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Jamie Utt

I met Jamie Utt last year, and his passion for people and their experiences stood out even amid the chaos of the Mumford and Sons concert we were both attending. I've been following his blog, Change From Within, since then. He applies the important, hard questions regarding race, class, gender, and sexual orientation to today's issues and reminds us that every individual can effect progress.

By Amaya Rodriguez

April 2012

I would probably define peace as something along the lines of an active process of realizing justice. To me, justice and peace go directly together which is why so often when there is injustice there is conflict and there is violence and I think it makes sense and I don’t think there is any room to blame people who are facing the reality of injustice when they act in violence.

I think about this quote from a Haitian woman: "If you're here to save me, then there's nothing you can do. But if you're here because you see your liberation as wrapped up in mine, then come, and let us work together." It's been a really formative quote for me as I do social justice work, which I had started getting involved with in high school and early college but hadn’t really given a lot of reflection to what was driving me in that. And so I started seeing it for the first time - instead of something that was very paternalistically wanting to help other people - I started seeing it as work that I needed to do for my own relationship and for my own healing and progress. And that helped me connect and start building more accountable relationships. Because if people think I'm there to help them, they don't necessarily want to have a relationship with me.

    I think something that’s really important to put into perspective is that I, for better or for worse, get to choose to do the work. But folks of color have to do the work every single day regardless; they don't get pats on the back, they don't get the attention that I get. Women don't have a choice but to be feminists every single day whether or not they call themselves that because they have to live in a system of misogyny and patriarchy.  So I think it's really important to balance that and remember that I'm doing this work because I have a personal investment in it and I believe in justice and peace. But I need to keep in mind that I'm doing it in the context of the activists who have to do it every single day.

     The main point of what I try to do is work with communities to help them think about issues relating to power, oppression, and privilege in hopes of helping those communities garner tools that will eventually lead to building more inclusive communities, making sure people have spaces in those communities that they feel like they are safe and welcome and also trying to create more just communities, not just trying to be inclusive, because I think that's an important goal but it doesn't necessarily speak to justice all the time. So that's my professional world but I also do a lot of work related to that but that's not necessarily professional.  I write a weekly blog that's geared toward issues of social justice and looking at identity as it relates to social justice (http://changefromwithin.org/).

One of the first things that often I do is I will work with a community to try to figure out what are the strengths and what are the growth points, or places from which we can start to take action. And in doing so, I hope to encourage the community to realize its own ways that it can create change.

 One thing I hope young people take away from my work is a perspective that's different than what they've been thinking about in regards to social justice and diversity. I think that a lot of mainstream or dominant culture, particularly as it relates to media, doesn't provide a full picture of what justice and diversity can mean.