This article was written by Betty Gentle, SOME’s Senior Advocacy and Community Engagement Specialist.
SOME celebrates the 2023 World Day of Social Justice and strives to uplift and uphold this year’s theme of “Overcoming Barriers and Unleashing Opportunities for Social Justice” in the work that we do each day. Two of the core values of SOME are advocacy and empowerment. Our direct-care service staff work diligently to meet the immediate daily needs of individuals and families to help them plan for long-term stability. SOME’s Advocacy and Social Justice (ASJ) Department seeks to address poverty, homelessness and hunger at the root and disrupt the systems and policies that allow these issues to perpetuate and sustain in predominantly Black, brown and low-income DC communities.
Social justice is only achieved when every person, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity or class, has equitable access to economic, educational, and civic opportunities. The journey toward social justice must involve the process of looking back and assessing how these inequitable barriers were created and asking how this harm can be repaired and how affected community members can be healed. Additionally, advocacy must include the act of building relationships with elected officials and influencing them to legislate and budget government funds in a judicial manner.
Working toward social justice requires ALL OF US to work together. At SOME, this includes those we serve, our staff, volunteers and our community neighbors. SOME’s ASJ Department also prioritizes developing relationships with other values-aligned organizations and coalitions to fight for priorities, such as low-income affordable housing for all who need it and equitable access to culturally competent healthcare in all eight wards of DC. As we educate ourselves and learn and grow with our partners, we have started to go even deeper toward the roots to assess issues such as how to close the racial-wealth and home ownership gaps and even how to comprehensively address substance use in a manner that does not isolate, criminalize or demoralize our neighbors.
Together, we have accomplished such things as influencing the passage and implementation of the REACH Act (Racial Equity Achieves Results Act) that created the DC Council Office of Racial Equity and DC Office of Racial Equity, two offices that have or will create an infrastructure to systematically evaluate proposed laws and policy decisions for the impact on racial equity.
Most importantly, social justice cannot happen without equity. Equity cannot be achieved unless the people closest to the problem have the power. Therefore, space must be intentionally and thoughtfully created for impacted individuals, families and communities to sit at the decision-making table and have the opportunity to present solutions to the problems that impact their lives, and sometimes have impacted their families for generations. At SOME, we talk to, listen to, and advocate with residents who live in our affordable housing — the seniors who participate in our wellness program, students working toward living wage careers in our job training program, and persons who simply want a hot breakfast for the day. From these conversations, we learn ways DC government, and other stakeholders with power, can work to ensure everyone in our city has an equitable chance. We provide workshops about the city budget process and help individuals prepare testimonies to speak before the DC Council. Because, oftentimes, people are not voiceless, they simply need resources, connections, skills training and/or empathy to find the voice that has felt silenced.
So, on this 2023 World Day of Social Justice, SOME encourages YOU to discover the social justice issues that you are passionate about and figure out a way to fight for them — whether it be by testifying, offering some form of technical training to seniors, volunteering with an advocacy organization, or funding an organization or individual dedicated to the cause you care most about. Fighting for social justice is not easy, but when we all play our part, we get closer to ensuring every single DC resident has the opportunity to thrive.
Visit our website to learn more about SOME’s advocacy efforts.