest place for kids is in school.”
The program has been implemented in three schools, who found the money for training in their own budgets. BREAD says Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon and the Columbus School Board have committed to ensuring the training is implemented throughout the district.
That’s imperative, says Levine, because student suspensions have lasting effects on a student’s ability to finish school, which in turn affects their ability to get a decent-paying job and stay out of trouble — potentially going as far as to keep them out of prison.
The program has already seen results.
“Those schools that have fully implemented have reduced suspensions, collectively by 500 students,” says Wynn.
“In the first year,” says Levine.
BREAD also wants to see the mayor dedicate additional funding to emergency housing assistance.
Pre-pandemic, 54,000 low-income families were reportedly paying at least half their income on rent. Now, with COVID-19 not letting up, the city is likely to see an “avalanche” of new evictions.
“We know who got hurt the most during the pandemic, when we had a shutdown. And our numbers are going up again,” says Levine.
However, what has been considered “affordable” by officials in the last several years has been out of most Columbus residents’ reach.
“What the city has been doing is providing housing that’s affordable to people at 80-100% of median income. We’re talking about people making $40,000, $60,000 a year,” Levine. “Well, seven out of the 10 most common jobs in Columbus don’t pay nearly $40,000.”
There is also the issue of gun violence, to which BREAD has suggested a program from the National Network for Safe Communities research center as an alternative to what could become over-policing.
The program has been implemented in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Chicago, the latter of which has previously seen a 37% reduction in homicides through their Project Safe Neighborhoods deterrence program, according to the research center.
Wynn says this program researches and determines the violent groups that exist within a community, and puts pressure on them to submit.
“They have a program they put into effect to actually offer those people who are committing these violent crimes a way out,” says Wynn. “They make ’em an offer that is hard to refuse. And it’s done on the federal, state and local level in terms of services being offered.”
Taking on injustices is nothing new to BREAD, but unfortunately, running into roadblocks with local officials is nothing new either. Lately, BREAD has run into resistance from Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.
Weeks ago, when the protests and demonstrations first started, Mayor Ginther said publicly that he was willing to meet with community-based groups. BREAD says they are simply responding to that call.
So through a series of weekly town halls, BREAD has started to introduce their six-step road map in a campaign to bring attention to their solutions, build public support and get a response from Mayor Ginther.
“He has the power to enact these programs and create change,” says Levine. “Thousands of people in the streets, they’re looking for leadership. Let’s see the mayor provide leadership.”
BREAD also plans to increase their capacity to turn out large numbers of people to influence policymakers.
“There are two sources of power. Money and people,” says Levine. “And people with money were influencing the decisions of our elected officials. Well, as congregations, we didn’t have money, but we sure have a lot of people.”
So with that power, they plan to do what they always do — stay resilient and keep following up until they see results. “We’re not going away,” says Wynn.
Tuesdays at 7 p.m., BREAD is hosting weekly press conferences at various places of worship surrounding these issues and to bring attention to their proposed solutions. Keep up to date on Facebook.
For more information on BREAD or to see how your congregation can join, visit breadcolumbus.com.