Creating Just Workplaces Panel
February 4, 2021
We’ve all experienced challenges at work—bad days, demanding roles or responsibilities, and relational conflict with a colleague or boss, to name a few. Often the message society offers is just to put on a smiling face and push forward, no matter the working conditions. But often work is hard (or even unattainable) because of systemic reasons, including racism, pay inequities, and dehumanizing work. A biblical perspective on work involves more than our personal attitudes toward work; it also includes creating just workplaces for all (e.g. James 5:4-6 and Jeremiah 22:13). In this panel conversation, we will consider what makes a workplace just, and what factors especially marginalize certain groups of people. We’ll address practical strategies for supporting and creating just workplaces, including hiring, recruitment, management, coworker interactions, and more. Panelists: Anthony Cooper, Sr. (“Coop”) uses his life experiences to help men in the Madison community in his role as Vice President of Reentry Services and External Relationships for Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development. A devoted husband and father of two sons, he dedicates his time to ensuring that men leaving prison are re-acclimated to society. Anthony brings 10 years of job development and mentoring experience to this role. He has served as a placement specialist, corporate recruiter, Fatherhood Program facilitator at the Urban League of Greater Madison, and as Owner/Director of Opportunity Tree, Inc. As the Director of Reentry Services, Anthony is responsible for networking with employers, partnering with community organizations and the Dept. of Corrections, mentoring and establishing mentor relationships, and operating the Nehemiah House and Dignity House. Anthony has a strong passion for changing the view of incarcerated individuals in society so they no longer feel imprisoned when released. Christine Jeske is an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Wheaton College and the author of several books, including her latest release, The Laziness Myth: Narratives of Work and the Good Life (Cornell University Press, 2020). She received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and has worked in microfinance, refugee resettlement, community development, and teaching while living in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa. Her current research considers how people imagine achieving a “good life,” especially when unemployed or working in low-wage jobs. She lives in an old Wisconsin farmhouse named the Sanctuary, complete with a dozen chickens, several pigs, innumerable weeds, two children, and one wonderful husband. Vanessa McDowell is the CEO of the YWCA in Madison—the first black woman to hold the position in YWCA Madison’s 108-year history. Appointed by Governor Evers to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in 2019, Vanessa was also named one of the 35 Most Influential African Americans in Wisconsin by Madison 365 in 2018. Vanessa works to leverage voices that have been silenced and to empower others to live out their purpose. She brings to her work an empowerment model that aligns with the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women. Prior to joining the YWCA, Vanessa worked for UW—Madison’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory and was the Executive Assistant to the Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.