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April 28, 2016, Lansing, Michigan – Long-time community organizer, Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, and other representatives of Gamaliel of Michigan and its affiliates gathered with other activists in Lansing as part of the Healthy Heartland’s National Week of Actions for Racial Equity. The day involved meeting with state legislators to encourage legislation that would promote racial equity in Michigan.
Sister Cheryl is director of Gamaliel of Michigan, one of 17 state members of Gamaliel, founded in 1988 to “train community and faith leaders to build political power and create organizations that unite people of diverse faiths and races.” Gamaliel works to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives.”
Participating in the event were representatives of Gamaliel of Michigan and its local affiliates: Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength (MOSES), the Ezekiel Project, and ACTION of Greater Lansing; the Health Departments of Ingham, Washtenaw, and Genesee Counties; and activists from Kent County, Michigan.
“After spending a brief time getting to know each other, we participated in a peer learning experience based on the ‘sections of pipe’ in the ‘pipeline to prison,’” Sister Cheryl explained. “Starting with early childhood, we helped each other learn what makes a particular moment a ‘pipeline to a career’ or a ‘pipeline to prison,’ or what could happen in a particular moment to foster reconciliation and restoration.
The conversation was enlivened by youthful leaders from Detroit Metro and the Saginaw area. Mr. DeJuan Bland and Mr. Daryl Dennis, leaders of Crossing Boundaries, Building Bridges (CB3), presented the issue of racial equity and the passion of the activists in music and in the poem “Blame the Boy.” The heart-breaking poem by DeJuan Bland details the fate of many young Black men – death at an early age or prison – because of systemic racism in the United States.
The activists spent their hour at the state capitol visiting with State Senators Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-Meridian Township), Burt Johnson (D-Highland Park), and Morris W. Hood III (D-Detroit) and State Representative Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), House Minority Floor Leader. The Saginaw delegates visited with State Representative Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw), a former intern of Gamaliel. The Kent County representatives arranged their own visits.
During their time with the legislators, the Gamaliel activists asked for specific legislation that would prevent the expulsion of children from preschool and early care and give them the support needed so that they can ultimately be successful in school. They also sought to “remove barriers to economic dignity for formerly incarcerated citizens” by making it possible for them to include on job applications how they have “grown beyond the action that led to their incarceration.” Sister Cheryl noted that both requests were received favorably by the legislators.
At the national level, Gamaliel representatives attended the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v Texas which challenges President Obama’s authority to issue a policy allowing undocumented immigrants – those who had been taken to the United States as minors and the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to receive temporary work permits and relief from the immediate threat of deportation. After the formal arguments and press conferences, the Gamaliel group visited Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to ask for a just and humane immigration policy.
Article submitted by Sister Cheryl Liske, OP
Feature photo: Gathered by the Lansing State Capitol rotunda are leaders of the Power to Thrive Coalition, from left: Mr. Kandia Milton, MOSES organizer; Rev. Samuel Spruill, MOSES leader; Ms. Wendy Boyce, Ingham County Intermediate School District; Mr. Brad Snyder, Genesee County Health Department; Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, Gamaliel of Michigan; Ms. Tamara Brickley, Genesee County Health Department. They are addressing Michigan State Senator Morris W. Hood III (right).