“What OCCJ looks like in Oklahoma City might be different than what it looks like in Tulsa, or it might look similar. The central component is the mission, and that’s what we focus on,” said Russ Florence, OCCJ’s chairman-elect.
The group has been operating independently in Tulsa since 2005. Prior to that, it was affiliated with the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which had a separate OKC chapter before closing in 2002.
Programs that aim to create common ground among diverse groups are at OCCJ’s core.
For 19 years, groups of Oklahoma high school students have come together in Vian each June for Camp Anytown, Oklahoma, OCCJ’s summer camp. Participants learn to question their assumptions and confront hate.
“Lives and minds and hearts are changed in that week,” Florence said. “It is an independent, intense, exhilarating experience for a lot of these kids.” While Tulsa’s OCCJ has an emphasis on reaching young people, it also has some programs for adults. Florence said one of his favorites is an occasional informal gathering just to have a conversation over a meal.
“If there’s one word you’ll hear a lot in OCCJ circles, it is ‘dialogue,’” he said.
Recently, however, just starting a dialogue hasn’t been enough. OCCJ leaders have entered the more combative world of politics. They wrote Gov.
Mary Fallin to oppose a bill banning Sharia law from consideration in state courts, and they lobbied in support of an anti-bullying measure.
But such activism has been tough from up the Turner Turnpike.
“Not having a presence in Oklahoma City with someone who can be a little more feet-on-the-ground at the state Capitol, it’s not easy,” said Nancy Day, OCCJ executive director.
When Florence moved to OKC for a public-relations job, OCCJ finally had someone who was in the right place with the right knowledge.
About 25 people attended the first organizational meeting. Right now, Florence said he is listening to anyone who has an idea.
The next meeting will be July 23 at Oklahoma City University and is open to anyone. For more information, call 602-2000 or email Florence at firstname.lastname@example.org.