This letter from JOIN for Justice Executive Director Karla Van Praag was shared this December with the JOIN network.
JOIN for Justice’s mission: Build a powerful field of Jewish leaders capable of effectively organizing for justice, both inside and outside Jewish communities in the US. But what does that look like when you are one of those leaders?
Colin Killick grew up going to protests with his parents. He always knew he wanted to make a difference in the world, but he wasn’t sure how. Then, as he says, after graduating college, “I found JOIN for Justice, which redirected the course of my entire life.”
In 2015, as a Jewish Organizing Fellow, Colin worked as a community organizer for Disability Policy Consortium (DPC). Using his learnings from JOIN, and in partnership with a JOIN alum at Boston Center for Independent Living, Colin organized a leadership team working on a campaign to provide affordable housing to low-income people with disabilities. The team won BIG: leveraging $1 million more in state funding for affordable housing for low-income people with disabilities, the biggest increase in over 15 years! Since then, DPC’s organizing—carried on by JOIN Fellows—has won $11 million in new dollars to support housing for people with disabilities in Massachusetts.
“Because of our partnership with JOIN, organizing is now the heart of what DPC does to affect political change,” says Colin, who is now leading DPC as its Executive Director with a team of three organizers, all JOIN Fellows and alums.
This is a story about how our training has impacted the disability community in Massachusetts. But it is also a story about how the disability community has changed us at JOIN.
While our Fellows were having impacts on the broader disability community, they were also supporting JOIN in better incorporating a disability focus into our organizing work. We know that those who experience injustice most sharply and urgently, in and outside of Jewish communities, must be at the center of efforts for social change. And our Fellows have consistently encouraged us to live more fully into this value in our programs.
These Fellow-led conversations played a crucial role in what eventually would become the Empower Fellowship, an initiative within the Jewish Organizing Fellowship for Jews who identify as people with disabilities. In addition to our general organizing curriculum, Empower Fellows engage in training to support them as disabled Jewish organizers.
Lior Gross is a Fellow in this inaugural year of Empower. At a young age, they felt a strong connection to the more-than-human world, recognizing the interconnectedness of all life. This sparked interest in climate organizing efforts in high school and college.
One night in college, Lior was walking outside the library with their organizing mentor. Their mentor asked, “Have you asked yourself whether you want to be powerful, and what it will take to get there? In order to be powerful, you have to bring your whole self.” This idea drove them to realize how important it was to claim their Jewish identity while doing justice work, which allowed them to be more authentic in their organizing, and also led them to JOIN.
The Empower Fellowship now offers Lior the opportunity to explore what it means to identify as disabled, and how to strengthen their work and leverage the power that comes with showing up fully as a disabled organizer. “It’s crucial in our movements to center leadership of the people most impacted,” says Lior. “I don’t know what other opportunities exist where I could learn about disabled Jewish organizing in robust ways to allow me to step into my power as an organizer. This Fellowship affirms the idea that you can be a disabled Jewish organizer and be better at what you do for it.”
The Empower Fellowship is transforming organizations both inside and outside of the disability field. Lior’s placement organization, Indivisible MA, is hosting a conference to engage people across MA for the 2020 election. Through Lior’s efforts, this is the first time Indivisible MA is working to make the conference accessible. Lior says, “Literally opening doors so everyone can participate is powerful and important.”
This is what we do at JOIN, and why I am so proud to work for this organization. We provide ground-breaking opportunities so that our program participants can tap into their power as organizers and work towards a more just world. When our leaders have the resources they need to succeed as organizers, we are all stronger for it.
JOIN will continue to do bold, innovative work to promote justice in the coming year. But we can’t do this without your support. I’m asking you today to support JOIN so that leaders like Colin and Lior have the opportunities, training, and networks they need to succeed in making a difference. Please consider supporting JOIN for Justice today.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our work.
Karla Van Praag
Executive Director, JOIN for Justice
Learn more about the Empower Fellowship below!
For a visual description of the video and more resources about disability and organizing, please click here.