Justice Conference hopes to build on previous success, inspire people to help others
Saturday, Feb. 08, 2014

Justice Conference hopes to build on previous success, inspire people to help others

David Johnson, founder and director of Silent Images in Matthews, speaks at the 2013 Justice Conference in Charlotte. Johnson, who works with nonprofit organizations and charities worldwide, will speak again at the 2014 conference later this month.
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    The Justice Conference Charlotte 2014 is 5-9 p.m. Feb. 21 and 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Feb. 22 at Northside Baptist Church, 333 Jeremiah Blvd. in Charlotte. Tickets are $25 for Friday, $69 for Saturday and $89 for both days. Saturday tickets include lunch. To register and for information, visit http:// thejusticeconferencecharlotte.com.

Last year’s first-ever Justice Conference in Charlotte was designed to educate and inspire people to turn their talents and passions into actions that helped others.

It seems to have been a success.

In the year since, stories have poured in from some of the 600 people who attended the conference who made significant life changes afterward.

“People have said that now they understand the issues and sense a disturbance inside that now they need to do something,” said Mark Szymanski, director of Justice Conference 2014. “They have been able to connect with organizations that work locally in Charlotte and also work globally.

“We thought, we need to do this again.”

The 2014 Justice Conference will be Feb. 21-22 at Northside Baptist Church. Speakers will address topics such as racial unity with the church, education and poverty, children’s rights within the orphan-care movement and homeless children.

In 2013, Brent Morris attended breakout sessions on immigrants and refugees, orphan care and sex trafficking.

Morris held a six-figure job as a management consultant at the time, and he had started to think about what God wanted him to do with his life. Two and a half months after the conference, he quit his job and began to work for free for Learning Help Centers of Charlotte, a tiny charity that works with immigrant children. He’s now the executive director.

“The conference had a profound effect, because the key thing for me was recognizing the extent of the need in a local community such as Charlotte,” Morris said. “That to me was a big wakeup call.”

Szymanski and Michele Dudley founded the conference to connect people with others already working for justice.

“People will be able to come and learn about these different things and talk to people who are actively engaged in these issues,” Szymanski said. “They can decide what that means to them and if they have something to bring to the table.”

Many of the speakers are leaders in working for justice in the Charlotte area. They include Annabelle Suddreth, director of A Child’s Place; Brenda Livingston, who founded and directed Grace Home in Charlotte, for women from abusive and addictive environments; and Byron Sellers, who lives in Matthews and is director of Serving Strangers, a ministry for refugees.

For many conference attendees, the sessions are the first time they will learn about specific issues and statistics about Charlotte, such as the thousands of homeless children who live here and the high level of human trafficking activity.

“They may have an inkling that these things are going on, but they think, ‘Not in my neighborhood, not in my city,’ ” Szymanski said. “But when they hear how these things are happening, it’s like, ‘What can I do about it?’ 

As many as 50 exhibitors will provide answers. Each is required to present five ways people can take action – and that doesn’t include writing a check, Szymanski said.

The conference also will offer a track for youths in grades six-12 which includes information about five justice issues.

Morris said the conference would show “anyone who has a heart for serving our community” will quickly realize there are ample opportunities to help.

“There’s a tremendous amount of awareness that is created from the conference to do things that really make a difference,” he said. “If we want to see the change, we need to be the change.”

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at martyminchin@gmail.com.

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