Leader Spotlight: Irene Boyd

Irene Boyd is a former community organizer that has had a sense of social justice since she was a child.  Irene’s father is from Northern Ireland and Irene heard stories from a very young age aboutdiscrimination against Catholics.  Irene grew up with an understanding of the worth and dignity of everyone regardless of race or ethnic group.  Irene has lived in Nashville since 1955 and has experienced many changes within the city, especially around Catholicism.  Irene belongs to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Nashville, Tennessee and is working to strengthen Gamaliel affiliate, NOAH (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope).

How has your Catholic background influenced your work in social j,ustice?

Once I left the convent, it became increasingly clearer to me that I wanted to become active in peace work.  My focus was mainly on the peace movement and on issues concerning racism, poverty, apartheid and Central America.  I was working for the diocese when the encyclicals came out on peace, economy and racism.  I then became involved in the ecumenical interfaith community providing and participating in workshops.  For about 18 months I also worked with the welfare department and had direct contact with the poor.  Additionally, I worked at a methadone clinic and saw the fall out of people trying to get back into society.  I witnessed more and more cultural obstacles that prevented people from starting over.  I have always been very aware of Catholic Social Teaching and have felt that it does not get on the front burner as often as it should.  As a Catholic, all of these experiences led me to work for marginalized members of society, as well as using my teaching experiences to influence my students to do the same. 

What work is being done within NOAH around the Fire of Faith Campaign?

We are working hard to build NOAH and making headway with many of our congregations.  Ana Garcia-Ashley, Executive Director of Gamaliel, came early on to meet with our pastors at St. Joseph and Holy Name.  Gamaliel made a lot of sense for our community in Nashville and we were able to engage in deep conversation about organizing.  Poverty issues and employment issues are topics of discussion within NOAH, just as they are across the country.  There is also increased media and publicity about the growth of Nashville.  At NOAH, we are looking at the employment angle of this growth to ensure that there is equal opportunity for the residents of Nashville to have gainful employment.  We also look at issues around education and access to resources for our youth within the public, private and charter school system. 

What appealed to you about Gamaliel’s Fire of Faith Campaign?

I have always been utterly convinced of the importance of community organizing.  I know Gamaliel is focused around building support for national issues, as well as the local issues.  I like that broader perspective. It is critical to understand the significance of power, self-interest and one-on-ones.  The other part of the network that stood out to me is the immense focus on clergy training and the push to build and grow congregations.  I would like to see more emphasis in our Churches about the importance of organizing.  Pastors can really build their parishes and get involved in social justice issues.  It is in the self-interest of the pastors to be a part of Gamaliel.  As Catholics, we need to be aware of the difference between charity and justice.  Outreach is important, but we have to ask why people are in poor conditions and what we can do to move them into better lives.  I don’t think there is a strong sense of raising the hard questions around causes and systems that keep people poor, oppressed and marginalized.  Within NOAH and Gamaliel we are able to explore these hard questions and work to change these systems.

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