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Malik Saafir, a minister at Little Rock's Millennium Church, will visit Washington today through Monday to meet with U.S. Sen. John Boozman about poverty at the local and global levels, and preventable and chronic illnesses.

Saafir's visit is part of the One Campaign, a nonprofit comprised of philanthropists worldwide who are dedicated to advocating to end extreme poverty. Saafir also will visit Capitol Hill on Monday to lobby members of Congress.

"We're going to be actually on the heel of doing some strategic work with legislators to try to get them to support the One's initiatives," said Saafir, an ordained minister since 1993. "But we also have [to be] very, very clear that we want the faith community ... to kind of think strategically as to how ... we [can] have our congregations, our faith communities here, responding at the same time.

"We're trying to create kind of a clear line of, 'We're just not there speaking rhetorically about the issue, we're actually advocating it in real time on the ground here,'" Saafir said.

"That's one of the things that we're trying to be very intentional about, making sure that I represent more than just me. I represent a larger community standing with me as I meet with each senator or each congressperson."

The One Campaign, Saafir said, was in line with the work he has been involved in as president and founder of the Janus Institute For Justice in Little Rock, which he described "as a bridge between social justice and environmental justice issues in Arkansas."

For Saafir, the topics of poverty and preventable diseases are personal. Growing up with his half-sister under the care of their single mother "in immense poverty" in Little Rock, Saafir had asthma as a child and relied upon prescription drugs to keep his airways clear.

"Medicaid and Medicare only covered so much back in the 1970s and 1980s," Saafir said.

His mom's illiteracy made it even more difficult to navigate the health care system.

"She was a single parent and she was struggling," Saafir said. "So I saw how poverty, literacy ... and chronic illnesses all kind of work together to create more suffering than was necessary."

Saafir said he also has been involved in the spiritual and physical care of people "from the stages of being diagnosed with HIV [to] then dying of full-blown AIDS," including a family member who died of the disease. That makes the cause of preventable diseases another concern in which he has a personal interest.

"That's where advocacy for me rises to the occasion," he said. "Where you can find people who have personal experiences [with] some form of the issue, and they can just tell their story, and that story is the advocacy work in some context."

Saafir said that with the One campaign, he hopes to "do the work of justice" in Washington.

"Martin Luther King [Jr.] was very clear when he was advocating for international concerns when he was alive: that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Saafir said. "And so as advocates for any type of social and environmental justice issues in the community, we have to think globally and act locally, because there is no way we can separate the two.

"And that's that's how I'm approaching it, as someone who has advocated for One and also the causes of One ... and from my personal story."

Religion on 02/24/2018

Print Headline: LR minister to lobby congressmen on poverty concerns

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