The Freedom Center for Social Justice (FCSJ) is a culture-shifting organization committed to the growth, safety and empowerment of marginalized populations. Our vision is a world where equal protections and opportunities exist for all. Through advocacy, community education, and faith-based organizing, we are committed to providing support that opens doors, raises awareness and creates life-giving change.
In 2019, we celebrated a decade. Our first ten years we focused on seed-planting — laying the groundwork for the organization we are becoming. We have been able to lay a foundation that now enables us to have a significant impact on culture shifts within the State of North Carolina and beyond.
As an organization, we are committed to leaning into our growing edges, and getting clearer about what is uniquely ours to do. We want to grow in the direction of our community’s needs. We are okay with evolving — we know that as the world changes, our vision and strategies will inevitably change alongside it.
As we continue to grow, we stand upon the following organizational pillars:
- We believe each person is capable of making significant, lasting change in the lives of people around them. As such, we empower people to be effective leaders in culture-shift, the process of changing culture (the outlook, attitudes, values, morals, goals, and customs shared by a society) away from oppression and towards liberation.
- We collaborate with other social-justice organizations to advance the cause of justice, equality and protections for LGBTQ people and the marginalized, centering those who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color), elder, and/or youth. We envision a world in which all people are able to reach their full potential as human beings, regardless of their varied identities.
- We celebrate the fullness of our humanity by working intentionally at the intersections of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith, age and class.
History of FCSJ
2002: Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls (a national faith leader and social justice activist) and the members of Unity Fellowship Church in Charlotte, NC saw a need among LGBTQ youth of color who were facing discrimination in the school system, their communities of faith, and at home. Bishop Rawls and the members started a program called “The Lighthouse Project,” which provided tutoring, career development, and life skills to these youth. They soon realized that youth weren’t the only ones facing systemic and personal challenges — their families were struggling too. With the intention of providing ongoing support for those who needed it most, the concept of the Freedom Center for Social Justice began.
2008: As the need for political and social change grew, Bishop Rawls and her team began doing advocacy work around HIV/AIDS and participating in community actions to ensure funding for schools.
2009: The Freedom Center for Social Justice hosted a summit in California that brought together 25 trans people of color and allies to discuss ways to support the trans community on a National basis. This summit led to the establishment of the inaugural TransFaith in Color Conference, a gathering which focused on education, advocacy, and wellness for trans people of color. TransFaith in Color hosted conferences in 2010-2013, connecting hundreds of trans people and allies under the shared goals of learning, networking, healing, and empowerment.
2010: The Freedom Center for Social Justice was incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3) organization.
2013: We began asking our community which areas of their lives they needed most support, and those areas were employment and legal protections. This led to us working with two lesbian attorneys who shaped North Carolina’s first LGBTQ Law Center. This pilot program focused primarily on name changes and domestic matters. Over the course of the Law Center’s first year, we found that our client’s needs exceeded our capacity. We made the decision to close the law center, and shifted our focus to supporting other organizations that were working to change policies that would increase protections and support for LGBTQ North Carolinians.
2014: The TransFaith in Color advisory team recommended we shift from a conference format to a retreat, to provide a space for transgender individuals who were subject to great pain and struggle in their daily lives to rest and heal. The advisory team expressed that being in a space with other trans people who were both activists and people of faith was the nurturing and supportive environment that they needed. Our first annual Trans Faith in Action Network (TFAAN) Retreat had about 20 people. Now in its third year, it has grown to a gathering of more than 50 individuals.
2014: Gaining and maintaining quality employment had consistently been at the top of the list of concerns expressed by those who identify as trans and gender variant. As a response to the lack of economic stability for trans people of color, the Freedom Center for Social Justice established the Transgender Employment Program. The goal of this program was to educate employers in Mecklenburg County, NC about the transgender community and encourage them to make intentional efforts towards transgender inclusion. Many of these employers were willing to hire transgender individuals, but the jobs they were hiring for were not jobs that transgender people seeking work were qualified for. The Freedom Center shifted our focus and created a Job Readiness and Personal Skills Development Program, to equip transgender people with the skills needed for the workplace. This program leveraged relationships between FCSJ staff and local colleges/universities, organizations, and businesses to strengthen interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and finance management skills for transgender people. We were successfully able to increase the number of gainfully employed and employment-ready members of the trans and LGBTQ community in North Carolina and beyond.
2015: What the LGBTQ Law Center and the Transgender Employment Program taught us was that we were most effective not in the realm of direct services, but in the realm of culture-shift. We made a significant transition and decided to narrow our focus. We became clear about what was uniquely ours to do. After reflecting on our mission, vision, and values, we understood that shifting major systems was where we could be most powerful, and touch many more lives.