BY ERROL CASTENS
OXFORD – More than 150 delegates from nearly a dozen churches have identified five issues as priorities for action by their Oxford-Lafayette Amos Network.
The delegates met last week to move from organization to implementation of a faith-based group to address community problems. Culminating two years of house meetings involving more than 400 individuals, delegates to the Network unanimously adopted five issues as priorities for action.
“Forty years ago, men and women met in places just like this to figure out how to change this state,” Gerald Taylor, of the Industrial Areas Foundation, said of the basement setting at the Tallahatchie-Oxford Missionary Baptist Association. “Being a citizen is being willing to take responsibility for the kind of city and county we're making.”
Broad-based effort will be necessary, said co-chairman Charles Alexander of St. Peter's Episcopal Church.
“Leadership and participation by all – that is what this night is all about,” he said.
One priority adopted was jobs and living wages.
“Our first priority is to create an economy that has good jobs with good wages and good benefits,” said Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
LeRoy Thompson of Clear Creek M.B. Church said youth issues and education are crucial.
“One of the concerns is that there needs to be more parental involvement,” he said. In the absence of such, he added, “We hope this group and others will become mentors.”
Nan Johnson of Oxford Quaker Meeting said community services and information could counter such problems as “predatory credit companies É that can ruin a family's life” and the loss of funding for Family Crisis Services, which she said has resulted in incarceration instead of help for at-risk children in the foster system.
Dan O'Sullivan of St. John's Catholic Church discussed racial and economic justice, using Oxford's trendy downtown as an example.
“I fell in love with the Square – a magnificent square in a lovely town – but I ask you, is our public square serving the whole public?” he asked. “There are segments of the population that are being pushed out of the center of our community.”
City and county planning should provide both open space and affordable housing, said the Rev. Elbrist Mason of Burns and Hammit Hill United Methodist Churches.
“We also need planning that's environmentally friendly so 25 years down the road our children are still drinking clean water and breathing clean air,” he said.
On May 11, delegates will meet for training in community activism such as engaging local officials to help with the group's priorities.
“The first work of these teams is gathering intelligence,” Taylor said. “If we do our intelligence well, everything else follows.”