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Knoxville Grassroots Group Tackles Tough Local Issues

Members of the grassroots group Justice Knox address Knoxville leaders at a recent meeting. (Justice Knox)
Members of the grassroots group Justice Knox address Knoxville leaders at a recent meeting. (Justice Knox)
May 2, 2018

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - More than 1,000 Knoxville residents are addressing what they see as local issues of injustice, one at a time.

Known as "Justice Knox," the group began last year as a project of the Direct Action and Research Training organization (DART). Their mission is to work with local leaders to solve community problems. Justice Knox convinced the Knoxville Police Department to provide Crisis Intervention Training for all its officers, to help reduce the number of mental-health patients in the Knox County Jail.

Justice Knox co-president Chris Battle said the members' enthusiasm has a lot to do with the current political climate.

"There's been a new fervor and renewal," he said. "People are getting involved. People see that they can make a difference when they show up. We teach and preach at Justice Knox that there's two types of power: There's organized money, which we don't have; the second type of power is organized people."

Justice Knox has house meetings where people can share their concerns and experiences. Together, its members use their skills and connections to find solutions with government leaders. Faith-based groups are helping drive the effort, with more than 20 churches, a synagogue and a mosque participating. This year, Justice Knox is focusing on affordable housing and working with the mayor's office to find dedicated funds for that effort.

Battle, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, said they're also working with the school system to address punishment disparities between white children and children of color.

"When everybody in the school is trained in restorative practice - that's the teachers, the staff, the janitors, the lunch ladies, everybody is trained in that - the disparity between children of color and white children goes down," he said.

Battle added that DART has partner organizations in seven other states, including neighboring Virginia and South Carolina. The nonprofit is a national network of congregation-based community organizations. So far, Justice Knox is the only such local grassroots group in Tennessee.

More information is online at thedartcenter.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN