Alternative Breaks panel talks faith and justice

Photo courtesy of Tyler Norris | Students listen to activists speak on the intersection of their personal faith and their service to others on a panel run by Alternative Breaks.

A panel of local activists spoke on the intersections of faith and service in Arrupe on Monday. Alternative Breaks (AB) ran the panel 19 days before they send 19 service groups on educational trips during spring break.

AB Board Member Viktoria Schumacher was inspired to create the panel by a retreat with the Center for Faith and Justice(CFJ). “One night they hosted an interfaith talk with people of all different religions. Muslim, Catholic, atheist, you name it,” Schumacher said. “It was really impactful to me because it showed me that not only is faith and justice tied together, but faith and service can be as well.”

Since its founding in 2000, AB has sent groups of students and Xavier community members across the state, nation and globe. It is the largest club on campus.

Despite Xavier’s Jesuit identity, AB trips do not include religious practices and are under a secular parent organization, BreakAway. Many trips stay in churches to reduce a trip’s cost by avoiding hotel fees.

AB does, however, heavily focus on reflection in its trips and encourages participants to evaluate how their lives play into social justice. For many, religion can be an essential part of their life. And that’s where the conversation of faith and service comes in.

The panel included Mona Jenkins of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and  Mass Actions for Black Liberation (previously Black Lives Matter Cincinnati); Elizabeth Hopkins, lead organizer of the AMOS Project,; and Allison Reynolds-Berry, the director of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center.

The panelists, two Catholics and an “ex-Southern Baptist,” answered challenging questions, like “how does your faith come in conflict with your work?” and even “how do you organize or rally a group of people together despite the fact they might have differing beliefs?” with anecdotes and smiles on their faces.

Toward the end of the discussion, Jenkins emphasized that the motivation for her honesty and openness with the students grew out of her desire for dialogue — even if it’s uncomfortable.

“I want to have these hard discussions, and I want to be open and honest about my beliefs and trying to understand those around me. Justice is necessary. I cannot be free while someone else is oppressed, and that won’t change as long as we remain silent,” Jenkins said.

Kayla Pierce, a junior social work major who has gone on AB trips, enjoyed the event and thought that the panel would have been useful for people who wanted to incorporate their faith into their service.

“I’m not faith-oriented, but I think that it was informational and inspirational,” Pierce said.

AB Board member Tyler Norris also saw good in the event.

“I thought it really helped to broaden people’s horizons. It was a great conversation that can help to fill in the blank space some people may have when it comes to doing service. Not only outside the CFJ, but also in relation to one’s own faith.”

By: Alanna Belmont | Staff Writer