Justice Matters’ 2023 Action Assembly began with a choir singing lyrics expressing hope for change, a fitting prelude to the goals and commitments for Lawrence and Douglas County the group outlined Sunday. Hundreds of Justice Matters members were joined by city and county commission members in discussing three major priorities: restorative justice in schools, elder care, and ending homelessness.
Justice Matters is a nonprofit organization featuring a coalition of 16 faith-based groups and “neighborhood networks” of individuals who are committed to the work, regardless of their religious affiliation. The goal of the meeting was for community members to show their support for specific ideals and policies. Throughout the ceremony, attendees showed their support by raising peace signs, clapping, and standing up.
Before three local officials pledged to continue efforts to end homelessness in Douglas County by 2028, Kristen and John Spencer shared the story of Tony Cipollaro, who died of a suspected overdose on Dec. 30 at the North Lawrence camp for people experiencing homelessness. Justice Matters members also outlined goals and expressed support for local leaders aiming to reach functional zero homelessness by 2028. Justice Matters thanked the city leaders for beginning plans to work towards the group’s goals and pushed for leaders to take advantage of a three-year contract with Julia Orlando, an expert in affordable housing creation.
Members of Justice Matters repeatedly raised peace signs to support continued efforts for restorative practices in public schools. They pushed for staff to be trained in restorative practices, outlining a goal of six to 10 staff members in each school to have received adequate training. Justice Matters outlined multiple goals for the Lawrence school board, although the scheduled school board member was not present for the meeting.
A continuing emphasis on elder care was prioritized by Justice Matters after it was added to the list of the group’s top priorities last year. The primary goal outlined by Justice Matters was to initiate a collaboration between a local workforce development board and Dwyer Workforce Development to address the shortage of staff to care for seniors and aging people in the community.
Overall, the 2023 Action Assembly was a historic moment for the community, as people of different backgrounds and affiliations came together to support justice and change. Justice Matters expressed their strong support for specific goals and policies aimed at making Lawrence and Douglas County a better place for all.