by Paul Bowers
The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) expects a crowd of thousands for a social justice assembly tonight at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.
The second annual Nehemiah Action will include members from 24 local churches and synagogues, and topics to be discussed will include curtailing youth unemployment and reducing rates of school suspension. According to a press release from CAJM, the group will call on local leaders to start targeted hiring programs that seek to place young adults in publicly funded jobs. They will also call on Charleston County School District to more closely adhere to the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program in struggling schools to reduce suspension rates.
The Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, senior minister of Circular Congregational Church, says he expects to see Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., some members of Charleston County Council, and possibly Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley at the event.
"We listen for community problems, and we ask our leaders to make commitments to work with us," Rutledge says. "Some of that goes smoothly, and some of it there's a lot of pushback from our leaders."
The first Nehemiah Action, which took place last April at St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, took its name from the Hebrew prophet Nehemiah, who led the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and spoke against oppression of the poor during the 5th century BC. "Nehemiah really identifies with people who are suffering, and there's a point where the people start to organize themselves," Rutledge says.
At last year's Nehemiah Action, congregants asked Superintendent McGinley to propose funding more slots in the district's early childhood development program (the school board approved her proposal in June 2013), and multiple law enforcement agency heads committed to reducing the rate of incarceration for non-violent juvenile offenders, according to CAJM organizers.
Rev. Rutledge says the diverse coalition of congregations is not without precedent in Charleston. "The South is the historic place of the best model for that if you look at the Civil Rights movement," he says. "They weren't trying to convert the country into a religious country, but they also weren't just staying in their pews minding their own business."
The Nehemiah Action will begin at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center (5100 Coliseum Dr.). Free parking will be available. Click here to RSVP on Facebook.