In September of 2019, more than 270 leaders of Jesuit works convened at Santa Clara University for a leadership workshop, united by their ministry and work within the Jesuits West Province. At that gathering, then-provincial Fr. Scott Santarosa, S.J., asked during his opening remarks: “are there enough injustices against the people we love to consider flexing our Jesuit muscle again and regularly? The beloved is there before us: the immigrant, the gang member, the hungry, the incarcerated, the single mother separated from her deported husband. Are we offering to the beloved all the gifts we are truly in possession of? Can we also offer our power?”
This provocative question was a part of a broader movement in the Jesuits West Province, a vision that manifested in January 2019 with the hire of Annie Fox as the provincial assistant for Justice and Ecology Organizing. Fox’s role was created on the premise the Jesuit West ministries were already doing incredible work around justice and service individually, but that collaboration could enhance the power and effectiveness of that work.
The September 2019 gathering at Santa Clara University launched a six month Province-wide discernment process to identify opportunities for collaboration on social justice initiatives. But three educators in the Jesuits West Province, Jesse Rodriguez and Jamal Adams from Loyola High School of Los Angeles and Will Rutt, then at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, AZ, came away from the workshop already excited about one idea to engage students in cross-ministry collaboration for justice. “We [the three of us] consumed everything about the weekend,” shared Rodriguez. “I think it was what we were yearning for. This group of practitioners in the field of community organizing, leaders in parishes and schools, would come to form the foundation of both Annie and Fr. Santarosa’s vision.”
This process resulted in the development of a roadmap that eventually led to the creation of Jesuits West CORE (Collaborative Organizing for Racial Equity)—an initiative integrating 12 regional teams all committed to “listening, learning, organizing and advocating together to be a more powerful force for racial equity and justice.”
Rodriguez, Adams, and Rutt began to dream of a forum to train their students in basic community organizing principles and to center students as leaders in the work of CORE. With Fox, the three convened a group of high school teachers from across the Province—Kelly O’Neil (then at Cristo Rey, San Jose); Amanda Montez (then at Nativity School in San Jose); Sara Brabec (Jesuit Sacramento); Rachel Ford (then at Seattle Prep); and Justine Javier (Cristo Rey, Sacramento). This team built out plans for a summer 2020 training, titled Ignite. With the onset of the pandemic, the planned in-person event pivoted to a digital platform, welcoming 35 students from six schools for four days of intensive training, preparing attending students to jump into leadership roles in fall of 2020.
The initial cohort had a goal of organizing their communities to take a cumulative 10,000 actions for racial equity by October of 2020. This work, entirely led by students, took the form of advocacy calls and postcards to elected officials, a ballot initiative education night, restorative justice advocacy, and more, resulting in 15,400 actions, far surpassing the initial goal.
Speaking about the first year of Ignite, Rodriguez shared that “Ignite introduced a cohort of young people to some of the basic capacities central to community organizing work, including outreach, listening, building, relationships, issue development, strategy and campaign development, leadership development, and movement building through readings and workshop-style exercises with a desired outcome that they continue to engage one another and their school community on those issues that speak to our faith doing justice.”
After the success of year one, 2021’s event drew more than 60 students and 25 adults from eleven schools from across the Province and partner organizations. This year’s cohort worked to prepare for a fall 2021 season of listening, incorporating research meetings, coalition building, and learning how to take action. In spring of 2022, the cohort will take prophetic action through statehouse advocacy, vigils, and more.
“It felt good to be in a community of many supportive people that also share the common desire of wanting to do something for their communities at home,” shared Christian Sigua, a student at Jesuit High School Sacramento and CORE summer intern. Sigua spoke about the power of making personal connections in this work with fellow participants and powerful speakers, particularly Saúl Rascón Salazar, a graduate of Brophy College Preparatory and current student at Loyola Marymount University, who powerfully shared ways in which recent legislation has impacted him and his brother as Dreamers. “[His story] called us to action to change the system such that people like his brother, and other people like him, have the opportunity to enter the United States without worry.”
“There is a feeling in Jesuit education that we’ve really figured out how to serve a faith that does service and mercy, but we’re still striving and stretching to walk in justice as well,” shared Annie Fox when speaking about Ignite. “The racial reckoning that happened last year, plus the inability to physically go to do service during the pandemic has really created an opportunity for those who want to enter a conversation about doing justice and advocacy—particularly high school teachers asking how to equip their students to do advocacy.”
Fox shared excitement about the growth of Ignite as a piece of CORE, which is a major growth area for the Jesuits—bringing together regionally based parishes, high schools, and universities to work together to do advocacy. “Ministries that weren’t aware of each other are able to engage in listening and build relationships,” she shared, “and furthermore, Ignite centers students as leaders in that space to bring ministries together as equal partners working for justice.”
Kelly Swan has worked for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016, first as communications director, and now as director of advancement. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.