Article 25

Decades of Work for Justice and Peace

In Uncategorized on 09/16/2015 at 7:32 pm

Allison Reynolds-Berry

Allison Reynolds-Berry is executive director of I.J.P.C.

IJPC marks 30 years

By Corey Gibson

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) was started in a swimming pool.

“We were founded in 1985 by five groups of religious sisters,” says Executive Director Allison Reynolds-Berry. “The conversation happened in a swimming pool. The sisters were trying to stay cool and thinking of different ways they could have a resource for themselves to work on issues of peace and justice in the Cincinnati area and the ways those issues impacted the community nationally and globally.”

Since that moment 30 years ago, IJPC has been working “to educate around justice issues, take collaborative action and do public witness.” That includes teaching peace and nonviolence techniques, advocating for the rights of immigrants and lobbying for abolition of the death penalty in Ohio.

“We educate and advocate for peace,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We challenge unjust local, national and global systems and promote the creation of a nonviolent society.”

IJPC’s office in the Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine is decorated with posters and pins from grassroots organizations that IJPC has collaborated with on various issues.

“We work in partnership,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We have a lot of grassroots volunteers and a lot of people who have been involved in work for peace and justice for a long time that are all part of the fabric of IJPC.”

Death penalty and immigration

One of IJPC’s primary focuses is the death penalty. The organization works to end capital punishment by lobbying at the state level, working with Ohioans to Stop Executions. Complete abolition might take a long time, Reynolds-Berry says, but shorter-term goals can be achieved.

“We are trying to break down different pieces that legislators might be more willing to compromise on,” she says. “For example, there are some bills being introduced trying to end the practice of executing people with serious mental illnesses or who were mentally ill during the time of the crime. Little by little we are trying to make it more fair and just and hopefully abolish it all together.”

IJPC also works with the families of prisoners on Death Row. Families That Matter lobbies for clemency and provides support for condemned prisoners’ family members.

“They are often victims in a whole separate way that they don’t feel that they can have a voice in the process and are shunned from their communities and can’t talk about it,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We are trying to provide support to them.”

The newest area the organization has been focusing on is human trafficking. The recently formed IJPC Committee on Human Trafficking aims to educate the community about the realities of this crime.

“It is not a victimless crime,” Reynolds-Berry says.

IJPC is working with Catholic high schools and colleges, advocating for more education about human trafficking in their curricula. IJPC has also become involved in an ingenious way of helping people who have been sexually trafficked. On the bottom of sticks of soap in hotel bathrooms, they place the number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline. The idea came from a woman who had been sex-trafficked and later became an advocate for other victims. She realized the only time she was ever alone was when she used the bathroom.

“She had this really powerful idea that, if a victim could be alone in the bathroom, what is some literature we could put in those places so they can find help when needed,” Reynolds-Berry says. “So you put a sticker with the human trafficking hotline on the bottom of the soap.”

The IJPC committee has taken it a step further, putting wallet-sized cards at truck stops, in highway restaurants and other areas known for high human-trafficking activity.

Immigration and peace

Another area of interest is immigration. For undocumented immigrants in the area trying to obtain U.S. citizenship, a major obstacle is making the drive to immigration hearings at the Cleveland Immigration Court, Reynolds-Berry says.

“We have been collaborating with Catholic charities and trying to coordinate so folks who have immigration hearings in Cleveland can get rides to the appointments,” she says. “If they miss them, they are automatically at risk for deportation.”

Reynolds-Berry stresses the need for volunteers to drive the eight-hour round trip because many immigrants don’t have driver licenses or gas money. Difficulty taking off work is another roadblock.

The Youth Educating Society, an IJPC program, works with young, undocumented immigrants and their allies to share stories of their experiences.

“Folks who were brought over by their parents when they were younger are growing up and going through high school and trying to apply to colleges as an undocumented youth and talking about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and what it means for that to be passed,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We are talking about this national legislation at a very local level and sharing their stories to put a human face on the issue.”

The final major issue IJPC works on is peace and nonviolence in all aspects of society, locally and nationally. The Peace Dialogue Forum brings together communities when contentious issues arise and encourages conversation. First a set of facts is laid out, and then participants meet in small groups, facilitating structured conversations in a safe environment.

“We want to encourage people to have conversation – not debate, but to have a dialogue about different issues,” Reynolds-Berry says.

On a more global level, the IJPC has a peace committee that lobbies U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) about the Iran nuclear deal and ways to promote nuclear disarmament.

“We want to promote dialogues between countries the same way we talk about that dialogue to happen interpersonally,” Reynolds-Berry says. “We also believe that should happen on a global scale.”

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