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Breaking Apart, Coming Together

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After 60 years of opening minds, the regional office of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) will shut its doors.

NCCJ-Memphis announced last week it will close at the end of August. Founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the national organization tries to promote understanding among all races, religions, and cultures through advocacy and education. In Memphis, that in part meant Anytown, a weeklong camp each July where high school students of diverse backgrounds learned from each other and worked together.

But recently, the national organization has been plagued with fiscal problems. The group is currently moving away from the affiliate model (with regions under a central umbrella) to a group of independent nonprofits.

"I have tried my best to find a way NCCJ-Memphis could continue," interim board chair Jamie Griffin wrote in an August 8th board update. "In the end, there were too many obstacles, not enough capacity, and not enough time. With the issues facing the national organization looming larger and more imposing, it appears other offices and the national office may be facing the same dilemma."

The turmoil at the national level filtered down. This year's Anytown was canceled. Griffin was tapped as interim board chair in early June after a majority of board members resigned. Then, in early July, Jim Foreman, the executive director for 12 years, resigned as well.

"Once Jim [Foreman] left, I tried to pull together the few members we had left," Griffin said. "I asked [the national president] to come to Memphis and talk with the remaining board members."

Only one other board member showed up for the meeting. Faced with concerns that the local group would not have enough community support or financial backing, it was decided that the Memphis office would close.

Some of the former board members have been working to keep NCCJ's mission alive in Memphis. Although they don't have a board yet, the group - under the banner Diversity Memphis - expects to be granted nonprofit status shortly.

"This type of organization is needed in every community in America ... but in Memphis, probably even more so," says former NCCJ board member and Diversity Memphis member Lee Filderman. "Race and ethnicity seem to play more of a role in decision-making [here] than in most cities."

Though they are still in the early planning stages, they are raising money, asking for donations, and even preparing for a walk in early October.

"I see this not as a continuation of NCCJ or as a replacement of NCCJ but as an evolution of NCCJ," said Filderman. "It's going to be bigger and broader and more locally. I have high hopes we'll be able to do something even more special than NCCJ."

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