A University of Georgia student-led workshop on social justice held Saturday in Athens attracted more than 100 people for discussions of issues ranging from criminal justice to affordable housing.
“This has been mostly students, but it also involved some community members all doing some really hard work to bring this together. We’re planning to have it every year,” said UGA graduate student Alyss Donnelly, one of the organizers.
The Social Justice Symposium, held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, was the work of students in the UGA School of Social Work.
The Rev. Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, gave the keynote address, and said he was impressed by the attendance.
“I’m glad I’m here. There is a spirit in the air here,” he said.
Speaking more broadly, Johnson said, “I think there is a growing recognition that change will not come from the top down, but from the bottom up. It will come when people of goodwill and good ideas come together to press past the status quo.”
Llewellyn Cornelius, a professor in the UGA School of Social Work, said it was important to have students leading the workshop.
“We wanted to have the students drive this, not faculty, staff and administration,” Cornelius said, adding that it was also important that students opened the symposium to the community.
“The folks that live here are rooted in their knowledge of the community,” he said.
“I think it’s incredibly important for students to build the skills and capacities needed in order to effectively bring about positive change. We need opportunities like this for them to develop these skills,” said Rebecca Matthew, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work.
The event also honored June Gary Hopps, a professor in the social work school, with an award. In the future, the award will be presented in her name.
Students had asked Hopps, known nationally in her profession, to speak about her background during the workshop. She described growing up in a central Florida town, where as a child her family stressed faith and education.
“Civil rights were always on the forefront at our kitchen table. My folks talked about Brooker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois,” said Hopps, who joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s while attending Spelman College in Atlanta.
“I was in the first group of students arrested in Atlanta to desegregate the lunch counters. We marched in together and sat at a counter and we were pulled out,” she said.
The importance of the day’s discussions were emphasized by Yosha Dotson, a graduate student in social work who helped organize the event.
“There are so many things going on across the nation,” Dotson said. “But it’s important for us to bring up those things actually going on in Athens … we want to work on the things going on here.”
Written Wayne Ford