JP Forum celebrates 10th anniversary

November 25, 2017
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JP Forum, a local workshop, film, and public speaker series, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this December with an event featuring Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth.

LaDuke is an internationally renowned activist tackling issues of sustainable development, renewable energy, and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in Northern Minnesota, and is a two-time vice presidential candidate for the Green Party. Honor the Earth is an environmental advocacy nonprofit.

JP Forum was founded in 2007 by First Church Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist (UU) and produced in conjunction with the Boston Office of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Program of Inequality. Chuck Collins was the director at that time.

“We have an internal aspiration of creating holy moments of community connection,” Collins said. “And inevitably at every forum you can feel when these moments ripple through the room. It’s often during a discussion, Q. & A. moment. One of my favorite events was ‘What is your dog really thinking?’ We had a couple hundred JP dog owners.”

Over the years, event speakers have included Afghanistan parliamentarian Malal Joya, called the “bravest woman in Afghanistan,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Frances Moore Lappe, climate activist Bill McKibben, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Ralph Nader. In addition to national luminaries, events have featured local authors and speakers, including Rep. Liz Malia, and a group of JP building trade workers that helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Recently, Rep. Liz Malia convened a forum on the new science of addiction, focusing on the opioid crisis. In attendance was a drug court judge, current and former drug users, and a doctor who talked about the brain science of addiction.

“It broke down misinformation and stretched everyone who was there to find solutions,” said Collins. “It was a precursor to Rep. Malia’s groundbreaking legislative changes.”

Today, Collins is on the planning committee and a bridge between IPS and First Church UU. JP Forum is now directed by Anny Martinez and produced by the Social Action Committee of First Church JP UU. Events are often co-sponsored by neighborhood groups, such as the JP Historical Society, Grassroots International, City Life/Vida Urbana.

“I appreciate how each JP Forum beats to its own drum,” Anny Martinez, director of JP Forum. “Depending on the topic and recent news, each forum I have had the good fortune to be a part of reaches the audience in a special way. The JP Forum is not simply a place to listen to interesting and relative topics we can connect to, but goes a step further in creating an atmosphere for people to leave with the experience of being a part of a meaningful discussion and make connections with people in our community.”

Before working with JP Forum, Martinez worked as an environmental justice organizer with several organizations. She facilitated Interfaith & Environmental Dialogues with the Coalition against the Pilgrim Pipeline and Food & Water Watch. Martinez is the founder of Spoken Word, a poetry group that empowers writers from all walks of life while raising funds for social change. She has also authored Black Start, a book for adolescents about how hope can overcome fear against the backdrop of a power outage.

In the 1850s and 60s, First Church UU in Jamaica Plain was the venue for the Eliot Forum, which had speakers such as abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

“We enjoy telling our visiting speakers, like Bernie Sanders or Amy Goodman, that they are in that tradition,” Collins said.

In the future, the organizers of JP Forum would like to create an annual endowed lecture in honor of Emily Greene Balch, who attended First Church and won the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize for starting Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an organization that continues today. Collins said that it is their goal to raise funds to pay for a globally recognized speaker, like Winona LaDuke, to come every year.

“We know the competition is people’s busy lives working and caring for others,” Collins said. “We also know we compete against people’s desire to stay home, sit in a comfortable chair, and watch the latest Netflix series. So we want to make it inviting and engaging to come out on a winter night to be face-to-face with your neighbors and have an enlivening conversation about the great events touching our lives.”

The 10th anniversary celebration will take place on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at First Church JP Unitarian Universalist at 6 Eliot St. Advance tickets are available at jamaicaplainforum.org, where residents can also sign up for the email list for updates about coming events.

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