It is the rare community organization that makes it to 20 years. It is rarer still when you have leaders who have been there from the beginning and can tell stories about all the work they’ve seen and been a part of. At this year’s annual SWOP Holiday Party, Sister Margaret Zalot and Betty Gutierrez shared their reflections on what it has been like to be a leader in SWOP for all of its 20 year history.
Sister Margaret went first with these comments:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
We can add to these words of Howard Thurman, our own words that describe the work that SWOP has been about these past 20 years as an organization on the southwest side of Chicago. It is the work of Christmas for us. Perhaps the following words ring true for you this past year, the past five years, the past ten years, or like myself, the past twenty years.
We are grateful for all those who labored
- to bring a diverse group of people as ourselves, living and working on the southwest side to the table,
- to provide spaces where our stories could be told and our voices heard,
- to encourage those who might be passed over to not to be afraid to be seen,
- to teach others how and when to use their power,
- to promote the building of just structures and systems,
- to have faith in the extraordinary potential of ordinary people like ourselves.
We pray that this work may continue
- in this community and in communities throughout our city and our nation and beyond,
- inspired by the past and hopeful for a better future,
- guided by the values of human dignity, solidarity, and the common good.
We pray we may recognize, celebrate, and support
All those who labor to bring people together, to create an us,
To become co-creators of a just and peaceful world
Where all are an irreplaceable part of the whole.
This is what SWOP is all about and has been about these past 20 years. And we are very grateful..
So we end with the words of Dag Hammarskjold:
For all that has been, thanks. THANKS.
For all that will be, yes. YES. Amen.
Betty followed her with these comments:
My name is Betty Gutierrez. It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of this 20 year journey with the Southwest Organizing Project. I would like to share some of the highlights of this journey that has been filled with roadblocks and victories.
English as second language classes (six member institutions connecting to make it possible) 500 people taking classes
Take Ten (five member institutions- elementary schools) focusing on ways to ease tensions in a peaceful way
Countless prayer marches in the streets to help keep hope alive and lend support to one another
Safe Passage we formed for our Muslim Community after 911
Many political forums, trips to city hall, Springfield and to Washington, DC to let our voices be heard on Immigration, Safety, Housing
So many lessons learned….deepening connections…creating space in our community so we all feel like we are an integral part of the puzzle.
In closing I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Sisters of Casimir for they have shown us the way. A community united will never be separated.
SWOP is incredibly fortunate to have these two as leaders.