COLUMBIA—People from four Midlands parishes are putting faith into action through membership in MORE Justice, a growing interfaith organization that holds public officials accountable for their responsibility to care for those in need.
The group’s acronym stands for Midlands Organized Response for Equity and Justice. Members come from 25 area churches and two synagogues.
Their efforts kicked off in November, when participants focused on mental health and education as issues that need to be addressed in Richland and Lexington counties. They then held small group meetings and conducted months of research to come up with possible solutions for problems in the community.
Columbia resident Kayla Gilchrist is a lead organizer for MORE Justice. She said the goal is to help faith groups take their activism to a new level.
“Most congregations have been involved in what we call mercy ministry — helping people with immediate needs like food, shelter and clothing,” Gilchrist said. “There also needs to be work done to get to the root cause of the problems, to hold leaders accountable and work to get policies put into action that will help solve the problems.”
On April 23, more than 1,200 members of MORE Justice met at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia for a “Nehemiah Action,” a chance to present their concerns and ideas to local politicians, law enforcement officials, school superintendents and board members.
The Nehemiah Action was named in honor of an Old Testament figure who organized people to directly demand justice from the authorities.
Members succeeded in getting Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and City of Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook to agree to train all of their officers in mental health crisis intervention by 2020. The sessions will help officers understand how to interact with the mentally ill people they encounter.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and members of Richland and Lexington county councils also agreed to explore opening a facility in the area to help adults with long-term mental health issues. It would likely be based on the clubhouse model used at Gateway in Greenville, which offers its members daily sessions designed to help them develop social skills and eventually move on to full-time employment and independent living.
MORE Justice members also asked Richland County school districts to develop “discipline scorecards” so people can learn about discipline issues at each public school and then discuss ways to address them.
Bonnie Younginer, a member of St. Peter Church in downtown Columbia, said working with MORE Justice has added a new dimension to her faith.
“I’ve been involved in rallies and political activities before, but this action is special because you are working with members of other congregations, and it is based on the teachings of God,” Younginer said. “We’re following God’s call to do justice for others, to help people that are unable to help themselves or have no power.”
MORE Justice will continue to work with Columbia officials through the summer to monitor progress, and then will hold meetings in the fall to choose additional community issues that need work.
To learn more about the organization, visit www.morejusticecolumbia.org.
Photo provided: A speaker addresses a crowd at Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia during the recent Nehemiah Action event held by the Midlands Organized Response for Equity and Justice.