Justice United

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough, in pink shirts, react during a gathering at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill. The action was to ask the District Attorney to create a safe driving school for Latino drivers. 


On Sunday, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough will gather to host a “Training for Making Change” workshop. It’s open to the community and is intended to “equip attendees with tools for organizing for tangible change.”

Community members in attendance are also invited to learn about and join in the Justice United organizing process of identifying and voting on top issues, researching opportunities for change, and organizing successful campaigns that engage and affect hundreds of Orange County residents.

“We’re made up of 20 member groups from across the county,” said Julia Sendor, an organizer with Justice United. “Most of the groups are faith-related groups, but some are nonprofit groups, and all of the groups share vision for justice in the community. That’s the common thread among all of the groups, and at the heart, it’s really about people and relationships.”

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough is one of the groups that shared that vision, and has partnered with Justice United to help it take a more active role in addressing issues in Orange County. The church was drawn to the organization’s model.

The Unitarian Church is predominantly white and mostly middle class. Many of the community’s social justice issues didn’t directly affect the church and its members, but were concerns of which they were aware. 

“We adopted a community partnership model about five or six years ago, and that means that we lend our support in terms of our presence, as well as our financial support, to causes that are led by directly affected communities and organizations,” said Allison Mahaley, a member of the congregation. “The Justice United model forms its campaigns around these listening sessions that are about relationship building. By participating with Justice United, we’re given an opportunity to listen to these needs of the community that are probably otherwise outside of our realm of awareness. We can then come along side the campaigns and lend support and be involved in the campaigns. And along the way, it gives us the opportunity to come into community and fellowship with other congregations across the community.”

Justice United’s process typically begins with one-on-one meetings where members get to meet each other and connect and build relationships. This is then followed by listening sessions that are often held at the churches or nonprofits, and involve groups of 10 to 15 people who share stories about what’s going on in their lives. Justice United does this with hundreds of people over the course of several months. The group’s representatives and partners then meet as a group to assess what has been learned during the listening sessions, and sort out the most common themes, and determine what are the most pressing challenges the organization can realistically take on. 

Each individual group votes, and those votes are compiled to determine what will be the top two or three themes Justice United will take on as a campaign.

“And then we research,” Sendor said. “We break into research groups and we try to make it a winnable issue.”

Mahaley spoke of one example of how Justice United’s process helped reach a solution to an issue that was affecting people in the neighborhoods directly surrounding the Unitarian church. 

“We’re kind of in this area where we’re there all these different trailer parks around our building,” she said. “So we went door knocking in the trailer parks to ask people, ‘what’s going on with you? What are you concerned about?’”

Members learned of traffics stops that were being conducted by law enforcement outside an elementary school during pick up and drop off hours. Undocumented people were being ticketed for having expired driver’s licenses. North Carolina requires a social security number to be able to apply for a driver’s license. Some of the people being ticketed had valid licenses prior to the law being passed in 2006, but had since expired. The cost of the tickets were burdensome for already cash-strapped families.

Justice United went to work trying to figure out how to prevent these people from having to pay the fines when the only thing they did, that was finable, was driving without a license. 

“We did research, met with a district attorney, and then 600 members of all the different groups of Justice United met at St. Thomas More (Catholic Church), and asked the district attorney if he would commit to eliminating those fees for otherwise safe drivers, who are driving without a license, and instead offer a driver’s safety class with El Centro Hispano,” Sendor said. “The goal, again, is to come up with something that can really happen that people can feel the difference in their own lives.”

Sendor also said Justice United follows the principle of consent; it does not organize with communities that do not want someone organizing with them.

“We do not push relationships on people who do not want to be in a relationship with us,” she said. “That’s one of the key parts, and then the other part is that a lot of the leadership comes from people who are directly affected, or have something at stake.”

For example, when a campaign was created to address underrepresentation for residents of mobile home parks, some of the member churches put out announcements to the members of their congregation that if anyone lived in a mobile home park and wanted to learn about organizing to address some of the challenges in the park, they could attend a Justice United meeting.

The pandemic has hampered the ability for groups to gather, and even arrangements through virtual meetings can be a challenge when some areas in need have poor Internet access. Covid has also magnified some of the areas of need, like affordable housing and mental health, which a new issue for Justice United. 

“In some ways the pandemic has broken down some of the connections, and also exacerbated some of the struggles that were already happening, and made them even harsher,” Sendor said. “At the same time, we have a chance to reconnect and figure out where we want to focus our energy together this year. We’re a strictly nonpartisan group, but elections are often a good focus point for building relationships with candidates to have this relationship of accountability around issues that matter to us like housing or resources for health access.”

Training for Making Change 

with Orange County Justice United

Sunday, September 26, 12-1 pm

1710 Old NC 10, Hillsborough NC OR via Zoom (hybrid event)

Build skills for making real, local change for social justice, through Orange County Justice United.

Learn about next steps for participating in Justice United's countywide coalition for social justice.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough, a member organization of Orange County Justice United, is hosting the training, which is open to anyone who lives, works, and/or worships in Orange County. 

Please RSVP!

- For attending in person, RSVP with Julia Sendor, julia@ocjusticeunited.org.

- For attending via Zoom, visit www.ocjusticeunited.org/fall_internal_assembly to register and receive your unique link.