August 27, 2011

What is Justice United?

By James Barrett


Orange County Justice United in Community Effort (often shortened to Justice United or sometimes Orange J.U.I.C.E.), is a multiracial, multifaith group of institutions in southern Orange County, N.C., that is devoted to promoting social justice in our community.

The history of the organization: A group of primarily African-American ministers asked the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) to come to Chapel Hill in 2006 and help form a group.  Justice United is the result of that effort and continues to work with the IAF for training of its leaders and staff.  The IAF model of community organizing has several interesting key points:

  • Never do for others what they can do for themselves.  Never.
  • Organized people and organized money equals the power needed to make change.
  • Focus on ongoing relationships–both among organization members and with public officials.
  • Use a process for action that begins with broad community discernment of priorities important to the local community, followed by research to determine both what can be achieved and what is truly effective change; publicly asking those private and public leaders who have the power to effect change to adopt our proposals; and accountability (both within and with those we work with).


I was asked to participate in Justice United as the representative from my church, Holy Trinity Lutheran, as it was first starting in 2006.  Because of my active participation, including attending regional training and maintaining the web presence, I was asked to be on the strategy team as Justice United transitioned from an organizing committee to an ongoing organization in 2009.  This group provides structure to the organization in terms of managing the budget and overseeing the small staff–although, as mentioned above, all direction of priorities comes from the grassroots participants.  I also served on the education team.

I am proud of the areas in which Justice United has successfully pushed for changes in Orange County:

  • Updating the Living Wage policy of the Town of Carrboro
  • Creating a new Living Wage policy for the Town of Chapel Hill
  • Gaining agreement from Orange County to freeze sewer rates in the Efland area (primarily Habitat for Humanity homes) until a long-term solution to the very small system there can be worked out with the Town of Mebane.
  • Gaining agreement with the CHCCS Director of Transportation to re-route a bus that was making a dangerous stop on Rogers Road (this required work with the community as well to agree not to park where the bus turned–this highlighted the need for school system to be open to better partnerships).
  • Successfully working with the Rogers Road community on fighting a waste transfer station on Eubanks that would continue environmental injustice in that area, and making sure the county commissioners follow through on mitigation for that community.
  • Working with landlords and the Town of Carrboro to fight bedbugs in low-income apartments
  • Recognizing a need for improved conditions, including fighting wage theft, for day laborers in Carrboro.  Justice United is currently working on a proposal that could make a big difference here.

I have personally benefited from my work with Justice United–learning how to hold meaningful conversations through which I learn people’s stories of how issues affect them, learning how to effectively advocate for change with those in power and hold them accountable, and meeting a broad community of people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro who are committed to social justice.  All of these will make me a better school board member, especially as we need to focus our district on working with the community to meet our goals.

One last point on why I’ve stepped back from my Justice United role to run for school board.  When Justice United was putting together its priorities for the next 18 months this past spring, it became clear that education was not high on that list.  That is because Justice United has found it difficult to work for meaningful change, especially on the achievement gap, from outside the administration. We were not successful in engaging enough parents of struggling students to propose a specific agenda that we needed the district to agree to.  I am running for the board in part specifically because I still have a passion for making a difference here, and expect to continue the mission Justice United has, but from the “inside.”  I hope that as a district we are able to show Justice United some changes that will encourage future participation by the social justice community in southern Orange County toward making real change in our schools.

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