PSR alum lives social gospel through community organizing

March 31, 2010

You could say that Linda Jaramillo inherited a passion for community organizing. “It’s a part of my history, my rearing. My parents engaged in community efforts for justice forever,” the Cleveland, Ohio resident says. “My passion is social justice. It’s in my DNA.”

She lives that dedication though her position as executive minister at the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, an organization that trains leaders in advocacy, education, and policy change across the country. The organization strives to empower communities to act on their own behalf rather than step in and institute changes. “It is not for us to fix the problems; it’s for them to do themselves,” Jaramillo, who earned her Master of Divinity in 2005 and now serves as a trustee, says. “We support the community work they’re doing. Self determination is one of our central principles.”

Jaramillo previously worked in organizations focusing on HIV/AIDS and children’s health from a secular standpoint until joining the United Church of Christ. “I decided I couldn’t ignore the call to ministry anymore, so I went to seminary,” Jaramillo said. She transferred to PSR from the Northwest House of Theological Studies in Oregon in part, she says, because “PSR has always been a place with inclusivity and social justice at its core. I’m a progressive Christian who believes in the social gospel, and I needed to be able to thrive where social justice was preached and taught. PSR was that match.”

She now aims to provide the resources for others to create change in the issues that matter most—such as immigration rights, environmental justice, and health care reform. She hopes that groups of like-minded people, such as the Justice and Witness Ministries, will help individuals network, learn from each other, and gain confidence in their skills.

“None of us can do it alone. Our individual voices are crucial, but networks and coalitions are vital to let activists know that other people think like them.”

Individuals may find themselves overwhelmed with the enormity of what they want to change, and big issues such as economic injustice or global warming can easily swamp an individual’s ambition without the support of a group. “When we look at the bigness of the economic crisis, for example, which many of us do not understand, it’s easy to think it’s too much, too big,” Jaramillo says. “The answer is studying what part we play in the issue and what influence we have in it. When people see that they already have the skills to make a difference, they can then tackle that one piece they have passion for.”