Heroes: Today and Yesterday

Toma Lynn Smith |

This week, I traveled to Michigan with Kim Bobo, and I was able to see and be a part of social change. This week, I  learned from both young and older leaders in the movement.

“I was shot,” Richard Morrisroe, a long time supporter of IWJ, told me. Kim  and I had the honor of meeting him this week.  The former priest, Morrisroe and his friend and seminarian Jonathan Daniels answered the call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that white clergy to support those fighting for civil rights in Alabama in the 1960s. 

“In August 1965, Daniels and 22 others were arrested for participating in a voter rights demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama, and transferred to the county jail in nearby Hayneville. Shortly after being released on August 20, Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest, and Daniels accompanied two black teenagers, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, to a Hayneville store to buy a soda,” according to the Virginia Military Institute, Daniels’ alma mater.

“They were met on the steps by Tom Coleman, a construction worker and part-time deputy sheriff, who was carrying a shotgun. Coleman aimed his gun at sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales; Daniels pushed her to the ground in order to protect her, saving her life. The shotgun blast killed Daniels instantly; Morrisroe was seriously wounded. When he heard of the tragedy, King said, ‘One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels.’" 

Daniels’ journey is featured in the documentary, “Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels.”

IWJ mission is to mobilize people of faith around injustices in the workplace. Those who are disenfranchised in our society are the most vulnerable and are taken advantage of the most—especially by employers.  It’s not by accident that women, immigrants and people from low-income communities are working the most dangerous and sometimes abusive jobs, and often command little respect from their employers.

Grand rapids

Before meeting Morrisroe, Kim and I were able to take part in an action and commission hearing in Grand Rapids, Mich. addressing wage theft in the city. At the action, Kim explained facets of wage theft including some dismal statistics about wage theft:

  • The average loss for a low-wage worker is $2,600 a year
  • A total of $106 billion stolen from low-wage workers 

The first step to address Wage Theft is to change policy. Lead by the Micah Center, the Wage Theft Task Force held a commission hearing on policy  recommendations this week to address wage theft. Similar policy changes have been won recently in Miami-Dade County, Fla. and Seattle. IWJ affiliates have worked closely local government officials on these issues.

At 80 years old, Micah Center director and founder Vern Hoffman is working with 28 year-old organizer Jordan Bruxvoort on the campaign. Together they are building leaders for the next generation of social change. I met Hoffman, and he explained how race effects wages and how at the end of the day it is how we treat one another that will make this world function much better.

The work in Grand Rapids was inspiring and reminded me how blessed we are in working the movement to learn and grow from the hard work of both young and old.