Social justice calling doesn’t recognize borders

08/25/2013 4:33 PM

08/25/2013 10:00 PM

A famous poem speaks to the road not taken, for the experiences that open or close, depending upon the choice.

A wrong turn set William Dowdell’s course. His mistake put him circling Interstate 435. He was going from Lawrence to his job as a waiter at Starker’s restaurant, supplemental work while he continued to study Russian literature and history at the University of Kansas.

The Duluth, Minn., transplant wound up on Kansas City’s East Side. He was astounded. The neighborhoods were so geographically close to the Country Club Plaza, yet so distant. And that was it. That introduction to local race and class divisions is now leading Dowdell to Burma.

The country is also known as Myanmar. The transitioning nation is considered among the most ethnically and linguistically divided in the world. The tensions were exacerbated when decades of military rule ended in 2010.

Dowdell, 38, is a community organizer. He is the community liaison from MORE2 to KC NoVA, one of the most ambitious anti-violence initiatives ever begun in this city. NoVA links police, prosecutors and community groups, pinpointing the people most likely to commit violence and their networks of friends and associates.

Through Dowdell’s role here, he was chosen as one of two representatives from the U.S. with the Gamaliel Foundation. He’ll study how organizers are helping Burma develop as a nation at the International Organizers Forum in early October. The meetings will be held in Rangoon. Hundreds have died in recent years in Burma as ethnic sects of Buddhists and Muslims clash. Martial law has been declared several times.

Lora D.H. McDonald, executive director of MORE2, hired Dowdell in May from a wide pool of candidates, impressed by his level of commitment and broader skills. He taught in northern Russia, worked for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and plans on earning a doctorate in political science.

An page on

has been set up to help raise the remaining $1,800 costs of the trip.

Community organizing involves getting people to set aside differences, to work together for the betterment of an entire area. There are commonalities within social justice movements; it doesn’t matter what country, or the level of or the core reasons for the violence.

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