Chartered in 1987, the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace (CCJP) gives a voice to those in Franklin County, Marion County, Grundy County and beyond who are otherwise ignored or sidelined by corporate, university, and dominant political interests.
“The formation of the Center stemmed from the observation that in many ways people in these communities were lacking much control over many decisions affecting their lives,” recalls Ed Camp, a retired librarian of the University of the South (UOS) School of Theology and one of the CCJP co-founders. “A group began discussing how we might try a united effort rather than simply acting as individuals.”
Dr. Jack Gessell, professor emeritus of Ethics at the School of Theology was among those who shared in that vision. In November of 1985, Gessell sent letters to friends locally and elsewhere who knew Sewanee, those who had lived here or had a long acquaintance with the community. A town meeting resulted in the decision to form what became CCJP. The original core group included Gessell, Camp, Marvin Goodstein, Professor of Economics, Emeritus (UOS), and Marilyn Powell, deacon in the Episcopal Church. They applied for a charter with the state of Tennessee as a local not-for-profit organization. “We started out with the name Sewanee Center for Justice and Peace,” Camp explained, “Then we decided that we wanted to broaden our scope of interests and acceptance, so we changed it to Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace.”
Key issues CCJP addressed in the formative years included affordable housing, healthcare, salary equity, jobs, war resistance, and conflict resolution. Gessell served as CCJP executive director for 10 years, followed by Jennifer Lapidis, Keith Pohl, Deidra O’Connor, Robin Hille Michaels, and Leslie Lytle.
Some of the most important work of CCJP has been in the public schools. This includes the Peaceable Schools program, the annual Peace Pole ceremony, the Jane Addams Book Awards project, and most recently, a scholarship established in memory of local civil rights activist Dora Turner and the Be the Change youth leadership retreat.
CCJP has long supported the annual Black History Month celebration and helps organize the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at the University. Both are inspiring, heartwarming events featuring readings, poetry, and group singing that brings the audience to its feet, clapping their hands and raising their voices, rejoicing in the occasion.
In conjunction with CCJP’s commitment to and support of other activist groups, CCJP has mentored people in the community and elsewhere by providing seed money and financial backing for worthy projects. When circumstance dictates, CCJP readily and willingly embraces controversial projects.
CCJP’s focus changes as new issues arise. In 2002, CCJP founded the Sewanee Community Center, for the first time in the history of the town making space available for public activities and events, free of charge. The annual Rev. Jack Gessell “Be the Change” Youth Retreat brings together area high school students for a day of hands-on learning as they engage in games and activities designed to promote community building, diversity awareness, and leadership skills. With the financial assistance of the Sewanee Community chest, the CCJP organizes the Scott Bates Film/Discussion Series, screenings of documentary films on justice and peace issues followed by community discussions.
What will the future bring? New and different projects as our world changes, but always working towards a more just and peaceful tomorrow.