The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center will be celebrating its 32nd anniversary with a gala on January 18th featuring former executive director Hubert Van Tol as the keynote speaker. The organization is currently focused on "economic equality, housing, criminal justice reform, homelessness, protection of civil liberties, food justice," and international issues, according to the center's website.
Van Tol was executive director from 1985 to 1995. During that time, the center's local work focused around pollution and the Community Reinvestment Act, a law enacted in 1977 to encourage banks to provide services to those in low- and middle-income neighborhoods and eliminate discriminatory lending practices.
He currently works in Rochester, New York, as the senior director for economic development at the PathStone Enterprise Center.
Flyer: What social justice issues were you dealing with when you were director?
Van Tol: The center was dealing with nuclear arms issues, [military involvement in] Central America, [apartheid in] South Africa, the Community Reinvestment Act, bank-lending issues, and environmental justice issues.
What was your favorite part of the job?
My favorite thing was the lending work that we did. The Community Reinvestment Act work gave us the ability to attempt to change some things at the neighborhood level, making sure access to capital and credit was a real possibility for people.
What neighborhoods did you work in?
It was really designed to try and get more loan dollars into North and South Memphis, but the community groups that were lending were working in specific neighborhoods and probably took advantage of the policy work and organizing like we did.
What's changed the most about Memphis since your tenure?
When we were leaving, the downtown redevelopment was beginning to take off, so in my last visits there, [I've noticed] there's a real difference in how downtown looks and feels.
You now work with the PathStone Enterprise Center in Rochester, N.Y. What do you do there?
The Enterprise Center is a community development financial institution. We make loans to small businesses and micro-businesses. We provide technical assistance and business training for the businesses that can't get loans from the bank.
How can you get people involved in their communities?
People are always interested in the community. It's just a matter of what issues most move them, what they have time to do, and [if] they see any hope of victories — winning something by getting active. I think that's the most important thing, providing people some kind of avenue to have at least some victories in their efforts to improve their community.