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Sarasota Group Springs Up to Address Social Justice Issues

The idea came up after Tom Edwards, a member of the Sarasota County School Board, was verbally attacked for his sexuality during a March board meeting.

John VanCamp introduced the Social Justice Alliance of the Florida Suncoast at their inaugural “justice social” on Oct. 18.(Community News Collaborative)

By Sarah Owens

Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 11:14 AM EDT

SARASOTA, Fla. (Community News Collaborative) - Sarasota County residents gathered for an inaugural “justice social” held by the newly formed Social Justice Alliance of the Florida Suncoast.

John VanCamp, a member of the Social Justice committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice, came up with the idea for the group after the committee learned that Tom Edwards, a member of the Sarasota County School Board, was verbally attacked for his sexuality during a board meeting last March.

VanCamp now serves as the Steering Committee Chair for the alliance, and originally felt the need to create the group to connect the community on social justice issues.

“All of these organizations have their own work in the area of social justice. What we need to do is link them together,” VanCamp said. “So, by forming an alliance, an umbrella organization, and helping to promote each of the events ... we’re taking individual events and turning it into a movement.”

The group is just beginning to publicize its mission in preparation for its first big event -- a book festival, titled “The Right to Read Festival: All Books for All People,” on Feb. 24, 2024 to fight back against the banning of books in the state.

“We want to support and help librarians, teachers, authors, publishers... all the people opposed to censorship,” said SJAFS media contact David Brostrom, “to foster a society that embraces diversity of thought, encourages critical thinking, and upholds constitutional rights, promoting freedom for all.”

Book censorship is just one of several social justice issues to which the group hopes to call attention.

They also wish to address gun control laws and discrimination against minority groups among other things.

Their mission statement reads: “We are dedicated to fostering a more equitable and inclusive society. Our mission is to recognize and address systemic barriers, promote fairness and empower marginalized communities to thrive.” The group’s overall goal is to connect local organizations and bring like-minded people together to advocate for human rights and uphold democracy.

Participating organizations include: Sarasota, Venice and Charlotte County congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Church; the Venice United Church of Christ; League of Women Voters; Venice Pride; Temple Emanu-El; and more.

Looking forward, the SJAFS hopes to hold more regular gatherings and host various events shedding light on a multitude of topics.

To learn more or get involved, reach out to

Sarah Owens is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Connect with her at

Copyright 2023 WWSB. All rights reserved.


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