Mary is the lead organizer of GENESIS, an affiliate of the Gamaliel network in Oakland, California. GENESIS is dedicated to creating a unified voice for social justice and public policy reform, with a focus on leadership development, relationship building and successful action in the public arena. Mary grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and currently lives in Oakland, California. She is also a part of the Corpus Christi Catholic Church.
How do you see the Fire of Faith Campaign align with Catholic Social Teaching? Catholic social teaching is all about using our faith to act. I think that Catholic Social Teaching is also about observing the justice and injustice going on in the world and doing something about it. It helps people learn to act in their community and make a difference.
What issues in your community have you been addressing and how have they aligned with the Fire of Faith campaign?
Genesis has been working on public transportation because the schools in Oakland do not currently provide transportation for students. This is a great issue in Oakland as students are missing school and some are getting in trouble for sneaking in on buses because they cannot afford the $2.10 for public transportation. We are working on giving students the transportation that they need to get to school. Another thing we are advocating is the immigration reform.
How did you get involved with Gamaliel?
In 2007, I was working for a Catholic Charities agency in St. Louis, Missouri. We did good work, helping the homeless, the mentally ill and those who struggled with addiction. It occurred to me after working there for 12 years that I wanted to be part of changing the systems that kept people from succeeding. There were many strong, courageous, smart men and women we came across who would get stuck because of the way public funding is allocated. For example, one young man got a job in the suburbs of St. Louis. His shift was from 3 pm to 11 pm. The buses to his workplace stopped running at 7 pm–so he would often get stranded at his workplace. He would say to me, “It’s ok, I’m lucky to have the job.” He would then sleep at the loading dock of his workplace. We need to do better for this young man and for all of our community.
How has your Catholic Background influenced your work at Gamaliel?
My work with Gamaliel has connected me to my Church and vice versa. I know that as a Gamaliel organizer, it is necessary for us to work in community. There are times that I am hungry to spread the word to my brother/sisters in the Catholic Church about how we are called to serve the poor. When I share my hunger, my struggle–with others–I find that we are doing God’s work, for real. This ministry of working in community so that we can collectively and constantly preach the Gospel is what has grounded my organizing. Last year, my priest was preparing my daughter for her First Holy Communion. He asked her, “What do we call it Communion?” —“Because it reminds us to be in community.” He then said, “What do we need reminding?”–“Because we often forget.” I am proud to show my daughter how we need to constantly work at building our community as a Catholic Organizer.