Peace and Justice Academy

An organization’s mission statement defines why they exist. As community needs, demographics, and priorities change, mission statements should be reviewed to ensure their relevance.
The book Mother Teresa, CEO, talks about eight principles that Mother Teresa, or now Saint Teresa, followed to change the world. While she didn’t have an MBA, Saint Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity, and one million volunteers operated in one hundred countries, raised billions of dollars, and had a brand recognized throughout the world. How did she do it?
For one, St. Teresa kept her mission strong and simple so everyone knew what it was – “To serve the poorest of the poor.” The simplicity created clarity. It was attainable and actionable so that people were inspired to follow her.
Unfortunately, there are times when I have participated in reviewing mission statements that took lots of time, were lengthy, filled with buzzwords, and simply not memorable.
At Catholic Charities, we are reviewing our mission statement to ensure its relevance. We’ll also be reviewing our vision statement (our ideal future) and core values (how we behave). Our staff are definitely involved as they have a critical voice in our purpose and how we carry it out.

So…perhaps the important question we must ask ourselves is, “who are we the Saint Teresa of?”

Leo hugs Student

Last month, I attended our Peace and Justice Academy in Richmond. The Academy is a leadership program for West Contra Costa students impacted by trauma and community violence. Through the use of restorative practices, community organizing, and the arts, the Academy taps into the natural leadership skills and strengths of each student. Some students will go on to mentor younger children and some are now applying to youth commissions. Their impact in the community will help decrease crime and anti-social behavior, repair harm, and restore relationships.

Leo Guzman is the program’s coordinator. Leo designed the program in response to seeing the need for something more for the youth we serve. When I arrived, Leo was holding a circle with eight students. A circle is a technique giving youth a safe space to talk about their lives and community. Leadership comes in many forms, and by listening to each other, the youth learn respect for each other’s talents, perspectives, and diversity. There are ground rules for the circle – “be genuine, respect what each other says, give people space and time to share, and put yourself in their shoes.”
I was impressed by these kids, all in their early teens and some wearing ankle monitors. They are articulate, care for each other, and want to make a difference. They talked about violence, drugs, inequality, racism, profiling, and what their ideal community would look and feel like.
In his book, Community, Peter Block said that people who come together and choose to hold themselves accountable are our best hope for making a difference in the community. Leadership is about accountability, and the Peace and Justice Academy participants are holding themselves accountable to make a positive difference – this is impressive at such an early age.
As I was listening to everyone, and participating in the circles, two things came to mind. To paraphrase attorney Bryan Stevenson “Perhaps the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice.”
The other is that if I were one of these kids, I would want Leo by my side. He is compassionate, respectful, inspiring, and without judgment. He loves and believes in these kids as if they were his own children. These kids probably never had someone like a Leo loving and believing in them.
Thank you Leo for believing in your kids and being a leader who they can aspire to become.