Students are excitedly milling about, greeting speakers as they make their way through the gym. A nervous buzz ensues as these same students review a program script while 650 of their peers filter into the bleachers. No, it’s not graduation, it’s not homecoming: it’s Justice Week at Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, MN.
Put on by the school’s Social Justice Club, Justice Week brings education and awareness to students about issues such as human trafficking, privilege, immigration, and new this year, housing justice. Since becoming an all-school event, the topic has been incorporated into classes and is an opportunity for students to practice the legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet through social justice-centered activities and education.
Social Justice Club was born when in 2014 two students approached teacher Chris DeCrans, about wanting an outlet to discuss and act on social issues with their peers. Today, the student-led club hosts meetings to discuss various topics by watching a video or reading an article and concluding with a call to action, such as contacting legislators or conducting a drive.
Housing is a topic near to Chris’ heart. Previously, he ran a shelter in California, so the social justice mission of Catholic Charities resonates deeply with him. He is a member of the Catholic Charities advocacy network and receives action alerts, and when he was unable to attend the recent Social Justice Assembly, he presented the opportunity to his students instead. They enjoyed the discussion so much that they brought it back to the group as a potential Justice Week theme.
This connection led to Catholic Charities Social Justice Education Manager Mike Rios-Keating who spoke at their assembly and contributed valuable resources to Justice Week, including a family homelessness simulation, an interactive budget activity, and opportunities to engage in legislative advocacy for housing justice.
The success of the collaboration has already yielded valuable results. The club raised over $1,000 by selling small antique keys throughout the week, keeping with the theme of The Power of Home. However, they knew that balanced service includes not just charity (i.e., donations), but also education and advocacy. With the help of the Catholic Charities team, these young leaders helped educate their peers and teachers on issues related to housing justice and how the community can make a difference. From inviting the school to contact their legislative officials in support of Emergency Services funding to collecting over 230 petition signatures, the Academy of Holy Angels 2022 Justice Week is a true example of living out the Two Feet of Love in Action.
If your school, parish, or community group would like to find ways to engage with our social justice education or advocacy efforts, or if you could benefit from a guest speaker or facilitator, please reach out for support at Michael.Rios@cctwincities.org.