Righting wrongs for marginalized people, from Colorado to Kenya

The needs of formerly incarcerated people are often poorly met. But featured in this week’s global briefs is one Colorado nonprofit whose success assisting newly freed people led to a partnership with the capital city to spread the impact of its supportive services. 

1. United States

Second Chance Center (SCC) in Aurora, Colorado, is addressing gaps in reentry services and helping thousands of formerly incarcerated people stay out of prison. Launched by Hassan A. Latif in 2012, the nonprofit now has 37 employees working to meet the basic needs of the newly freed, such as housing and employment, while also building the long-term support systems necessary for people to thrive. A majority of SCC’s employees, including Mr. Latif, have spent time in prison. “It’s not something you can tell somebody, like this is what you need to be fulfilled,” he said. “The best you can hope for is that people allow you close enough into their lives that you can help them navigate whatever terrain they are facing.”

Why We Wrote This

Our progress roundup shows long-standing injustices being addressed by fostering better connections, including a program in Kenya that promotes acceptance of LGBTQ people by conservative faith leaders.

While the statewide recidivism rate is close to 50%, fewer than 10% of the SCC clients have returned to prison. In May, the group worked with Denver city officials to open a second center in the capital. Staff in Denver will focus on expanding housing options for people transitioning from city and county jails back into society, while applying the same fulfillment-centered philosophy.
Colorado Newsline

2. United States

A forestry program in the southern U.S. is working to end a centurylong trend of land loss among Black families. Due to racist violence and intimidation, discrimination by the government, and predatory development practices, Black families lost 90% of their land in the 20th century, mostly in the South. The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention (SFLR) project launched in 2012 as a public-private partnership supporting Black forest owners by providing legal and technical assistance necessary to make their remaining land work for them. Today, the SFLR network consists of eight local initiatives that have worked with 1,400 landowners on more than 87,000 acres.

One SFLR hub in South Carolina, the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, focuses on land loss resulting from a lack of clear property titles. When multiple heirs can claim ownership over family land, the disputed property is more vulnerable to predatory developers, and owners are unable to utilize government farm aid. SFLR also helps landowners assess their property’s timber potential and get it certified as a sustainable forest, raising the value of their products. A 2020 report from the Forest2Market consultancy found that SFLR management improved land values by more than $3,000 an acre.
Thomson Reuters Foundation, SFLR, Pro Publica

3. Vatican City

The Vatican updated the Code of Canon Law to explicitly criminalize sexual abuse and require senior clergy to investigate complaints, marking the Vatican’s most significant legal overhaul since 1983. These changes were 11 years in the making, following decades of complaints about sexual abuse and cover-ups by church leaders. Under the new header “offences against human life, dignity and liberty,” the code bars priests from using “force, threats or abuse of his authority” to engage in sexual acts with minors or adults, acknowledging for the first time that church power dynamics also make adults vulnerable to abuse. The law now recognizes grooming as a tactic used by sexual predators, and laypeople in the church system can also be fired, fined, or removed from communities for these crimes.

Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
The Vatican, pictured before the Way of the Cross procession on April 2, 2021, has revised its rules and now requires senior officials to investigate sexual abuse in the church.

In an effort to address the culture of cover-ups in the Roman Catholic Church, the new rules restrict clergy’s discretionary power when dealing with sexual assault allegations. Church officials who ignore or cover up sexual abuse allegations, or otherwise fail to punish predators, can be charged with negligence. The penal code, which goes into effect on Dec. 8, 2021, still categorizes abuse as an offense against the Sixth Commandment (prohibiting adultery), which child advocates have argued minimizes crimes against children.

4. Mongolia

Conservationists in Mongolia are bridging the gap between pastoral knowledge and scientific research to secure the future of ecologically vital rangelands. Historically, sparsely populated steppes, savannas, tundras, and other kinds of rangelands have been misconstrued as passive, unproductive areas, but in reality they store 10% to 30% of the globe’s carbon, support diverse plant and animal life, and help protect neighboring regions from natural disasters. Many of these areas are under threat, with increased grazing and climate change contributing to the degradation of the Mongolian steppe in particular.

Grace Brown/AP/File
Herder Chulunjav Bayarsaikhan rests with his bankhar puppy in Mongolia’s Tuv province in 2015. Scientists are increasingly relying on pastoral communities to study rangelands.

As the country director of the Mongolian office of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Tunga Ulambayar is partnering with herders and other rural communities to combine traditional knowledge of the grasslands with scientific study. Across the vast steppe, where infrastructure is sparse and research facilities are rare, Dr. Ulambayar relies on pastoral people to be her eyes in the field. They conduct species surveys, monitor the welfare of plants and wildlife, and help scientists understand aerial photographs of the terrain. The ZSL also pays herders to protect endangered wildlife from poaching, and Dr. Ulambayar’s research team is studying rural communities’ models of resource management.
Mongabay, Deutsche Welle

5. Kenya

Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved in Kenya (PEMA Kenya) is recruiting religious leaders to foster acceptance for LGBTQ people. In the conservative coastal region, influential faith leaders often preach discrimination and violence against “bedeviled” LGBTQ people. Following a series of mob attacks to “flush out the gays” in 2010, PEMA Kenya has worked with hundreds of faith leaders to demystify LGBTQ issues and build relationships between religious and queer communities.

These relationships can take years to develop, and often begin with a carefully orchestrated event that brings imams and ministers into the same room as LGBTQ people. In one case, PEMA invited queer people to share their experiences as part of a five-day forum on HIV health care barriers. The repeated exposure to LGBTQ individuals and their stories has proved effective at turning famously anti-LGBTQ preachers into allies. To date, 619 have been trained for PEMA’s strategic faith engagements team, a group of Muslim and Christian leaders who correct misinformation about the LGBTQ community and engage other faith leaders. The team has continued its outreach work on WhatsApp and offered telephone counseling to queer people throughout the pandemic. PEMA’s founder also notes that attacks on queer people typically spike during Ramadan, but this year, anti-LGBTQ violence was down throughout the holy month.
Reasons to be cheerful, New Frame

6. Indonesia

In Bali, conservationists are installing “reef stars” to support the regrowth of the island’s coral ecosystem. Indonesia holds more than 75% of the globe’s coral species, but almost half of Bali’s corals are in poor condition, according to its Marine and Fisheries Department. Many reefs struggle with erosion and bleaching, spurred by human activity.

The Nusa Dua Reef Foundation has installed nearly 6,000 artificial reef structures called reef stars in an effort to restore the island’s coral gardens. These hexagonal steel frames, about 3 feet wide, bridge the gaps where coral has died. Conservationists fasten coral harvested from nearby nurseries or the surrounding ecosystem to the frames using zip ties, and return regularly to clean the stars of plastic and other ocean debris that might slow the coral’s growth. The Nusa Dua Reef Foundation plans to install another 5,000 stars in the next five years, while educating local communities about the importance of Bali’s reefs.
Reuters, Nusa Dua Reef Foundation

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