Joe Flynn grew up with a clear sense of his primary role and duty in society.
“I was always raised to think about where other people are coming from, and what struggles folks have, and that oftentimes the things that people have to struggle through are by no making of their own,” says Flynn, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
Flynn eventually realized there was a name for that philosophy instilled by his parents: social justice.
And as a scholar and educator now committed to the development of social justice thinking in others – pre-service teachers, working teaches and school leaders chief among them – he cares deeply about the topic.
The associate director for Academic Affairs at NIU’s Center for Black Studies has proven as much the last two summers with colleague James Cohen as the organizers and “counselors” at the Social Justice Summer Camp, which is gearing up for Year Three this June.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of, and look out for, our neighbors. That’s what social justice is about. It’s not trying to push a liberal, commie, socialist agenda,” he says. “It’s really just about considering what kind of access to resources and opportunities people have, and if they are under-resourced for whatever reason, it becomes our responsibility as members of a beloved community to help lift those boats.”
The NIU College of Education’s upcoming Community Learning Series on “Social Justice: What it is. What it isn’t.” will shed light on questions of equality, equity and fairness at a critical time in America.
“Social justice is a really broad concept with a number of different umbrellas – transgender relations, economic status, physical abilities, sexual identities,” says Flynn, who will moderate the panel discussion.
“And considering the day’s political climate, with the rise of white nationalism; with sustained and entrenched poverty; with increased attacks against Muslims and Jews; and with the backlash against the trans community and others of the LGBT community; it seems like we’re in a divisive and divided time.”
Representatives of various local social justice organizations will staff resource tables from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. to share information and answer questions.
Free and open to the public, the event will feature four panelists:
- Katy Jaekel, an assistant professor of Adult and Higher Education at NIU;
- the Rev. G. Joseph Mitchell, senior pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb;
- Jocelyn Santana, social justice education coordinator at NIU; and
- Kurt Thurmaier, co-founder of Tanzania Development Support, Presidential Engagement Professor at NIU and chair of the NIU Department of Public Administration.
Flynn expects thoughtful dialogue from the diverse and knowledgeable panelists, each of whom will make an opening statement before taking questions from the moderator and the audience.
“I chose this topic because social justice is rarely ever defined when talking about it in the media or in other places,” he says. “I just want to try to have a conversation with some experts in our community and to think about the ranges of ways we talk about social justice. Sometimes, it’s talked about out of context, and misinformation goes out.”
His hope for members of the audience is that they will not only “explore their own understanding of what social justice is or isn’t” but also to “explore their own challenges” in thinking about or living in a socially just way.
By the end of the evening, Flynn adds, people might find the motivation to regard the world as he does.
“We all have a role in addressing issues of inequity and inequality,” he says. “Hopefully by talking about what social justice is, we can get away from the platitudes and half-baked notions about it, and we can look at the ideas and values that undergird the need to go support all members of our community.”
For more information, call (815) 753-8556 or email CIDepartment@niu.edu.