“Social justice.” This simple phrase embodies a plethora of emotions, concepts and principles that exceed civil and criminal law. The phrase often serves as a political, philosophical and even moral framework for working toward equal access to health care, wealth and opportunity. The achievement of “social justice” requires personal and organizational partnerships often referred to as alliances.

The Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County established the Social Justice Alliance (SOJA) of Contra Costa County to help confront such local issues as domestic violence, parenting education, child abuse and housing. SOJA functions as a standing committee of the council.

Although not a precise mission statement, the following declarations clearly show what SOJA is and what it does:

What SOJA is:

  • People of faith in Contra Costa County;
  • Joined by proximity and common concern;
  • Members who work together to serve.

What SOJA does:

  • Speaks out collectively on issues of conscience;
  • Advocates for social justice at the policy-making level;
  • Acts when speaking out and advocacy fail;
  • Organizes community forums to address critical issues;
  • Creates times and places for interfaith worship, dialogue and community understanding.

SOJA members maintain a collective vision of social justice issues as pieces cut from the same cloth requiring aggregate attention and action.

In an effort to assist young, undocumented immigrants gain a legal status, SOJA works closely with the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project. SOJA members and the MICA team provide financial assistance, legal advice and education to the applicants.

SOJA and the faith-based advocacy group Multi-Faith ACTION Coalition jointly challenge the systems that make and keep people poor. They advocate for the elimination of food insecurity, the provision of education, workforce development and jobs. They focus on health needs, housing insecurity, and the intersectionality of racial discrimination in housing, employment, and health systems that prevent people of color and those undocumented individuals undocumented from using the social safety net.

Members of SOJA advocated for Universal Health Care, even when the concept was less popular than it is today. Their means of advocacy included hosting educational events, and lobbying elected leaders.

In 2004, SOJA, the Interfaith Council and several faith-based groups founded the Winter Nights Family Shelter, emergency housing for needy families. SOJA served as the oversight committee of Winter Nights for several years, but early in 2020, Winter Nights became an independent, non-profit organization registered under the name Winter Nights Family Shelter, Inc. SOJA and Winter Nights Family Shelter continue to partner in advocating for individuals and families who have lost their homes with elected officials.

The U.S. Military closed the Naval Weapons Station in Concord in 2006 for cleanup and redevelopment, including the ultimate development of an accommodation for the homeless. SOJA formed a committee, the members of which regularly attend Concord City Council meetings and advocate for the promised homeless accommodation.

SOJA-related congregations the Interfaith Climate Action Network (ICAN) in 2016. ICAN partners with California Interfaith Power and Light and Green Faith as well as secular environmental groups to inform the public about the region’s carbon footprint.

In April of 2019, SOJA became an official endorser of “The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival.”

Over the years, SOJA has partnered with a national coalition of more than forty faith groups known as “Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.” The partnership has called for a background check on every gun purchased, a mandate for the development and maintenance of a national gun registry database, a ban on high capacity and assault weapons and the passage of a law that would make gun trafficking a federal crime. SOJA has made numerous statements, alone and with the Interfaith Council on ending Gun Violence.

SOJA envisions a world where societies treat all their citizens equally and enable them to reach their full potential. It celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion. It believes in human dignity and contends all voices should be engaged. It serves a crucial role in effecting change and increasing respect for human dignity and potential in Contra Costa County.

– Submitted by Franklin T. Burroughs, Ed.D.

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