Left Justified: A great 25 years

By Stanley Campbell

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9) was the keynoter at Rockford Urban Ministries’ (RUM) 48th annual dinner Sunday, July 18. Grace United Methodist Church did a great job hosting the affair, with the United Methodist Men & Women’s groups serving. I even had Steve Nailor doing the dishes!

The meal was delicious, with a strawberry salad and sweet potato with veggies and ham. Vegetarian dinner included Carol Burmeister’s famous “meatless balls” and the dessert was to die for (if all else fails, make a great dessert).

Rockford Urban Ministries is the social justice outreach of 25 area congregations, and I’ve been their executive director for 25 years. The latest projects include supporting JustGoods, a fair-trade store at 201 Seventh St.; placing a wind generator on the roof; and Rockford Work Camps. RWC invites church volunteers to help low-income families repair their homes. This summer, 20 volunteer groups are working on 23 homes (we need a few more volunteers).

I first met Jan Schakowsky when she was director of Public Action. She came to Rockford in 1985, just after I was hired. Our two organizations shared an office in the 200 block of East State Street. Jan taught me almost everything I know about political action.

Jan Schakowsky went on to be elected Representative of Illinois’ 9th Congressional District Nov. 3, 1998, after serving eight years in the Illinois State Assembly. She is in her sixth term.

I asked Jan to speak at the RUM annual dinner. I’d gone out to Washington, D.C., to lobby our Congressman to drop the travel ban on Cuba (not even church groups can get in without jumping through bureaucratic hoops). Manzullo said no, but Congresswoman Schakowsky spoke “yes” to our group. She remembered me (even though I’ve ballooned a bit).

Schakowsky serves in the House Democratic Leadership as chief deputy whip and as a member of the Steering and Policy Committee.

At the program, I spoke of what I learned from Jan:

Don’t expect to make a great living, unless you’re a good fund-raiser and have a number of rich backers. Most of RUM’s support comes from church collection plates, rummage sales, and friends. Lots of friends. Thank you!

I try not to mix too much politics in with RUM’s good works, but try to be prophetic about the needs of the poor, and to advocate for those who have no voice. Jesus got in trouble for that, and I like to follow Jesus.

We can treat “opponents” with respect, even kindness, and show God’s love with people who might disagree. In the long run, I’ve seen that hearts can change.

Never say “no” to anyone who wants to do ministry. Just because I may be working on neighborhood rehab, I try to be supportive of volunteers going to Haiti. We can do it all!

Start with prayer, and then try to do something. The doing something is the hardest. There are many planning sessions and brainstormed ideas that go nowhere. People, have the faith to step out and do some good in the world.

Jan taught me how to work the media. Two TV stations showed up for her talk. Tell a good story, and the good news. The local media love a good story.

And I am not afraid of failure. Jan taught that canvassing is one slammed door after another. Don’t get into arguments, but shake it off and go to the next door, looking for support. Doing something (anything) for the love of God and for the least of these is worth the discomfort of a few slammed doors. I pray we continue to find lots of support, and get to witness a few more miracles.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the July 28-Aug 3, 2010 issue

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