Social Justice, The Simple Way

Shane Claiborne, 37, is known worldwide for how he lives his life. The Eastern University graduate began ”The Simple Way” community in 1995 when he moved to the 3200 block of Potter Street in Kensington. 

Claiborne is a Philly transplant, raised outside of Knoxville, Tenn. He runs The Simple Way, a non-profit that helps rebuild communities. His march toward a life of promoting social justice started when he was a boy, brought up “very insulated from injustices.” Shane said he’s been on a “gradual journey” to his life today.  

“Deep down, I knew everything wasn’t alright everywhere in the world. Coming to Philly opened my eyes. I saw racism and injustice,” he said.

While a student, Claiborne and his friends shared youthful idealism. He decided one day he wanted to go to India and work with Mother Teresa. He called the Calcutta orphanage from his dorm lounge pay phone. 

He said Mother Teresa herself answered the phone, and said, “Yeah, come work with us.” He asked her where he and his friends will sleep and eat. She responded, "God takes care of the lillies and the sparrows and God will take care of you." So he went for about two months.

Claiborne describes Mother Teresa as “really down to earth” and a woman who immersed herself in communities. He remembers her jumping rope with the kids.

Fueled by something Mother Teresa said to him -- "We can do not great things but only some things with great love" -- after college, Claiborne and his friends pooled their money and bought a rowhouse in Kensington. Their community now owns and has rehabbed a dozen homes in the neighborhood. They turned vacant lots filled with trash into gardens. 

He's concerned about the violence in his community, "We got to expose injustice so it becomes so uncomfortable so people have to respond.” 

“Injustice has to have a face or name otherwise it’s just a fad. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they don’t know [about social injustice]," said Claiborne.

The Simple Way's director of operations Janell Anema said, "We do justice with our whole lives. We hope people will get swept up in the imagination that God's dreams might come true." There are about 20 full time and part time workers as well as community volunteers that facilitate community partnerships such as football games to after-school programs.

Claiborne said he’d like for “the city to re-imagine how to live together.” 

Claiborne will share his formula for community-building on Saturday at The Justice Conference, which takes place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He describes the gathering as “a manifest of things that really matter.”

The Justice Conference is just three years old. Co-founder Ken Wytsma of Kilns College said, “Justice isn’t just a good thing, it’s a necessary thing, a collaborative thing.” Wytsma described people as having a moral impulse and sees the conference as a way to get people to work together.

The conference is a collaboration of do-gooders, the faith community and every day people who act to make their communities a better place to live.  

Issues that are being tackled at the social justice conference include: violence, human trafficking, immigration and health. Last year, attendees came from 44 states and more than two dozen countries. Organizers expect 6,000 people this year, with the largest demographic being students. Registration is still open on-site.  

Minneapolis-based Venture Expeditions organizes biking treks, runs and hikes to raise awareness for social issues. The non-profit group organized a cross-country bike project from Seattle to New York City to raise funds for Burmese refugees. 

The group “finds creative ways to engage people with social justice issues” with the intention to inspire individuals to think about what they should do in their hometown. “How can I extend dignity to people across the street not just across the ocean,” said executive director Paul Hurckman. 

Kids for Compassion is a Baltimore-based non-profit started 7 years ago by Emily Golden then 11 years-old. Kids for Compassion seeks to raise $12,000 this year to send 10 young people to school for the year in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Sophie Golden, 15, sat at the exhibit booth recapping the organization’s efforts. Golden said, “Seeing the impact education has on the kids is amazing. It changes their life and gives them faith and hope for their entire family.”

The group “Raw Tools” will take an AK47 and transform it into garden tools. Claiborne said the action is a symbol of what can be done to turn something used for violence into something useful. 

Claiborne shared the work of a dozen or so Philly justice heroes Friday night at the conference. He hopes to help promote "new eyes for justice" in the community.

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