Fifty years ago, the Shriver Center was created as a central element of the War on Poverty. As part of the national legal services program, the Shriver Center worked to ensure that low-income people and communities had a voice in policy decisions that affected their lives and opportunities. It was during that same time that other critical civil rights and anti-poverty programs were created at the federal level.
Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads.
Threats to justice and civil rights are ever-present. What progress has been made over the last 50 years has been quickly jeopardized. Moreover, for many communities, the hard reality is that what stated progress was made fell short of its promise.
But we continue to fight—no matter what the odds.
Because we believe in justice. We believe in the communities who not only demand a seat at the table, but real power and decision making over their futures. We believe that systemic change can advance racial equity.
Recently, we brought nearly 300 advocates, community organizers, journalists, and funders together for a day-long meeting to discuss the future of justice in the face of these challenges. The inaugural Shriver Summit, held on December 1st in Chicago, was an opportunity to explore what we need to do to secure justice, every day, for everyone in the next 50 years to come.
Dorian T. Warren, President of the Center for Community Change Action, began the day with an inspiring call for advocacy at the state and local level. He reminded us that, as we fight to preserve hard-fought gains in the short term, we must also continue advancing a long-term strategy to make progress toward against poverty and inequity. The morning plenary concluded with a special video message from President Barack Obama, who reminded us that justice is not the absence of oppression, but also the presence of opportunity.
A series of panel discussions on the Future of the Worker, the Future of the Family, and the Future of the Community followed. Topics included defending and building on healthcare gains under the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, combatting injustices stemming from the criminal justice system, protecting immigrant rights to the safety net, ensuring fairness in workplaces, and state fiscal policy. We learned about the importance of grassroots action, organizing workers, and humanizing policy choices.
Lisa Marsh Ryerson, the President of AARP Foundation, inspired us with a lunchtime talk on the importance of our work. “Poverty is fundamentally America’s problem,” she said. “All of us need to work together to solve it.”
In the afternoon, we learned more about framing our work in workshops on structural racialization and journalism and community storytelling. Later, we considered the next generation of advocates in workshops on community lawyering and the future of giving.
The Shriver Summit closed with a rousing address by Cristina Jiménez, President and Co-Founder of United We Dream. Cristina urged us to have courage for the fight ahead and to hold onto hope for a more just and inclusive world.
We believe in justice.
We were grateful to bring advocates, organizers, and activists together for an inspiring and enriching day at the inaugural Shriver Summit. Thank you to our sponsors AARP Foundation and Southwest Airlines, and to everyone who attended, particularly our panelists and keynote speakers, for creating this opportunity for us to all come together, to talk, listen, and learn.