Memphis Interfaith Coalition of Action & Hope
By: Emily Faber, Summer Curator
When Rabbi Katie Bauman enters the room of a MICAH meeting, the Memphis Interfaith Coalition of Action and Hope, she is reminded of a poem by Luis Alberto Urrea, You Who Seek Grace from a Distracted God. In the poem, Urrea illustrates the feeling one has when the world feels hopeless and justice seems stagnate and you have the urge to tell others that you love them – that you want to stand by them and for them to stand by you to face the world. He instructs his readers to lean into it all and say, I love you,” to the stranger.
“When I’m in the room at a MICAH meeting, that is was it feels like across the board - all of these people who feel isolated and are tired of the way things are just want to be in a room where something is happening,” said Rabbi Bauman of Temple Israel. “I feel that MICAH is feeding a huge need in the Memphis community on an emotional and spiritual level.” MICAH is a growing movement and conversation in Memphis that intends to help instigate that meaningful change.
MICAH is a coalition of approximately 45 partners in Memphis and is comprised of both religious and non-religious institutions. In addition to churches, synagogues, and mosques, MICAH includes partners such as Just City, the National Civil Rights Museum, Latino Memphis, and Facing History and Ourselves. MICAH developed out of the need for a convening platform for faith-based and community organizations to demand justice in Memphis. Guided by the principle to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,”
MICAH seeks to amplify the voices and impacts of community organizing in Memphis. Bauman notes that Memphis is adept at direct-service, but lacks in organizing itself collectively around addressing the systemic roots of issues in the city.
“If we band together, our good intentions are worth a lot more,” said Bauman. MICAH follows the organizing platform of the Gamaliel Foundation, which trains community and faith leaders to build networks in their city and advocate in pursuit of equal opportunities for all and stronger communities. NOAH (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope) is also a partner of the Gamaliel Foundation and focuses on affordable housing, criminal justice, and economic equity.
On June 23, 700 members of MICAH’s partner organizations joined together to vote on the three issues that MICAH would focus on in Memphis. The partners ultimately voted on public education, economic equity, and immigration and intercultural equity.
Each issue area received a task force which meets with regularity. The task forces are currently undergoing a power analysis with elected officials and leaders in Memphis to assess the current state of the topics in the city - who is already doing impactful work to address those issues, where power is held, and where MICAH might play a role.
The actions MICAH will take in the future will vary. “It’s going to look different in Memphis than in anywhere else because it’s a very city-specific plan,” said Bauman. MICAH’s contributions may look like a presence on a mayoral task force to work on an issue, a major demonstration at a school or city council meeting, a consistent presence on an advisory committee, or take the form of a protest.
In addition to working towards justice and equity in Memphis, MICAH is providing a platform for the city’s religious community to connect and heal within itself. Bauman shares that Memphis experiences isolation and division within its religious groups, especially along racial lines.
“MICAH is giving people very organic, concrete ways to build those bridges. We’re all sitting around the table, listening to each other’s stories,” said Bauman.
On October 21, MICAH will host its biggest event to date – the public announcement of itself as an organization to Memphis and its public officials. The goal is to gather 1,000 – 2,000 people at the public meeting, including supporters, media, and elected officials.
“The point of that meeting is to let everyone know – no matter where they fall on the power grid – that we are a force and we want a seat at the table. We have a lot to say,” said Bauman.
Bauman encourages those who support MICAH’s mission to attend the meeting, stressing that the power to enact change stems from the power of the people.
“Memphis is a perfect city for this. There are so many nonprofits and faith communities here. We are organized; all we need is a convener, and MICAH is going to try to be that convener.”