The SDARJ seeks a loving community for all
Charlotte King had an awakening five years ago. In transitioning out of her role as state president of the Delaware League of Women Voters, King knew that racial and social justice should become priority issues in Delaware.
In 2015, King formed the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice. SDARJ, aka the alliance, is a nonpartisan organization whose mission is to educate, inform and advocate for racial justice, equality and fair opportunity in Delaware.
King explains: “The alliance is about learning about individual and systemic racism, the effect it has on the life of all citizens, how it still remains, through denial, ignorance or concerted legal attempts to ignore it. Racism affects the education of our children and the welfare of all of our citizens. The alliance is about creating and participating in a loving community for all.”
The monthly town hall meetings, which feature a new speaker each time, have given audiences an opportunity to meet officials such as recently retired Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine, Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, many legislative representatives, school district superintendents, and most members of the governor's cabinet.
Several of the meetings offered a range of perspectives from people familiar with prison reform. For example, the Department of Correction commissioner spoke one month, and at subsequent meetings, incarcerated citizens as well as released citizens offered insight. Other meetings included school principals as well as students who shared their personal observations and concerns.
The SDARJ Legislative and Advocacy Committee is helping to expunge juvenile records in Sussex County. “Many youth may have committed crimes in their youth, like stealing, and don’t even realize it until they turn 18, and find out they have a record. Then they can’t attend college. Then the school-to-prison pipeline becomes their future,” King said.
Alliance volunteers assist the Office of Defense Services after they have identified candidates for expungement and fingerprints those youth for $52 per individual. SDARJ estimates that 26,000 children between the ages of 8 and 18 are eligible for having their records expunged. SDARJ has received a grant from the Governor’s Council on Criminal Justice to help defray costs.
SDARJ has recently announced a Dialogue to Action program, a six-week program of conversations about racism geared toward meaningful action. Multiracial groups of 8-12 people will meet with trained facilitators at three locations and times in Sussex County. This program is co-sponsored with the YWCA-DE Racial and Social Justice Program.
“Bryan Stevenson says we have to change the public narrative,” said King, “and the only way to do that is to have dialogue about seemingly uncomfortable subjects with people we are not comfortable with.”
Another important alliance committee is the Scholarship Committee, which last year presented six local seniors $500 toward their higher education.
King received the American Civil Liberties Union 2019 Kandler Award. For 34 years, the ACLU has chosen to honor the work of members of the community who “exemplify a tireless commitment to the defense of all Delawareans’ civil liberties.”
“This award isn’t mine to own,” said King, “because it belongs to the hardworking volunteers of the entire organization. I can do nothing without their support.”
The Kandler Memorial Awards are given in honor of Gerry Kandler, former president of the ACLU of Delaware, who in 1975, prevailed on the State of Delaware to provide children with physical and intellectual handicaps full access to public education.
SDARJ normally meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m., the second Tuesday of every month at Trinity Faith Christian Center, 15516 New Road in Lewes.