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Statement on the Trial of Derek Chauvin – April 22, 2021

The murder conviction in the Chauvin case is an important step; however we cannot let it be the last step in our urgent efforts to hold police and policing systems accountable for decades of violence against Black and Brown communities.

There are prophets right here in Rockford who have been calling us to do better, decrying police violence and telling us about a better way.  Protesters have been camped outside of Rockford’s city hall for months and whatever you think of their tactics, they are faithfully calling on the entire community to have an overdue conversation about what justice means and how people of color, particularly Black people, are treated by police.  Just a week ago, Faustin Guetigo, a Black man, was killed in a police interaction at his home.  His wife said to reporters that she called for the police to help, not to shoot her husband.

We must invest in community services that can de-escalate violence, not increase it.  There are many ways to act:

ACLU of Illinois needs your help to pass legislation that would help hold police accountable in our state. Please take action now – call your state representative and urge them to pass HB 1727: The Bad Apples in Law Enforcement Accountability Act.

Contact your state representative in support of HB 1727.

  • Call 1-866-581-7519 to be connected to your state legislator and urge them to support and co-sponsor HB 1727.
  • Email your state legislator in Springfield your support for this bill here.
  • Schedule a visit with your senator or representative to talk about this bill. Find out more information about meeting with your legislator here. If you need help with scheduling a visit, please contact advocacy@aclu-il.org.
  • We also encourage you to find and follow your state legislators on social media.
  • Additional resources to read, watch, and listen to on policing in Illinois and across the country can be found here.

Advocates from LiveFree Illinois, part of a national organization called LiveFree USA that brings together people of faith across the country to end gun violence, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of Black and Brown bodies, are also calling for violence prevention.  Sunday afternoon they held a town hall at Spirit of Truth church where people shared stories about their experiences with violence in our communities, and they are calling for Rockford to invest a portion of the federal American Rescue Plan funding allocated to our city to be designated for violence prevention.  By using a model of proven best practices that has successfully reduced violence across the country, we can reduce the need for police interactions while working to reform the system.

To get involved, contact Decarceration Organizer Willette Benford at wbenford@livefreechicago.org or contact your alderperson and the mayor to share your support for investing ARP funds in violence prevention strategies.

Rockford has a unique opportunity to change directions with the hiring of a new police chief. We pray that we hire someone with skills in community policing and can work with a diverse community. Please send your concerns to the Mayor’s office.

Let RUM know if you take on any of the action suggestions.

And keep the City in your prayers, as well as Rockford Urban Ministries.

Director Stanley Campbell; Pastor Violet Johnicker 

JustGoods fair trade closes

After fourteen years, the volunteers and staff have decided to close JustGoods, the non-profit fair trade store at the corner of Seventh Street and First Avenue. You still have until mid-September to visit during the last remaining store hours, Monday through Saturday from 10am until 6pm. Volunteers are helping close out the sales.

The store came about because a number of people wanted access to gift items not made in sweat shops. Fair trade promises living wages to third world artisans.

The concept was started by missionaries who contracted with local villagers to pay a fair living wage, not use children, share the profits with the village, and not harm the environment. The largest fair trade companies — Ten Thousand Villages and SERRV — started by the Mennonites and the Brethren, have grown to two percent of the U.S. economy. In Europe, fair trade sales can be as high as 15% of national business. So our little store had high hopes of educating Rockford and supporting fair trade producers, as well as buying from local crafts people and nonprofits.

Sadness prevails because it’s such a lovely store in which so many volunteers and lightly paid staff have spent time and effort. They organized benefits to help pay for heat and electricity, assisted in raising funds to put a wind turbine and solar panels on the roof, and donated items to other non-profits while selling crafts in support of Rockford missions and ministries.

The reason for closing boils down to finances: there just hasn’t been enough income to purchase inventory for this year’s Christmas sales, which is when the store breaks even. Rockford Urban Ministries (whom I work for) is ultimately responsible for paying the bills. The people hosted benefits, sent out appeals and sought volunteers to run the store. Volunteers educated themselves to tell people about the virtues of fair trade. I hope the community can show appreciation for their effort. I thank all for your support and am sorry that JustGoods is closing.

But the building and, we hope, the mission continues.

Amelia Simpson, local artist extraordinaire, will show her found object art and collages during September in the gallery space. JustGoods will sell their final bag of fair trade coffee and tea. Music concerts will continue every Friday night beginning September 20, (list is at their website: www.rockfordlisteningroom.com) .

And RUM’s vintage art and book sales in the back room will continue, though limited to when we have volunteers to take your donations.

We pray there will be something new and even better moving into this space. We welcome ideas which you can send to rockfordurbanmin@aol.com, or mail to RUM, 201 Seventh St., Rockford IL 61104 (and you are welcome to bless us with a tax deductible check).

Years ago we were told that Rockford did not have the demographics to support a fair trade store and that we chose the wrong neighborhood. Well Rockford Urban Ministries wants to do community development on Seventh Street, and tell the story of fair trade. For 14 years we did just that, and we hope to continue somehow.

So I ask our supporters to put on thinking caps and prayer shawls and think of what can be done with the space and imagine a business model that supports fair trade, recycling, and development of Seventh Street.

STANLEY CAMPBELL, EXEC DIRECTOR, 815-964-7111, rockfordurbanmin@aol.com

PAST BLOGS

Merry Christmas

‘Tis the Season to be Just

Giving a gift this holiday season? Please consider some alternatives to the “big box” stores. There are many nonprofit organizations that offer items for sale that make lovely gifts. For example, Carpenters Place has colorful bracelets made by their homeless clients, and your gift will go twice as far in helping a much needed program in Rockford. (JustGoods sells these bracelets.) I also suggest visiting a fair trade store where you can find items made by individual artisans who are treated fairly (i.e., paid a living wage, no child labor, organic, and not harmful to the environment).

JustGoods is a nonprofit fair trade store at 201 Seventh Street, a project of Rockford Urban Ministries (for whom I work). It is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. with extended Friday evening hours during the holiday season. The store is not in the “shopping Mecca area” but is attempting to entice people down with a 20% off sale on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Fair trade gifts include pottery, baskets, musical instruments, Christmas ornaments, toys, clothes, jewelry, and knickknacks. JustGoods sells most of its fair trade gift items from seven or eight major outlets, including Ten Thousand Villages, a mission of the Mennonite Church.

Keeping an eye open for “fair trade” items supports nonprofit organizations around the world and does not do harm as so many other purchases might.

You can always try the second-hand stores — Good Will, Salvation Army, and/or the Rockford Rescue Mission, where sometimes new items are donated and bargains can be had during this hectic shopping season. I also like to visit church bazaars, especially the Bethlehem Market at Beth Eden United Methodist Church on Huffman Blvd. Of course, you could make a very special gift out of donations to your loved ones’ favorite charities.

I know most of us will traipse off to the mall or the “big box” stores, but at least the gifts you buy from alternate sources are unique and they give twice — once, of course, to the recipient (a member of your family or close friend) but also to the nonprofit organization and the person who actually made the item.

As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods. This year let’s do our shopping differently.
Instead of a Chinese made flat-screens, perhaps the grateful gift receiver would like his/her lawn mowed for the summer or driveway plowed all winter. You can put someone to work instead of doing it yourself, and save your loved one’s back.
Everyone gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local American hair salon or barber?

Gym membership? It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about health improvements.

Who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, American owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate.

Another idea is to shop non-profit: Goodwill and the non-profit thrift stores recycle what normally ends up in landfills. Support fair trade missions like SERRV and 10,000 Villages, church bazaars and rummage sales help worthwhile projects and have great prices. JustGoods fair trade store at 201 Seventh Street, (open Tuesdays thru Saturdays 10 – 6 for your holiday shopping pleasure) is nonprofit and sells fairly traded gifts – the best of both worlds.

But what to get for that uncle who has everything? Why not donate cash in his name to a favorite charity. Maybe he likes animals, so give to Noah’s Ark. Does your aunt like walks in the park? Then contribute memberships to Natural Land Institute, Severson Dells or Klehm Arboretum.

Crusader Community Health is my favorite medical facility, and a donation in the loved one’s name is a fine gift. In fact, there are many organizations that deserve our help. So give a gift that reflects the spirit of the season. Instead of looking for expensive geegaws or clothing made in sweatshops, try to find an expression of love for those who need it the most.

There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants — all offering gift certificates. And, if your intended isn’t the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. Remember folks, this isn’t about big National chains — this is about supporting your home town Americans to keep their doors open.

How many people could use an oil change for their vehicle done at a shop run by the American working guy?

Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day. My computer uses the services of a local repairman for a tune-up, that would make a great gift.

If you are looking for something more personal, local crafters spin their own wool and knit scarves (ask for Molly at JustGoods). Your neighbors also make jewelry, pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.

Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going out to see a play or musical performance at your hometown theater (i.e., Charlotte’s Web). Musicians need love too, so support venues showcasing locals.

This is a revolution of caring about each other, and isn’t that what Christmas is about? Tis the season.

Suggestions for a Prison ministry:

Jobs Finder/Counsellor – part time/10 – 15 hours week $9000 – 11,000/year

Work with Careers/LSSI/Winnebago County (Tommy Meeks)/Reachout Jail Ministry

  1. Jobs – First priority: Find jobs! Solicit business to hire “returning citizens.” When RUM established Promised Land Employment, the director went looking for church members who would hire “her clients.” She was able to garner businesses, large and small, who would take people with no work experience, even though many did not initially work out. Carol Perrin said that “third time is a charm” for many of her referrals. Initially this could take all the time, until a nice little cache of business is collected.
  2. Interview and place clients: the majority of the work would be done by existing counsellors/mentors (ie. LSSI, Tommy Meeks, Rckd Reachout Jail). The client would be referred to one of the businesses after a short interview to assure compliance/acceptable behavior.
  3. Mentors: Finding volunteers among RUM Council member churches and other congregations (and other faiths) and the SECULAR community. Upon returning to their communities, many “citizens” should have volunteer mentors who would meet with, listen to, and possibly assist in directing these new returnees. Rockford Reach Out Jail Ministry has 41 congregational “mentoring teams” who will accept their referrals from the Winnebago County Jail. Lutheran Social Services will be seeking mentors for their returnees from the state prison. There is some discussion about who should take the lead between these two organizations. I hope LSSI and RRJM can work out an arrangement. I think that jail ministry relies heavily on evangelical  and fundamentalist churches and not enough on the mainline denominations, much less the more liberal congregations. This would be accomplished after a good network of jobs is secured.
  4. Advocacy: This last bit of work would occur only after the first three were accomplished. I don’t believe the United Methodists are afraid of lobbying for a more humane prison system, and I think that we would be one of the few organizations that would confront our politicians and their proclivity towards vengeance rather than rehabilitation

Your thoughts are greatly appreciated, and I pray for the prisoners and those who work with them.

Rockford as a Place for Healing

I remember a United Methodist pastor saying that we just can’t be “anti-casino,” we should be “pro-something.” I responded that, when it came to legalized gambling, we have to take a stand against it.

But she was right; it’s better to advocate for something than always saying “no.” So let’s advocate for making Rockford a place of healing and a refuge for the poor. Lord knows we have plenty of poor to work with (and no, they aren’t coming from someplace else). Rockford could be a city where people turn their lives around, are inspired and encouraged. We respect the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota as a place of healing the body using the latest techniques. I pray Rockford becomes a model of healing lives, habits, and one’s soul.

Rockford has all the problems of a big city, but is small enough to get a handle on them. Two examples: RUM advocated for helping intravenous drug users and women who sold themselves for sex on the streets. There were many social service agencies that supported our actions and helped find resources and ideas for outreach. It was controversial, but cutting edge. Rockford’s helping network is oftentimes congenial and mutually beneficial. I recall when Mayor Charles Box (or was it John McNamara?) started the Homeless Task Force. Public & private agency leaders and staffers shared ideas and tried to patch the bigger holes in our tenuous safety net. Instead of fighting over turf and shrinking tax dollars, those who work with poor families worked with each other.

Rockford has many things going for helping the poor: number one is affordable housing. Some people may bemoan the slump in home prices, but it does allow for people to share apartments and living spaces. There is a network of support for many families that would otherwise be out on the street. Food is also affordable, available and sometimes plentiful. Rockford has many nationally recognized organizations, from Crusader Clinic to Milestones to Carpenter’s Place (and I am not going to name them all). People come to Rockford to learn how to save lives.

I believe Rockfordians are more approachable and friendlier than in some of the larger cities, and this is the most important blessing: Rockford folks are generous with time and money. This city provides volunteers for many of the social service agencies, both Christian and secular, private and governmental. With leadership this town could actually become a safe haven for the poor and oppressed, experimenting with new ways in dealing with the related problems that poverty brings with it. Physical and mental illness needs healing, and we could be the place to do it!

Some bemoan the fact that there are people who are poor living amongst us, accusing other cities of sending their poor to us. But the poor move around no more than anyone else, and though some are drawn to Rockford because it is more affordable, there’s no conspiracy to take advantage of the meager resources we have in place now. Just because Jesus says “the poor will always be with you” doesn’t mean you can treat them poorly. Every exhortation is to “help the poor, or go to hell” (Matthew Chapter 25, verses 41 to 42; look it up in your Bible).

Like Rochester Minnesota, when professionals are hired to help those in need, it lifts the standard for the whole community. Let’s face it; people make a living off of helping the poor. By advocating and lifting up Rockford as a place to turn one’s life around, we might be able to attract jobs and personnel who will then increase the economic base for the community.

Your church can be a catalyst for making Rockford a place of healing. We must try to counter the prevailing mood of disliking the poor, reminding people that we are blessed with a good family, a safe neighborhood, a loving church, and should share God’s love with those who need it the most.

Lift up those in your church community who volunteer their time and mention the special relationships your congregation has with various nonprofits. By serving on boards we have the opportunity to encourage working together. And commending our community leaders that work together, we can double efforts and ensure little redundancy and even fewer wasted resources. Our community should not be overwhelmed with animosity towards the various governmental and private services, but take courage when seeing everyone working together. We can contribute to the communal good.

Advertise and lift up what your church does in the community. This encourages others to give as well as remind people that we are called to help those in need. Many times I have asked for notification of churches’ good works and found later that some churches give quite a bit but do not broadcast it. Are they being humble? No, we should shout it from the rooftops, stop hiding our light under a bushel basket, and get out and blind the community with God’s love.

As Rockford becomes a place of healing, we improve the schools and the social service programs and city services to work together and advocate for Rockford being a place to turn one’s life around.  And by turning peoples’ lives around, we increase the community’s spirit and livability (and profitability). Amen.