By Rickey Ciapha Dennis Jr., Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON — The Charleston Area Justice Ministry has for years held a social justice rally that draws thousands in an attempt to improve people’s lives by addressing community issues.
But this year’s annual Nehemiah Action rally could be among the most critical, as problems like the lack of affordable housing and limited access to health care have been exacerbated by the pandemic, religious leaders said.
“This action definitely feels like lives are at stake,” said CAJM member Treva Williams.
CAJM, a coalition of 41 congregations in the tri-county, will hold its 10th annual Nehemiah Action rally at 7 p.m. April 4 at the Charleston County School District 4 Regional Stadium, located at 3659 W. Montague Ave. in North Charleston. The rally will focus on four topics: environmental justice, affordable housing, health care access and education reform
Religious leaders hope the event will open up opportunities for public negotiation with:
- Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Council to address the filling of Gadsden Creek.
- Charleston County Council to fully fund a housing trust fund.
- The Medical University of South Carolina to provide two mobile health units to Franklin C. Fetter Healthcare Network for underserved communities.
- Interim CCSD Superintendent Donald Kennedy and the school board to implement restorative practices to stop “unnecessary student suspensions.”
Confirmed attendees include Kennedy, a handful of state legislators and County Council members, and representatives from Fetter Health Care Network and Roper St. Francis Hospital.
A spokeswoman with MUSC said the hospital won’t be in attendance and intends to continue working directly with Fetter Health on potential health care access solutions for the tri-county.
Williams said Tecklenburg has also informed CAJM that he does not plan to attend the rally, though the social justice organization still hopes to convince the mayor otherwise.
CAJM anticipates a crowd of 2,700 people. Last year’s event, held as a drive-in function at The Bend park in North Charleston, saw about 2,000 guests in person and online.
“It’s our strong opinion that when 2,700 constituents gather together, every public official ought to be present,” Williams said.
One of the main objectives of the event is to invite people who have the power the implement solutions, said the Rev. Byron Benton, co-president of the organization. The rally also seeks to raise awareness about the problems facing the region and the potential fixes to those problems, Benton said.
“All of this pandemic relief is closing out,” said Benton, who also serves as pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. “People are in need of support.”
Houses of worship are well aware of the problems facing Charleston-area neighborhoods. Many religious spaces offered food, transportation to medical appointments and rent assistance throughout the pandemic.
But the religious community’s activism must seek to get at the root of the problems, Benton said. That’s the point of the Nehemiah Action rally.
“It’s really good for us to help feed those who are hungry,” Benton said. “But wouldn’t it be better and greater if we could figure out why they’re hungry in the first place?”
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