Southern Coalition for Social Justice thwarts racism across the South

SCSJ fights for needed systemic reform in the courtroom, classroom and streets; can philanthropy keep pace?

Written by: Troy Price

Date: March 12, 2019

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts featuring NCRP nonprofit members.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) will argue to the Supreme Court this month that voters should pick their politicians and not the other way around.

The organization fights structural racism and oppression in North Carolina and across the South through a combination of legal advocacy, community organizing, research and communications.

Its long list of wins have protected voting rights, combatted discrimination in the criminal justice system and advanced more equitable discipline practices in schools.

SCSJ promotes civic engagement for the marginalized

This spring, SCSJ will help represent a mix of organizations and individuals challenging North Carolina’s unconstitutional gerrymandering of its electoral districts.

If they’re successful, it will go a long way toward securing the full participation of communities of color and low-income people in our elections.

But there will still be plenty of work left to be done. Late last year, North Carolina passed a voter ID law that would disproportionately exclude Black and Native Americans, while making it harder for all to vote. SCSJ filed suit minutes after the law was enacted.

Every vote matters to SCSJ. Years ago in the mayoral race of tiny Mount Gilead (population 1,100), poll officials incorrectly told at least 4 long-time black voters they were not eligible to vote. The margin of victory was only 2 votes. SCSJ stepped in and won a new election for the citizens of Mount Gilead.

SCSJ breaks down obstacles for re-entering citizens

Various laws and policies make it difficult for the formerly incarcerated to move past their mistakes.

That’s why SCSJ organized for a “Ban the Box” policy in Durham County that removed questions about previous convictions or incarcerations on initial job applications. Its white paper on the experience is a handy guide for similar campaigns.

SCSJ helps with the “collateral consequences” of criminal convictions, like difficulties finding housing, employment or occupational training.

It hosts clinics with free legal services to help people receive certificates of relief – a judicial solution SCSJ fought for to help eliminate these collateral consequences.

SCSJ helps marginalized kids succeed

The organization also works to make sure people stay out of the criminal justice system in the first place. SCSJ’s Youth Justice Project takes steps to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

SCSJ was an important part of a coalition to raise the age of juvenile court in North Carolina, which was the last state to automatically charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. That win goes into effect this year.

Youth Justice Project also conducts research on the state of North Carolina’s schools. It published The State of Discipline in NC Schools last year, and puts out regular report cards on how well each of the state’s 115 school districts are doing on racial equity.

Takeaways for philanthropy

Systems change takes time. It’s likely we will still be struggling for voting rights, criminal justice reform, and other means of inclusion and justice for people of color and low-income people years from now.

Knowing this, funders should ask themselves:

  • Do your grantees know you have their back for the long term? Are you supporting them through multi-year funding?
  • Groups like SCSJ are busy doing important work. Are your reporting requirements holding space for only the most meaningful and essential reflection, or are they burdening your grantees with laborious paperwork?
  • If you’re uncertain about your answers to either of the above, take a look at the sharing power section of our Power Moves toolkit. 

Troy Price is NCRP’s membership and fundraising intern. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.

NCRP members