Our heart and history of social justice

March 10th, 2016
Monsignor Clem Kern, one of the founders of Southwest Solutions

It’s been a long time since there’s been so much public discourse about social justice, what it means, and how it applies to many of the most pressing issues we’re facing today as a nation and in our local communities, particularly urban areas with high poverty.

The Flint water crisis is being viewed through the lens of social justice. So is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, seen in our city as the “two Detroits,” where those already successful are further benefiting from the economic resurgence, and those suffering economically are benefiting very little, if at all. So is the financial and academic crisis in DPS and other urban districts. The effort to raise the minimum wage to a livable level. The reform of the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration. A path to citizenship for the undocumented. And so on.

Social justice encompasses issues of fairness, inclusion and diversity. It involves providing equitable treatment and opportunities for people who have been historically disadvantaged because of economic status, race, gender, sexual identity, physical and mental disabilities, or other factors. It is motivated by the integration of compassion and conscience.

Southwest Solutions was founded, more than 40 years ago, on the principle and purpose of social justice. Our primary founder, Monsignor Clem Kern, was known as the “conscience of Detroit” for his passionate and unwavering commitment to help the poor and disenfranchised better their lives.

I joined Southwest Solutions a year after it began as a small community mental health agency. I came because of my heart for the mission, and what would become my life’s work was shaped and refined in the crucible of Father Kern’s, Reverend Bill Moldwin’s, and the other founders’ mentorship and example.

Social justice always has been and always will be part and parcel of our mission.

In philosophical terms, this means we measure all that we do and hope to do with respect to improving the opportunities and quality of life for those we serve.

In pragmatic terms, it means that we strive to provide a comprehensive and integrated array of programs and services to address the multiple and complex needs in our community. Program areas include mental health counseling, early childhood, children and youth services, affordable and supportive housing, homeownership services, real estate and commercial development, adult and financial literacy, workforce development, veterans services, small business training, and more.

In partnership terms, it means we understand inherently that we participate in a cause far greater than ourselves, and thus we celebrate the work of all others that advances the cause. We also know that every program in our organization is actually a partnership with others, including other agencies, funders, and supporters.

Southwest Solutions is now engaged in long-term strategic planning. As we look ahead, we remember at the same time from where we came, and re-commit to keep the faith with the principle and purpose we embody.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” said Dr. Martin Luther King. In whatever way we can, we seek to contribute to this grand social project.

John Van Camp
President / CEO

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