Category Archives: Non-Profit

Social Justice and Community Development

A partnership between SCUPE and Loyola University
combines Social Justice and Community Development
into one graduate level program (MASJCD).  Susan Rans writes
about how SJ and CD are not unusual bedfellows.

Dr. Mary Nelson' s Restoring Urban Communities Course

Many current and incoming students have asked for a description of the differences between the Social Justice and Community Development tracks of the MASJCD.  In the past, I have answered this question in a kind of shorthand:

Social Justice ‘thinks globally”; Community Development “acts locally”.  Here, I will attempt to put more meat on those bones.

The biggest idea behind the creation of the MASJCD was to join the theoretical and theological study of social justice to a place-based practice and policy approach to change in urban communities.  While the study of social justice leads toward action, the study of community development provides effective and proven tools for action.  So, another formulation might be that the study of social justice reveals why we must act and the study of community development shows what we can do.

It can also be said that community development is a form of social justice.  Our religious traditions speak clearly about the injustices of poverty, of war and of oppression of the powerless.  Answering this call often leads students to involvement in justice issues like eliminating poverty and hunger, ending wars, empowering women or welcoming immigrants.  Community development–building strong and liberating communities in which the economy is available to all, in which every member is a valued contributor, and in which access to health care, education and secure housing is a mandate–fulfills the social justice vision.

Community development also concerns itself with systems—their analysis and the ways in which they must change to become equitable and sustainable.  Understanding housing policy and the details of housing production are essential to changing the housing system.  Knowing the economics and politics of food production is necessary to work to provide local communities with access to healthy food.  As one Chicago community developer often says, “We need to discover ways to make big systems work for small places.”  Studying community development leads to that discovery.

In the end, an argument can be made that significant knowledge of both areas is essential to real and lasting change, and that’s why there is an MASJCD.  And toward that end, we do not require students to declare a track until one full-time semester has passed (one year for part-time students).  And we highly recommend that students take courses in both tracks early in their studies and even after they have chosen a track—a sort of major/minor arrangement.  The best mix of theory and practice, of global issues and local systems will produce to the best agents of social change—the goal of our program.

For more info and discussion of the program, feel free to contact me.

-Susan Rans
MASJCD Graduate Program Director


Restoring Urban Communities

Mary Nelson teaching at Lake & Pulaski

Last weekend I spent some time in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago with Dr. Mary Nelson’s “Restoring Urban Communities” class.  If you haven’t heard about Mary Nelson you’ll want to – especially if  you’re involved in community development, community organizing, or just live in a neighborhood you care about.  Just as Dr. Nelson’s approach to C.D. (everyone in this field loves acronyms) is firmly rooted in the context of the community so is her May SCUPE/Loyola class.

Downtown From Rooftop Prarie on Eco-building

On the particular day I visited with the class Mary had us all cram into a 15 passenger van as she zoomed around the neighborhood.  At every corner of every block there was a story about a struggle the neighborhood had faced and how the community overcame, or at the very least challenged, the issues.  In 30 years of existence, Bethel New Life (the non-profit started by the Bethel Lutheran congregation) has joined the neighborhood in its joys and its struggles and has provided a model for the way church should be.

Two key elements of the way of church-life which Mary teaches are listening and an asset-based approach to looking at communities.  Listening is probably the more difficult of the two while Asset-based community development (ABCD) is the more counter-intuitive.

Reflection Back in the Classroom

The reason for this is that we are all quite used to going into communities and situations with our analytical minds probing for deficits and deficiencies.  Actively seeking out assets and proficiencies is hard-wired into the human brain.  From the dawn of conscious thought ancient humans analyzed their environment in search for the “wrong” factors that might prove dangerous: a sharp sudden cliff, a structurally un-sound cave, a bog stiff with lurking log-like snouts of crocodiles.  Our very survival has for centuries, and does still, depend on our ability to scout out what is wrong with a situation or an environment.

Looking for assets thus goes against a natural grain in our thinking.  This, I believe, is its wonderful offering to us though.  Looking at a community through asset mapping allows us to think in a different frequency and to see things that we would have otherwise ignored or written off.

We must learn to listen, to ask the right questions, and to look forward our neighborhoods walks, to unexpected conversations, and even community changes as chances to see what jumps out at us.  Maybe that lion is also a source of food!

Learning amidst the Rooftop Prairie and Solar Panels