Guest Blog: Lessons from Just Advocacy Week

Jalen Brooks-Knepfle
Feb 24, 2016

Jalen Brooks-Knepfle

My name is Jalen Brooks-Knepfle and I am a second-year student at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. I am majoring in English and international studies with a concentration in comparative literature and minoring in environmental studies. Last June, I took part in Just Advocacy Week, which taught me many important lessons.

First, in a world frequently torn apart by religious violence, the lessons I learned about social justice and advocacy rooted in Catholic faith reminded me that religion prompts many, many people to help others and care for those marginalized by society. These people include everyone from Sister Simone, to the other people working at NETWORK, to my fellow JAW students. This was very encouraging, and much needed at that point in my life.

In addition, Just Advocacy Week showed me how accessible government can be, despite my previous beliefs to the contrary. The most dramatic example of this was the opportunity to speak with my government representatives to promote the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits. Although I know I was not the one to do the legwork to arrange the meetings, I was still amazed at how easy it was to speak to the people who represent me. I had an image in my head of government as some unreachable entity up on Capitol Hill, but JAW proved to me that government is a lot more accessible than we often believe. Additionally, even though my representatives are of a different party than me, most of them were still very eager to hear what I had to say and made me feel like I had a right to talk to them (Which, in fact, I do; as we were taught at JAW, they work forus!).

Finally, my experience at JAW gave me access to a group of people who are making real change. One thing I learned is to go at every project with other people to support you, and JAW gave me access to such people.

I was lucky enough to be able to share what I learned at JAW with some of my peers in the College of Charleston’s Catholic Student Association. Our campus minister, Jim Grove, invited me to talk about my experience at JAW, as well as what I learned from NETWORK about advocacy in general, at one of our after-Mass Sunday dinners. I learned so much at JAW, so it was hard to condense it to one fifteen-minute talk. Basically, I explained how NETWORK was founded by a group of nuns, where Catholic social justice comes from, how Catholics have an obligation to seek social justice, and the basics of how to do that. To this end, I discussed some advocacy tactics like phone calls, letter writing, and visits to representatives, emphasizing what I learned about the accessibility of government. I also discussed how NETWORK was applying these tactics to the EITC and CTC. I had been nervous about my talk’s reception, but my fellow Catholic students reacted with enthusiasm, some of them expressing interest in applying to JAW this coming summer. Jim and I have also since made plans to collaborate with other religious groups in the area to discuss ways we can use advocacy to help alleviate the refugee crisis.

I learned so much through Just Advocacy Week and look forward to applying that learning in the future!

 

Apply for Just Advocacy Week 2016 here.

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