In Columbus, Ohio, people have been blessed for 21 years with the existence of the B.R.E.A.D. Organization. (Building Responsibility, Equality and Dignity). Forty diverse faith communities join together to work for justice in our community. We do this work using a four-step process each year: listening, research, action, and follow-through. We begin each autumn with house meetings where we identify what is personally affecting our lives and those of friends and family. After a meeting of hundreds of people each November, where we vote on what to begin to address that year, research on the issue begins until a solution is found. Each May, we hold a Nehemiah Action Meeting with thousands of people in attendance where public officials make specific commitments to work with B.R.E.A.D. Follow-through continues over the next few years until a solution is achieved. It is not unusual for it to take 3-4 years to achieve a result.
Over these past 20 years, B.R.E.A.D. has accomplished many things using this four-step process. Among our accomplishments are:
- A County Land Bank with 3.5 million dollars annually which has resulted in demolition of over 2,000 vacant properties;
- Securing 1.2 million dollars to expand primary care at Columbus Neighborhood Health Centers;
- An investment of over $200,000 by the ADAMH Board for an accredited Clubhouse International Program to serve the mentally ill;
- Establishment of six restorative justice circles to prevent children from entering the Juvenile Justice System;
- Getting new Assertive Community Treatment Teams that help individuals with severe mental illness; and
- The Affordable Housing Trust Fund which has financed the development of over 8,000 units of affordable houses.
- Reducing suspensions in the Columbus City Schools by getting restorative practices into the schools
- Strengthening the Restorative Justice Circles for juvenile non-violent offenders
- Securing a municipal identification card for everyone
- Increasing jobs in neglected neighborhoods
- Increasing job opportunities for returning citizens
- Reducing violent crime in our city through the institution of a program aimed at youth groups.
The work of B.R.E.A.D. aligns perfectly with Catholic Social Teaching. In Micah 6:6-8 and in Matthew 23:23-24 we are called to do justice, mercy and worship God. However, people seem to more easily worship God and do acts of mercy than to work for justice. I often wonder why this is so. Perhaps it is because the Consumer Culture is stronger than the Justice Culture. The consumer culture sees “self” isolated from others and individuals seek to accumulate things. The justice culture sees “self” in relation to others (common good) and a fair distribution of God’s bounty is essential. Perhaps it is because we get more self-satisfaction from doing works of mercy (for example, feeding the hungry) than doing the difficult long-term work of changing systems in order to secure justice.
I continue to have a vision of what we could accomplish if all our Catholic parishes joined B.R.E.A.D. and used their power to work for justice in our city. Then, Columbus would be more like the City of God than a Tale of Two Cities.