Alumni

Building a More Just World: Uplifting the Work of Ursinus Alumni

By: Elizabeth Cannon ’10
Pronouns: She/Her

There is no doubt that 2020 has, and continues to be, a challenging year filled with an overabundance of pain, grief, confusion, and struggle. During this period of chaos and uncertainty, we are also witnessing beautiful movements of justice and resilience, solidarity and support in our communities, and the visioning of new pathways towards liberation.

We are holding many truths simultaneously. We are facing a global health pandemic that is disproportionately impacting vulnerable and marginalized communities, national uprisings against anti-black racism and police brutality, and a climate crisis causing widespread damage to our lands. At the same time, we are also seeing strong communities coming together with mutual aid networks, calls for wide-scale systemic change, and an ignited imagination filled with visions of a world grounded in care, justice, community, and sustainability.

This article provides a snapshot and uplifts the transformative work of three amazing Ursinus alumni who have dedicated their lives and work to bringing about a more just world.

————————————————————————————————————-

Shakiya L. Canty, She/Her, Class of 2013

Residing on the Indigenous Land of the Lenni Lenape (Philadelphia, PA)

Shakiya started her professional organizing career immediately following graduation from Vanderbilt University Divinity School in the summer of 2016.

How does the work you do now relate to justice and equity?

I’m currently a Philadelphia Lead Community Organizer for One Pennsylvania, a c3/c4 organization that builds people power and runs issue-campaigns with corporate, legislative, and electoral strategies to ultimately form and increase independent political power at local and state levels. We work with everyday community leaders in predominantly Black and working-class neighborhoods across the state to win on environmental, economic, and educational justice. Just this year, the Southeastern PA organizers and community leaders fought for and won housing laws, stronger protections for essential workers, and internet in homes for elementary and middle school students to receive their education.

How do you make sense of this moment in time (given the recent racial uprisings, climate disasters, the global health pandemic, political upheaval)?

That, indeed, is a heavy question. At the least, I will say I am excited for what is to come for global social movements. I work for an organization that worked tooth and nail for the 2020 presidential election. This moment was about getting people to exercise their voice. And that, we achieved. We educated and encouraged voter registration, relentlessly. And as a result of community leaders investing in their own neighborhoods, Black, poor, and young people turned out. I want to keep this moment in memory and keep this momentum to continue the fight for poor and Black people. Black life is still not inherently valued. A week before election day, there was an extrajudicial killing in my neighborhood. And that hurt. It hurts every time. It feels like our humanity does not matter to so many people. It feels like certain people just see us as things that belong in servitude, incarcerated to produce free labor, or dead. We have a lot to do to change that! And I pray for and work towards a day when we can have dialogue, create, and experience as much repair as possible regarding slavery as a people and a nation.

What does justice and/or liberation mean to you?

Wow, another big question. Liberation means so many things to me. Inner-peace. Healing (internalized) Oppression. And co-creating social movement infrastructure with God and others that leads to a political economy that is not based in racialization or caste—one that prioritizes people and planet and love; one that embraces difference. And all of those things feed off of one another in my life. All in all, the fight for liberation takes love, a deep commitment and dedication to work through it.

————————————————————————————————————-

Rachael Carter, She/They, Class of 2018

Residing on the Indigenous Land of the Muscogee Yuchi (Atlanta, GA)

Rachael has been dedicated to working with social justice organizations and movements over the past several years in the hopes of changing the lives of people through justice-oriented work.

How does the work you do now relate to justice and equity?

With my work at the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), we’re focused on racial equity through four key areas: Just Energy, focused on climate change and energy equity; Just Health, focused on health outcomes for communities of color, particularly Black communities; Just Opportunity, focused on economic inclusion; and, Just Growth, focused on equitable development to fight back displacement from gentrification and green infrastructure. PSE leads with race as a way to focus on Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by disinvestment. At Quaker Voluntary Service, I work with seven fellows who are working organizations dedicated to social justice. I help them practice building intentional community through leading processes of transformative justice, nonviolent communication, trust-building, and place-based service work.

What does justice and/or liberation mean to you?

For me, there’s a spiritual element of doing social justice work in communities. Justice and equity is really around relationship-building. When we’re able to build healthy and strong relationships by seeing people holistically, then we can begin to create fair and just spaces in our communities. Justice and liberation are tightly woven; liberation really is freedom. Freedom to live into opportunities and potentials and that those potentials are unlimited.

————————————————————————————————————-

Richie Schulz, He/Him, Class of 2015

Residing on the Indigenous occupied land of the Lenni-Lenape Peoples
Richie was politicized during the Ferguson Uprising as a senior, and during that year co-founded “We’re Just Saying”, which was a student activist group focused on confronting racism at UC. I’m a cis-white Jewish dude, and I carry Rev. Charles Rice on my heart in all of the work that I do.

 

How does the work you do now relate to justice and equity?

I currently work as a trainer and organizer for a domestic violence agency in Philadelphia where I educate individuals and groups on how to support survivors of domestic violence in their professional and personal contexts. More recently we’ve been offering learning spaces that explore what these calls for defunding the police mean for domestic violence survivors and how prison abolition and transformative justice are central to supporting all survivors of domestic violence.

How do you make sense of this moment in time (given the recent racial uprisings, climate disasters, the global health pandemic, political upheaval)?

I’m reminded of a quote by Antonio Gramsci from the 1930s: “The old world is dying, a new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.” Capitalism is in crisis. Pillars of white supremacy and patriarchy are under attack (and subsequently attacking back, violently). Each day it becomes clearer to the working people of the world that society is not structured in a way that can take care of our basic needs. Successful social movements win big changes during times of social upheaval. So I see the chaos as an opportunity for us to really imagine what it means to restructure society in a way that honors the dignity of all human beings.

What gives you hope?

There is so much incredible work happening in this country right now like the youth activists fighting for a green new deal, Black organizers building solidarity economies with Cooperation Jackson, and campaigns fighting for prison abolition and transformative justice in Minneapolis and beyond—to name a few. Despair and pessimism are agents deployed by the empire to preserve itself, and if our ancestors could overcome the oppression of their times to get us this far, continuing to be hopeful is a way to honor their work and sustain ourselves for the struggle that lies ahead.

————————————————————————————————————-

Transformative work is being done to bring us closer to a just world. And, we can do better. Now is a time to center love, re-imagination, and solidarity in our fight for justice.

“I am often asked what keeps me going after all these years. I think it is the realization that there is no final struggle. Whether you win or lose, each struggle brings forth new contradictions, new and more challenging questions. As Alice Walker put it in one of my favorite poems: I must love the questions themselves as Rilke said like locked rooms full of treasures to which my blind and groping key does not yet fit.” – Grace Lee Boggs

Elizabeth’s current role is Senior Associate Director at the Civic House (University of Pennsylvania), where she works to build long-term sustainable relationships with community organizations by centering and valuing their voices in the partnership-building process. Previously, Elizabeth served as Associate Director of UCARE (the Ursinus Center for Advocacy, Responsibility and Engagement).