Community dialogue to center on poverty and mass incarceration

Nov. 9 webinar is part of SDOP’s “The Struggle is Real” series

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), will participate in the next segment of “The Struggle is Real,” an SDOP webinar series. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

LOUISVILLE — The connection between poverty and mass incarceration will be explored during a Nov. 9 webinar that’s part of an ongoing conversation by the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People on the importance of churches stepping outside of their walls to “love thy neighbor.”

The Rev. Gregory Bentley, co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), will be among the featured speakers at the second webinar in SDOP’s “The Struggle is Real” series. Register here.

Other guests will include Minister Chibueze Okorie of the Church of the Gethsemane in Brooklyn, New York; Monica Jahner of Spartan Fair Chance in Lansing, Michigan; Katie Talbot of Neighbor to Neighbor in Holyoke, Massachusetts; Norris Henderson of Voters Organized to Educate in New Orleans; and Bonifacio Aleman of LifeSpring Health Systems in Southern Indiana.

Margaret Mwale is Associate for Community Development and Constituent Relations for the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.

Many of the panelists have had contact with the criminal justice system, “so they’ll be speaking from real-life experience,” said Margaret Mwale, Associate for Community Development and Constituent Relations for SDOP. Also, the church folks who “will be speaking have a great understanding of those issues as well” and can share what the denomination can do to address them.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation calls on churches to actively engage in the world around them and “to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.”

Through this webinar series, SDOP is seeking to help churches to do just that, while calling attention to the fact that SDOP is one of the denomination’s “greatest resources when it comes to poverty because we have direct access to communities that have been doing this (work) for a long time,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, SDOP’s Coordinator.

Mass incarceration impacts not only those individuals behind bars but their families as well, and poor people of color are often the ones affected, Johnson said. “What happens when people are kicked out of their homes?” he asked. “What happens when people face trauma?”

The discussion also will touch on the factors that contribute to people becoming incarcerated in the first place and unfair practices that contribute to that.

“One of the saddest things is when I read about people who have been wrongly incarcerated, and then you just look at how much time has been wasted,” Mwale said. “How can we as a church come alongside those that are facing those sorts of issues and then how can we learn? How can we center those that have actually faced incarceration?”

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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