Carmen Kuan of Bike Athens explains Athens-Clarke County's bike-walk plan at the Athens Social Justice Symposium, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.

In 2018, the word “justice” was a top search on, with users consulting the entry 74 percent more than in 2017. Many who wonder about the concept of justice may be curious about its application in the social atmosphere. Social justice often tackles issues of wealth distribution, opportunities and privileges within a society.

On Jan. 26, ​The​ ​Center​ ​for​ ​Social​ ​Justice,​ ​Human​ ​and​ ​Civil​ ​Rights​, ​​the​ ​School​ ​of Social​ ​Work​ ​at​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Georgia, ​and Georgia United Credit Union are joining together to present the 2019​ Social​ ​Justice​ ​Symposium at The​ ​Unitarian Universalist​ ​Fellowship​ ​of​ ​Athens.

The event focuses on creating a conversation about social justice issues affecting those in the Athens area.

Haley Miranda, a recent graduate of UGA’s School of Social Work, is serving as programming and logistics chair for this year’s event.

“It is a community event,” Miranda said. “We have a whole day of breakout sessions and a keynote speaker, and it's all about social justice. We have people share about the work that they do,  [and] people lead different types of workshops based on different social justice related topics.”

The topics for this years symposium focus around systemic​ ​poverty, homelessness, affordable​ ​housing, under unemployment, mental​ ​health and immigration​ ​reform.

“Our mission is to provide a safe environment for people to discuss issues around social justice and we also really hope to promote collaboration,” Miranda said. “We value that human connection a lot, and we recognize that often people are in their own lane doing this sort of work.”

This year’s symposium features keynote speaker Mokah Johnson, a local activist and educator, and Matthew Epperson, who will be moderating a panel discussion alternatives to our current extractive economy that relies heavily on the sale and trade of natural resources. New to this year’s event is a session where people can discuss difficult topics as they come up throughout the day. 

“Our goal is sustainable social change -- we don’t just want to come together once and never think about it again,” Miranda said. “So we hope that it's a starting point for people and organization."

Septima Riley, who serves as the administrative chair for this year’s symposium, said the social justice committee’s purpose is to be a bridge between the university, local organizations and the Athens community.

"We wanted to make sure we created a space where we could give [people] a platform to speak about what's important to them."

-- Septima Riley, Social Justice Symposium administrative chair 


“The symposium is supposed to be a time for those community members to sit down … and talk about what's relevant to the Athens community,” Riley said. “We have our six pillars which are focused around the issues that the Athens community [and] local organizations have identified as topics that they would like to discuss and that they wanted to be reviewed."

The symposium provides a platform for members of the community to speak up, according to Riley.

“We are well aware that it is easier to ignore the issues, whereas it takes a little bit of digging and purposefulness to actually get into what matters to the community,” Riley said. “Some residents have expressed the fact that they didn't feel heard, and so we wanted to make sure we created a space where we could give them a platform to speak about what's important to them.”