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12/12/2012 3:24:00 PM
Summit seeks to turn teaching into action
Jesuit High School photo
Chris Killmer speaks about human trafficking to a group of students from Portland area Catholic high schools.
Jesuit High School photo
Chris Killmer speaks about human trafficking to a group of students from Portland area Catholic high schools.

Students from Portland area Catholic high schools convened in early December to devise ways to act on what they have been learning about social justice.

The Justice Summit will be an annual gathering. This year, 75 students convened to examine human trafficking and immigration. An anti-trafficking group from St. Mary's Academy has been holding marches and seeking public policy to protect victims. Student groups from Jesuit plan to meet with Oregon congressional representatives in February to speak up for human trafficking bans and comprehensive immigration reform. Other schools were invited to join the efforts.

"We teach it. Why not get together and act together?" asks Scott Powers, director of Christian service at Jesuit High School, which hosted the first summit.

"Usually, it's sports that get the schools together," Powers says.

At the summit, students heard from experts in trafficking and immigration.

Chris Killmer, program manager with the nonprofit Immigration Counseling Service, said awareness is the way to confront trafficking.

Francisco Lopez of Causa, an immigrant rights agency, told the story of his torture and exile from El Salvador. That's what immigrants face, Lopez said, telling students they "need to become the microphone of God."

The St. Mary's activists advised everyone to do simple things like make sure they are not buying clothes made in sweatshops by enslaved people.

"Human trafficking is an issue that really affects young women not only internationally but also in our own country and city. It's much less removed from our lives than we'd like to think it is," St. Mary's senior Allison Nasson told the Catholic Sentinel this fall.

Students were challenged to take what they learned back to the general student population. La Salle Prep will host next year's gathering.

"Lots of high school students don't understand what big issues we have here and what we can do," says Katherine Benedict, a senior at Jesuit. "Our main goal was to raise awareness."

"It was a good day for students to come together with the common goal of justice for people in our society who don’t always have a voice," says Dean Heuberger, who is staff moderator of a social justice club at Central Catholic High School. "I believe our students came away energized to commit to continued involvement. It was also a time for the adults to look proudly on our students who are a reflection of what we as parents and Catholic schools are doing right."

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