Ten years ago, Irene Ota listened when a group of students came to her with a common frustration.
“My classmates just don’t get it,” Ota, diversity coordinator and instructor at the University of Utah College of Social Work, recalls some students saying. They felt some of their peers lacked understanding when it came to issues of inequality, race and in some cases, social justice as a whole.
Ota wanted to find a way to bridge the divide students felt, using education as a tool for unification. She created what today has become a vibrant part of the College of Social Work: Voices of Diversity.
Besides hosting numerous trainings and activities that promote understanding and social justice in areas of diversity, Voices for Diversity also sponsors a lecture series each year on social justice topics.
This year, the Social Justice Lecture Series: Allies for Equity celebrates its 10th anniversary with four events —two last fall and two during the spring semester —that address different facets related to equity.
On Saturday, the series will welcome Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest from Los Angeles who founded Homeboy Industries, a non-profit that supports and trains formerly incarcerated and gang-involved people.
Boyle has worked in challenging East Los Angeles neighborhoods for more than 30 years. From 1986 to 1992, he served as a pastor at the Dolores Mission Church in LA, which was situated between two large housing projects where rival gangs feuded daily. He started Homeboy Industries as a way to intervene to those living the gang lifestyle —as well as find a way to reintegrate them into society. Homeboy Industries trains former gang members to work in a range of social enterprises and is considered to currently be one of the largest gang intervention programs in the world, with more than 10,000 clients who seek help from the program each year.
Boyle’s talk, “Be Fearless for Me: Courage and the Gospel of the Marginalized,” will be held in the auditorium at the College of Social Work, 395 South 1500 East from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Boyle will share his story of focusing on joy, hope and courage to help former gang members find a new life. He’s shared his story in his New York Times-bestselling book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, and his work has also been chronicled by the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets.
The thought-provoking lecture will inspire exactly what the social justice lecture series aims to do overall: start a discussion among students and the community, said Ota.
In addition to Boyle’s Saturday lecture, the College of Social Work hosts its final event of the 2015-2016 Allies for Equity series on March 29, when the one-woman play by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. “One Drop of Love” will be presented at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City. For more information on that event, visit: http://www.onedropoflove.org/.