Powerful Young Voices for Justice
November 21, 2017
In early November I had the pleasure and honor of emceeing the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ). This was a weekend where over 2,000 students from Jesuit affiliated high schools and colleges gathered in Washington D.C. to learn, celebrate, pray, and challenge one another to “row into the deep,” the theme for the conference. At a time when those in power continue to espouse prejudice, violence, and hate, the need for weekends such as these feel all the more necessary. It was restorative to spend time with such an energetic group of people who shared a common desire to build a more just world with fairer policies and a more empathetic and inclusive culture.
Let me be clear: this weekend was not reduced to a self-congratulatory party where we affirmed each other for being good socially and politically conscious people. This annual gathering was a chance for all who attended to put faith into action. It was a reminder that our commitment to God requires us to be resilient and dogged in the face of injustice. The call of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In beckoned us to “Wake ourselves and others from dormancy” and to not “accept the status quo in either ourselves or our surrounding world . . . we will row into unfamiliar waters that will stretch and challenge us, but ultimately move us to magis, a greater, stronger, and more enduring love of justice.”
This theme of challenging ourselves to be courageous and work for justice was threaded throughout the conference’s breakout sessions. The narrative that we are powerless in the face of systemic injustices such as racism, classism, and institutionalized violence was rejected and tossed aside by dynamic and influential keynote speakers such as Father Bryan Massingale, Sister Patricia Chappell, and Dr. Maria Stephan. The weekend ended with a day of advocacy on Monday when over 1,400 IFTJ participants went to Capitol Hill to advocate for bills promoting criminal justice and immigration reform.
The students I met were engaged, smart, empathetic, and ready to talk about what they could do to be better advocates for justice. They queued up for a chance to speak with Jesuit priest Father James Martin, a celebrity in the Ignatian community. They packed crowded conference rooms to learn about the racial wealth gap, ending the death penalty, changing the civil discourse on immigration, and dozens of other topics. Hundreds of students made their way through the hall to visit the myriad of faith-based organizations that passed out information and advocacy tools.
Millennials are often dismissed as a self-absorbed, politically disengaged generation. As a millennial myself, it’s difficult for me to be objective, but what I witnessed at IFTJ and what I often see from my peers is anything but self-absorption and political apathy. The momentum and energy generated by the 2,000 students at IFTJ wouldn’t have been possible if this group of young people were not aching to change the world. This desire to make a difference is not limited to IFTJ participants, nor should it be reduced to naiveté or foolish optimism. I am inspired by my peers to seek the truth and confront systemic and social injustice. When working for justice, progress is often slow and pushing back against oppressive institutions is exhausting. It is not work that can be done alone. This year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In was a call to action many responded to wholeheartedly.
I want to bottle the collective energy I experienced throughout the IFTJ weekend and take a swig any time I feel lacking in courage to continue challenging myself to advocate for justice. There is strength in numbers and the Igantian Family Teach-In is an example of the power collective faith in action can have in the march towards a better future.
Emma Tacke is a former NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Associate. She currently works as the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) in Washington D.C.