How One Worker-Owned Cooperative Offered Hope and Economic Development

When the big industry in a region closes its doors, or moves out of state or out of the country, there is justified anger, grief, and hand-wringing. Workers who depended on the jobs, checks, and benefits may have few employment alternatives.

Unemployment benefits can’t make up the lost income. The economy sags. The human toll follows.

But Opportunity Threads, a group that receives funding from the Catholic bishops through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), offers a story of hope amid such adversity.

For much of the last century the economy of western North Carolina has depended on furniture and textile industries. But when these industries closed operations in the area, local people stepped in to develop an alternative model of economic development.

Opportunity Threads is a “cut-and-sew” cooperative that employs 23 full-time workers, who in turn support at least 100 family members. Molly Hemstreet, now the general manager of Opportunity Threads, grew up in the area and taught English as a Second Language to recent immigrants. She and several community members pals identified a growing consumer interest in local, sustainable goods that support the “triple bottom line” of social, economic, and environmental benefits to a community.

Working with one used sewing machine after hours in a borrowed room, they helped start a local renaissance in micro-manufacturing. Together they turned the excess inventory of irregular socks from a local small producer into winsome stuffed animals, and introduced “up-cycling” to the area.

With grant assistance from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. Catholic bishops’ domestic, anti-poverty program, Opportunity Threads was soon established as a worker-owned business that draws on skilled un- and underemployed people in the community of Burke County, North Carolina, to create sustainable livelihoods and put a new face on textile production in the rural South.

Molly supports worker ownership because it gives people responsibility and a voice in the company and promotes dignity and respect. The long route to worker-owner may take a worker up to 18 months, but the painstaking training and vetting pays off by creating a group that works together as a balanced team. As further proof, Opportunity Threads has yet to lose an owner or “pre-member” to a vote of the worker-owners.

But that’s not all. Opportunity Threads has actively helped other suppliers and producers work together and share jobs. Molly calls it “co-opetition.” The work has developed into the Carolina Textile District, which aggregates work, screens producers, and determines who’s best for a job. Molly said the pie of the textile industry is large enough for everyone to have a piece without competing and being at each other’s throats.

In fact, so many other groups have asked Opportunity Threads how to establish a successful worker-owned model that Molly and others formed The Industrial Commons, which also got a grant from CCHD. The Industrial Commons now helps small- to mid-sized industrial firms and networks create economic opportunity for low-income workers, improve livelihoods, develop democratic workplaces, and root ownership in communities to create sustainable change.

From where I sit, that looks like a tremendously positive alternative to handwringing and despair.

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

 Going Deeper

In most dioceses in the U.S., Nov. 18-19, 2017, was the national collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Nov. 19 was also the first World Day of the Poor.  Use this Poverty Map to find out about work in your part of the country that is supported by the bishops through CCHD.

Improving relationships between whites and people of color

“We’re bringing slavery back.” These words were told to a friend of mine’s 10-year-old son recently while at school in Indiana. He is black and faced taunts and harassment at school for several days. When his mom attempted to contact the teacher to address the issue she received no reply.

I myself have experienced such prejudice first-hand on many occasions. Several years ago a devoted Catholic woman whom I consider a part of my family discovered I was dating a black woman and told me “I’m not one of those KKK people but I think there are enough white women that you shouldn’t be dating [a black woman].”

As we look around our modern times we can clearly see that racism still exists in our society. Hate crimes are on the rise, white supremacy and white nationalism are coming back into the mainstream. An Associated Press survey, conducted in 2012 with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, found that 51% of participants held explicitly racist views toward black people. A similar study was done in 2011 and 52% of those participants reported anti-Hispanic attitudes. Such prejudice was found across the partisan spectrum.

Archbishop Kurtz in 2015, then-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke on the effects of racism in America: “A violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities. Confronted by these realities, the familiar words of Blessed Pope Paul VI still resonate and continue to call us to action in our day: if you want peace, work for justice …The bishops called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society and considerable progress has been made since 1979. However, more must be done.”

We can see the reality of racial injustice and disparity that Archbishop Kurtz speaks of in our own state of Iowa.

The Iowa Data Center reports that the median income for black families was roughly half that of the general population of Iowa in 2014. The poverty rate in the black population is nearly three times that of Iowa’s population as a whole. And the unemployment rate for black citizens is three times that of the general population in Iowa.

These disparities are also prevalent in our criminal justice system. Throughout our nation data frequently shows that black citizens are more likely to be stopped and searched even though white citizens are often equally or even more likely to be in possession of illegal paraphernalia compared to black citizens. Black citizens are also more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as compared to white citizens.

According to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan organization that studies racial disparities in incarceration and promotes restorative justice alternatives to prison, nearly 26% of Iowa prisoners are black while only 3% of the total state population is black. The state of Iowa is in the top five of highest incarceration disparity rates for black folk, with a rate more than 11 times that of whites. For Latinos the disparity is much smaller, though the incarceration rate is still almost double that of whites.

Despite these disparities, there are reasons to be hopeful for positive change. The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court remarked in his State of the Judiciary address in 2015 on the efforts by law enforcement, school officials, community members, and others to work with a restorative justice approach to help reduce this disparity and provide more support to those in need.

The Chief Justice noted: “Iowa may be a leader in the nation in the statistics showing racial disparities in its criminal justice system, but…Iowa can also lead the nation in finding solutions to end racial disparities.”

A shining example of the good work towards peace and justice in our own state is that Iowa was first in the nation to pass a “racial impact” law in 2007 that required any increase in penalties or creating new crimes be studied to see how such legislation could potentially impact people of color disproportionately compared to white citizens to help prevent racially motivated laws to be enacted. More still needs to be done.

In the face of these somber facts a task force was convened by the USCCB and chaired by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. His recent report to the November Assembly of U.S. bishops recommended that the faithful engage in prayer for peace in our communities, open channels of dialogue with communities affected by racism, and that the church “find its bold prophetic voice” among other things.

Dialogue asks of us to leave our own places of comfort where we dominate and reach out to others so that we may hear their stories and their experiences. This can be challenging when others’ experiences do not readily match up to our own personal perspectives or experiences, but this makes dialogue even more important especially if we are not the ones regularly receiving the insults, oppression, and hate of racism.

We can begin to engage in such a dialogue by reading books and experiencing art and culture by people of ethnic backgrounds different from our own, greet one another on the street with smiles and charitable “hellos”, engage in conversation with others from various backgrounds, contact organizations that serve predominantly people of color and ask if you can make a visit and hear their stories, and speak out when you encounter racism in your own life. These are just a few ways for us to engage in building peace and nurturing relationships with our neighbors.

Our Catholic faith also has a vast treasure to be discovered in the lives of saints from across the globe. There are more saints of the African continent than the entire continent of North America. Several American saints, or those in the process toward sainthood, have African, Native American, Latino and Pacific heritage. Discover these holy men and women like Venerable Pierre Touassaint, St. Kateri Tekawitha and Servant of God Thea Bowman, to name a few. Pray for their intercession that there may be greater peace in our communities, stronger bonds of solidarity between peoples, and pray for the strength and courage to evaluate our own lives to discover how we can more readily participate in bringing about greater peace in our communities.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.

Going Deeper!

Learn about how parishes in one part of the country are engaging in dialogue through Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action). Visit for helpful resources like “A Guide to Dialogue on Difficult Issues” and “Encouraging Civil Dialogue.”

Racial Justice and Peacebuilding: A Perspective from the Joy of the Gospel

headshot of Fr. John Crossin

Fr. John W. Crossin, OSFS

As the U.S. bishops undertake the work of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, I want to reflect on Pope Francis’ teachings in Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si’ on building peace, which may be applied to the pursuit of racial justice.

First, we must value the importance of relationships. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis states “Everything is related and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth” (92). Indeed, this interconnectedness is important when considering the need for racial justice.

Next, we cannot overstate the importance of social dialogue and its contribution to peace. The dignity of the human person and pursuit of the common good are more important than the contentment of a minority who are well-off. In Evangelii Guadium, Pope Francis writes, “In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.” Patient and ‘arduous’ efforts are needed to achieve a “peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter” (218-220).

Pope Francis offers “four specific principles which can guide the development of life in society and the building of a people where differences are harmonized within a shared pursuit.” He goes on to say: “I do so out of the conviction that their application can be a genuine path to peace within each nation and in the entire world” (221).

Those four principles are:

1.) Time is greater than space.  In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes, “Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present; trying to possess all the spaces of power and self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back.” If time governs space, people seek to develop processes in society that engage people and groups and that lead to significant events. Such processes make for full human existence (222-24).

2.) Unity is greater than conflict. It is best to face conflict ‘head on.’ Here one opts for “a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.” This is unity that comes from the Holy Spirit who can harmonize every diversity. Of course, this involves a process of discernment where the views of all are valued and thoroughly considered. This can lead to a “reconciled diversity” within a society or culture or between churches (Evangelii Gaudium 226-30).

3.) Realities are greater than ideas. It is dangerous to dwell solely in the realms of images, rhetoric, concepts and ideas. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis states “Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action.” This principle calls for actions toward justice and charity in imitation of the saints (231-33).

4.) The whole is greater than its parts. While sinking our roots deeply in our native place, we also must keep the bigger picture, the greater good, in mind. “[E]ven people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked.” Pope Francis’ model here is not the sphere but the polyhedron “which reflects the convergence of all of its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 234-37).

Fr. John W. Crossin, OSFS is the former Director of the USCCB Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. He is a member of the Peacebuilding Working Group of the Dialogue between the World Council of Churches and the Vatican.

Going Deeper

Many parishes around the country are putting Pope Francis’ words into action.  At, you can find helpful resources such as Prayer of the Faithful suggestions on racism, and stories of how communities are working for racial justice, such as St. Louis parishes hosting sacred conversations on race (+ action)  and a Dallas parish’s work to improve police-community relations.


How Can You Honor Workers? A Perspective from Austin

Our faith teachings call us, Catholics and all people of faith, to care for our neighbor and to work for justice for all. As a long-time organizer, I have worked alongside leaders to address pressures on families and improve their lives through acting on issues. We identify these issues from relational conversations, such as those that members of our communities have with each other. Then together we address them to bring change. With support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Austin Interfaith Sponsoring Committee leaders have organized to create initiatives and marshal resources that have benefited Austin-area children, families, and residents.

Austin Interfaith leaders gather at city hall to call for a living wage (2013)

One area of particular concern is ensuring that more workers have meaningful work, livable wages, and worker protections. We are taught that the dignity of the human person is tied to the dignity of work.  In Laudato Si’ no. 128, Pope Francis writes that “We were created with a vocation to work. … (and) To stop investing in people…is bad business for society.” That’s why Austin Interfaith has led the campaign in Austin to increase the city living wage floor over time to now $13.50/hour for all city workers and workers employed through contractors with the city. In addition, we’ve worked with allies to require worker protections for all construction workers on city contracted projects.

Our perspective, like that of a grandparent, is not simply on the next year or the next election cycle, but on the next generation.  In 1998, the congregations of Austin Interfaith created the Capital IDEA job training and workforce intermediary, which provides a pathway for low-income Austin residents to access new, high-paying opportunities in healthcare, technology, and manufacturing trades – jobs that provide benefits and a career path. Nearly twenty years later, over 1,400 low income adults have started new lives as nurses, sonographers, network administrators, electronic technicians, electricians, and many other careers. In 2016, Capital IDEA participants went from earning an average salary of $10,500 to an average beginning salary of almost $41,000.

An immigrant from Mexico, Elizabeth Soltero cleaned university offices overnight and cared for her young daughter during the day while her husband worked construction. They barely saw each other as a family. For three years, Capital IDEA provided tuition, fees, books, child care, and case management so Elizabeth could attend and graduate from the local community college as a network administrator. Elizabeth Soltero became Capital IDEA’s 1,000th graduate in 2012. With a specialization in information security, she now she manages a computer network for IBM, works during the day, and has bought a new house.

An even more fundamental achievement is the next generation. Through Elizabeth’s example, her daughter is well along a path to become a college graduate herself. An analysis of local school district data found that 70 percent of the children of Capital IDEA graduates go directly to college after high school – 25 percentage points higher than otherwise expected.

Capital IDEA is part of a network of model workforce programs that bring the civic, business, and public sectors together in partnership to expand opportunities for more workers to get training to qualify for jobs that can support them and their families.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we recall the contributions and sacrifices of workers that are critical to all of our lives, and call for all to work together across income levels to bring public policy and resource changes in your communities to increase opportunities of low-wage workers.

Kathleen Davis is Lead Organizer with Austin Interfaith — a broad based, nonpartisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of congregations and institutions that together develop the leadership to address issues that affect the well-being of low and moderate income families in the Austin area.

Going Deeper

Read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ annual Labor Day statement here, and learn more about Catholic teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers here.


Happy 100th Birthday Blessed Oscar Romero

Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador, is pictured in this 1979 photo. Aug. 15 would have been the slain archbishop’s 100th birthday. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

The 100th anniversary of Blessed Romero’s birth, August 15, 2017, falls on the glorious Feast of the Assumption. Archbishop Romero’s 1977 homily from the Assumption, and more importantly, his steadfast work for justice on behalf on his beloved Salvadoran people, can shed light on this oft-misunderstood feast.

This feast honors the assumption of Mary’s body and soul into heaven. We are reminded of Mary’s importance in our faith, and also of the reality that we, too, will one day share a bodily resurrection…a truth we proclaim in the Creed. While this truth can be difficult to comprehend, Blessed Romero used the occasion of the Assumption to underscore a more tangible truth: while we are destined for heaven, we must strive to do God’s work on earth. In his 1977 homily from the Assumption, Archbishop Romero says, “For those people who seek true happiness, there is a definitive Kingdom of Heaven, a life beyond our life, but this kingdom is obtained by working in this life and committing oneself to the fulfillment of God’s plan.” Romero then praises Mary for her exemplary model of earthly service.

Later in the homily, Archbishop Romero speaks to Mary’s heavenly existence: “[F]rom this light in heaven, she [Mary] illuminates the dignity and the rights of the human person.”

The fact that we are destined for such glory underscores our dignity and rights in the here and now. In honor of Mary’s assumption, we can renew our earthly efforts to safeguard our human dignity as God’s children. In this spirit, Blessed Romero’s 100th birthday serves to greater illuminate the importance of the Feast of the Assumption.

During his lifetime, Blessed Romero’s work for justice inspired such hope in his suffering people that he became known as the “Voice of the Voiceless.” Martyred at the altar on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was beatified on May 23, 2015.

At my parish in Washington, DC, Blessed Romero will be well celebrated. During Masses on August 15, at 7:00 a.m. (English) and 6:45 p.m. (bilingual), we will hear about the Assumption and Romero’s devotion to Mary. We have invited the congregation to stay for birthday cake in honor of Romero after the evening Mass. Parishioners have also been encouraged to bring non-perishable food items or baby supplies to stock the parish’s pantry for the needy.

Two parish missionary groups will observe the occasion in El Salvador. La Juventud Franciscana (Franciscan Youth) left in mid-July with our Parochial Vicar Fr. Kevin Thompson, OFM Cap. to attend a Romero symposium at the Jesuit University of Central America, visit a children’s hospital in San Salvador, and be guests of the parish’s rural Salvadoran sister parish. A group of adult missionaries, Los Misioneros de San Francisco de Asís (Missionaries of St. Francis), will accompany our parish’s Salvadoran pastor, Fr. Moisés Villalta, OFM Cap. and Parochial Vicar Fr. Urbano Vasquez, OFM Cap. to many of the same sites in August. They will celebrate Romero’s actual birthday in his hometown of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel.

On this feast day, I invite you to celebrate Blessed Virgin Mary, Blessed Oscar Romero, and the dignity that we all possess and work as a Church to bring to the world.

Cinnamon Sarver is a parishioner of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish. She has theology degrees from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. Having traveled to El Salvador four times to research Blessed Romero’s life, she enjoys speaking and writing about his legacy.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Catholic Standard website.

Going Deeper

Plan to celebrate the life of Blessed Romero in your own faith community!  For example, include a remembrance of Romero in a Liturgy on or around his birthday (in the Prayer of the Faithful, homily, etc.) or host a service or advocacy project in honor of Blessed Romero’s Centennial. You can celebrate Blessed Romero’s life around his birthday, or any time throughout this year.

Feliz Centenario del Beato Oscar A. Romero

El Beato Oscar Romero de San Salvador, El Salvador, es retratado en esta foto de 1979. El 15 de agosto habría sido el 100o cumpleaños del arzobispo asesinado. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

El centenario del nacimiento del Beato Oscar A. Romero será el 15 de agosto de 2017 y se llevará a cabo en la Solemnidad de la Asunción de María. En la homilía de Arzobispo Romero en la Fiesta de la Asunción de 1977 nos puede iluminar sobre esta fiesta que a menudo es mal entendida.

En esta fiesta se honra la asunción del cuerpo y del alma de María a los cielos. Se nos recuerda de la importancia de María en nuestra fe, y también de la realidad que nosotros, algún día, compartiremos una resurrección corporal…una verdad que proclamamos en el credo. Aunque esta verdad puede ser difícil de comprender, el Beato Romero usó la ocasión de la Asunción para recalcar una verdad más palpable: mientras estamos destinados al cielo, debemos esforzarnos por hacer la obra de Dios en la tierra. En su homilía, Arzobispo Romero dijo,

“[P]ara decirles que no está en esta tierra el destino del alma y del hombre que busca la verdadera felicidad, que hay un reino de los cielos definitivo más allá de nuestra vida, pero que se conquista precisamente trabajando en esta vida, entregándose al cumplimiento de los designios de Dios.” (Romero, 15 de agosto de 1977)

Romero luego alaba a María por su modelo ejemplar de servicio terrenal.

Más tarde en la homilía, el Arzobispo Romero habla de la existencia celestial de María, “¿Cómo sirve María?… desde esa luz de los cielos, ilumin[a] la dignidad del hombre, los derechos del hombre.”

La realidad es que estamos destinados a tal gloria lo cual afirma nuestra dignidad y nuestros derechos en el presente. En honor a la Asunción de María, podemos renovar nuestros esfuerzos terrenales para salvaguardar nuestra dignidad humana como los hijos y las hijas de Dios. En este espíritu, el Centenario del Beato Romero sirve para iluminar la importancia de la Fiesta de la Asunción.

Durante su vida, la obra por la justicia del Beato Romero inspiró tanta esperanza en su pueblo sufriente que se hizo conocido como “la Voz de los sin Voz.” Martirizado en el altar el 24 de marzo de 1980, el Arzobispo Romero fue beatificado el 23 de mayo de 2015.

En la parroquia del Sagrado Corazón en Washington, DC, el Beato Romero será bien celebrado. Durante las misas del 15 de agosto, a las 7:00 a.m. (en inglés) y a las 6:45 p.m. (bilingüe) escucharemos acerca de la Asunción y la devoción de Romero a María. Hemos invitado a la congregación a permanecer después de la misa para el pastel de cumpleaños en honor de Romero. Los feligreses también están invitados a traer alimentos no perecederos o artículos de bebé para los programas de la parroquia de los necesitados.

Dos grupos de misioneros de la parroquia observan el Centenario de Romero en El Salvador. La Juventud Franciscana (JUFRA/OFS) viajó en julio con nuestro vicario parroquial, P. Kevin Thompson, OFM Cap. para asistir a un simposio de Romero en San Miguel, visitar el hospital de niños en San Salvador, y visitar nuestra parroquia hermana en la Quebradas, Jocoatique. Otro grupo, Los Misioneros de San Francisco de Asís, acompañarán a nuestro párroco salvadoreño, P. Moisés Villalta, OFM Cap. y a nuestro vicario parroquial, P. Urbano Vázquez, OFM Cap. para visitar los mismos sitios de Morazán y el norte de San Miguel en agosto. También participarán de la celebración del natalicio 100 de Romero en su ciudad natal de Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel.

Les invito a unirse a nosotros para celebrar la Santísima Virgen María, el Beato Oscar Romero, y que todos trabajemos, como una iglesia, para traerle dignidad al mundo.

Cinnamon Sarver es feligrés del Santuario del Sagrado Corazón. Ella tiene licencia de teología de Boston College y una maestría de teología de la Universidad de Norte Dame. Ha viajado a El Salvador para estudiar la vida del Beato Romero y le gusta escribir y dar charlas sobre el legado del Romero.

Este post fue adaptado para ToGoForth. Lea la versión original en El Pregonero.

¡Celebre la vida del Beato Romero en su propia comunidad de fe! Por ejemplo, incluye un recuerdo de Romero en la liturgia  (en la Oración de los Fieles, homilía, etc.) o acoge un proyecto de servicio o defensa en honor al Centenario del Beato Romero. Usted puede celebrar la vida del Beato Romero alrededor de su cumpleaños, o en cualquier momento este año.

Voices Unite to Reform the Justice System

Persistent injustice, mind-boggling greed, and downright confusing twists in the legal system can wear down the strongest people. It’s almost easier to give up and give in than try to change things. But once in a while, like-minded individuals lean on one another, share their frustrations and dreams, and commit to an action plan that lifts everyone. And the plan develops and changes as the needs and strengths of the people change.

Essentially, that’s how DART was established in Florida more than 30 years ago and then became an eight-state network. Two groups of people associated with religious congregations found common ground in their shared beliefs and commitment to justice. And the Archdiocese of Miami had its shoulder to the wheel with them from the beginning. DART’s formal name is Direct Action and Research Training Center, but like your Aunt Sis and Uncle Buddy, everyone knows them by the shorter name.

The Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE), an affiliate of DART, builds justice ministry in Polk County, FL. Members tour a drug rehabilitation clinic that PEACE helped open.

The network helps congregations form larger organizations that reflect their common interests and values as they negotiate solutions to the root causes of problems in their community. Each of the 22 DART organizations is an independent entity, but all the groups and the more than 400 diverse congregations they comprise are united by a belief in the biblical concept of justice. They also use a “bottom-up” model to identify issues, develop leaders, and figure out realistic solutions.

The DART model is based on the Scripture account of Nehemiah, who brought people and their leaders together to devise solutions to a system that impoverished the citizenry. Nehemiah insisted that the nobles, magistrates, and people be held accountable for the promises they made.

Members of St. Ann Catholic Church were part of the 2,000 Attendees at a recent Nehemiah Assembly. At this assembly local officials from the juvenile justice system learn about the problem of youth arrests and make commitments to address them.

Recently, the DART group in Florida turned its considerable attention to a disturbing trend to criminalize young children. I was shocked when Holly Holcombe, Assistant Director, told me 12,000 children were arrested in 2014 for generally minor offenses. During a tantrum, for example, a five-year-old Special Education student knocked a tissue out of a teacher’s hand. He was charged with assault.

There is, however, an alternative: civil citations. The civil citation process, as provided under state statute, would allow non-arrest restitution and diversion for non-serious offenses. “It’s not a slap on the wrist,” Holly said.

From 2010 to 2014, 5,000 children ages 5-10 years old were arrested for offenses for which they could have received a civil citation. At first, the provision could only be used once for each youth and only 38% of those eligible received citations. Through the efforts of ten Florida-based DART organizations, 52% of eligible children were diverted to civil citations without arrest in 2016, and legislation was enacted to allow children to receive up to three citations. Nonetheless, civil citations are at the discretion of local law enforcement, which results in uneven application of the provision. Holly points out that 8,000 youth who were arrested last year were eligible for the citation, but it was not applied to their cases.

Training participants enjoy lunch between workshop sessions. Here participants learn to build their justice ministry through witnessing, evaluating, and engagement.

Clearly, there is more work to be done, and DART’s work is advancing steadily. Groups like these help people surface their deeply held concerns, engage with their feet on the ground, act on the Biblical mandate to do justice, and hold public officials accountable to work for the people they serve. This is what we are called to do.

As Pope Francis said at the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you.”

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

DART in Florida receives funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have long been vocal about restorative justice.  Read the bishops’ statement on Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice and find out what’s happening now.