“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo
This line was quoted by Carol Penick, Executive Director of The Women’s Foundation of Mississippi at the opening of the foundation’s annual luncheon. This year, as the foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary, they honored ten “Women of Vision”. Carol pointed out that years ago, the time for change in the role of women had come– but while the time for change had come, it took people like these ten women who invested time, energy, and funds into making sure that changes took place in Mississippi.
The ISJL was honored to participate in the event, which honored our own board member emeritus, Kathryn Wiener.
As one of the women who helped start the Women’s Foundation, Kathryn Wiener has made a significant impact on the lives of women throughout this state. As pointed out at the event, the foundation has grown from a fund which distributed $6,400 to a foundation which distributed $506,000 this year. The Women’s Foundation is the only grantmaking and advocacy organization in Mississippi entirely dedicated to funding programs that improve the lives of women and girls statewide.
By ensuring the creation of the Women’s Foundation, Kathryn has been instrumental in advancing the economic security, safety and health of women and girls in Mississippi as well as their families and communities. In fact, it is because of the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi that the ISJL has been able to implement T.A.P.(Talk About the Problems) in Mississippi schools.
T.A.P., a conflict resolution program, provides a process through which students can resolve their conflicts peacefully. Girls who are selected to serve as peer mediators play a critical role in helping their peers arrive at a peaceful resolution to their conflict thereby improving the learning environment of all of the school’s students.
In addition to helping women and girls in Mississippi, Kathryn played an important role in the founding of the ISJL. Thanks to leaders like her, our organization now reaches a 13 state region, enhancing Jewish life for thousands of Southern Jews each year.
In his introduction of Kathryn Wiener, Dr. Robert Pearigen, President of Millsaps College told the audience that there isn’t a cultural organization in Jackson that has not been touched by Kathryn Wiener. Kathryn’s reach has been deep and vast. Kathryn is an example of what one individual can do to improve the lives of people in their community.
The ISJL is tremendously grateful to the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi for inviting us to participate in honoring Kathryn Wiener, a strong Southern Jewish woman. Seeing Kathryn, along with her nine “sisters in change,” be recognized for achievements that were undoubtedly hard to come by, was inspiring and energizing. We celebrate Kathryn, and her peers, all of whom chose to engage in turning the idea of advocacy for women and girls into a reality. We recognize the great responsibility that comes along with standing on the shoulders of such incredible women, and are honored to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the ongoing pursuit of positive change.
T.A.P. (Talk About the Problems), the ISJL’s peer mediation program, trains students to help their peers resolve conflicts peacefully. The peer-led-model is really important to us, but even when the youth are leading, they are not alone. There are many partners in making T.A.P. successful – and one of the greatest recent elements is the way we’ve been connecting legal professionals with the project.
There are many benefits to involving legal professionals in community engagement programs like T.A.P., but two stand out for me. The first is that legal professionals can be role models for the students – or, as we sometimes say now, the aspiring lawyers! Here in Mississippi, as in many places, it is not uncommon to find middle school students who have never met a law school student, a lawyer or a judge—particularly students who live in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Meeting a legal professional can inspire students to explore the possibility of entering the field of law, and can make the profession more accessible to them; all the more so when we have volunteers who are relatable, because they share the same race, or gender, or background and life experiences. Another benefit is that students see legal professionals engaged in peaceful conflict resolution. TV programs and movies often portray lawyers as adversarial and aggressive; real, live legal professionals can emphasize that mediation and finding a more peaceful solution are their daily working goals.
Last week, Judge Carlton Reeves helped us launch T.A.P. at Whitten Middle School. The mediators had completed a training conducted by members of Mississippi College School of Law’s Black Law Student Association. To recognize the students’ achievements and to signal the start of their responsibilities as mediators, Judge Reeves administered an oath during which they committed to, among other things, maintain confidentiality.
Judge Carlton Reeves helped set the tone for the program by encouraging the students to utilize the program and take it seriously. By administering this oath, Judge Reeves demonstrated his commitment to peaceful conflict resolution and showed students that they too can enter the legal profession as a lawyer and perhaps even as a judge.
After all, like the students, Judge Reeves grew up in Mississippi. He attended college and law school before going into private practice in Jackson, Mississippi. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Judge Reeves to serve as a federal court judge, making him the second African American to be appointed to the Federal Court of the Southern District of Mississippi.
Having the Judge “preside” over our ceremony at Whitten Middle School put a face to the notion of potential for these students, and to the notion of community engagement for us all.
Who are some of your role models? Do you see yourself as a role model for others?