Social Justice University

A diverse group of more than 70 citizen-volunteers gathered for what they call “Social Justice University” on September 24. They’re gearing up to be informed and effective advocates leading up the 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

The meeting was a day for training and organizing on a range of topics, from redistricting to healthcare to coastal protection. The group selected issues through a collaborative process back in June.

“We represent more than nineteen organizations that have come together to equip and empower one another,” explained organizer Teresa Stanley. “We’re focused and passionate about issues that are critical to the common good.”

Norfolk resident Mike Stark, a retired electrical engineer, emphasized the point, “It’s so important for citizens to get involved, to meet with their lawmakers and share what’s important to them.”

William Harrell, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit, was invited to speak about public transportation. He highlighted transit’s role in helping connect the region and support economic activity today and in the future. “Transit benefits everyone,” Harrell pointed out, “Even if you don’t use public transportation, chances are you rely on people who do.”

He emphasized the need to find new funding for public transportation at the both the state level and regional level. According to a report issued last month, Virginia is facing a decline of more than 40 percent in funding that is used to replace old buses and make other basic investments. If this funding is not replaced, Hampton Roads’ core bus fleet, which is already in poor condition, will only get worse. At the same time, Harrell pointed out the need for regional transit funding. “Today’s network of routes is not as well connected and efficient as it should be,” he said. “With regional funding we can change that.”

Stanley noted, “This year, for the first time ever, public transportation is now on our list of priority issues. It’s an economic lifeline. As we’ve heard today, Hampton Roads definitely has a lot of room to improve our regional system. It’s essential to providing more opportunity for a better life, especially in under-served communities that need better access to jobs, education, and healthcare.”