For over three decades, the California Conference for Equality and Justice has hosted an annual Interfaith Intercultural Breakfast to bring together community members in support of education and building solidarity.

This year, the organization is going bigger. CCEJ will combine the breakfast event with a “Roots of Justice” convening for a day of education, connection, and commitment to action for racial justice.

“​​Every year we would do this breakfast, people would say, ‘We wish it was longer, we wish we had time to talk,’” said Executive Director Reena Hajat Carroll. “So we took that feedback, and we created an entire day, so it’s a little bit of a new concept for us.”

The convening, on March 3 at The Grand in Long Beach, will bring together about 350 people from different organizations, governments, companies, nonprofits and schools to develop collective education and awareness, Carroll said.

“There’s such an interest in talking boldly about racism, and I think this is just a function of the fact that the last two years have been exhausting after George Floyd’s death, for people of color, for White advocates, who want to see a better world but just are not seeing it,” Carroll said. “People are tired and they want change, but the challenge is always people don’t know exactly how to make the change. So a space like this is a really great first step.”

The breakfast portion of the day will feature a conversation with Regina Jackson and Saira Rao, authors of “White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better.”

The afternoon convening will include a keynote speech by Black non-binary author and executive producer George M. Johnson, whose memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” discusses their adolescence growing up as a young Black queer child in New Jersey.

Participants will also be able to attend various workshops, with the intention of reflecting and learning, Carroll said.

“Our hope is that this is, for some people, the first step in their journey that affirms to them that they need to keep learning, need to keep asking questions, and keep engaging the work,” Carroll said. “Wherever you’re at in the journey, we want you to come, because it could be really beneficial for you.”

The event will address topics such as differences, biases and identity, and it will include strategies and skills on how to facilitate conversations so people feel comfortable and safe to learn, Carroll said.

The organization was initially founded in 1947, although it was known then as the National Conference for Christians and Jews.

By 2005, the national organization closed, leaving all its branches independent.

The Long Beach chapter, founded in 1963, joined forces with the Los Angeles and San Diego branches, forming its current identity as the California Conference for Equality and Justice.

The organization of today continues its initial mission, explained Carroll—to eliminate bias, bigotry and racism.

The organization approaches social and racial justice issues by examining them with a restorative lens, based on centering relationships, Carroll said.

Apart from the annual Interfaith Intercultural Breakfast, another signature program the organization hosts is the Building Bridges Camp for high schoolers: a four-day trip to the mountains that includes an opportunity to explore topics such as social justice and how to advocate for change in their schools, Carroll said.

“I often meet people who are alumni from the ‘60s who will say, ‘I was involved when it was NCCJ, and that camp changed my life.’ People say that all the time,” Carroll said. “It’s a little hard to believe because you’re like thinking, ‘OK, it’s camp.’ But when you go to camp, which I had an opportunity to do last March, I fully understand how it changes your life. It is just a magical and beautiful experience that both adults and young people have together, all in service to creating a better world that has more equity and justice.”

Following the camp program, youth continue to meet with the organization and other students from throughout the region, to discuss how they’re implementing what they’ve learned in their schools, Carroll said.

“Every time we do a survey, we get just an incredible response rate around how the program increased awareness and education and competence in terms of being a social justice advocate,” Carroll said.

Since the 1960s, over 20,000 people have gone through the program, about 15,000 of whom are from Long Beach Unified School District.

“We have people who are in their 40s and 50s now who want their children to go through the camp,” Carroll said.

The focus, though, isn’t just on kids. For adults, the organization offers training for school districts and nonprofits to help create workplaces that value equity, accountability and justice, Carroll said.

Unlike consultants, the organization does not do 30-minute or one-hour trainings, but instead asks participants to invest between three months to three years.

The organization is in the process of developing its next strategic plan, which will be ready by the end of March, Carroll said.

Carroll’s hope is that the organization continues to work with the community on issues of equity and justice by helping with content knowledge and policy change, while also empowering youth with the leadership skills to change cultures and workforces, she said.

“If they’re in high school now, 10 years from now, when they start working out in the world, they have all the skills around what it means to be in a place that values equity and justice, so that they then lead with those values. And if we do that successfully, then we can change an entire generation,” Carroll said.

“The vision is really broad, and it’s large, but I think it has to be,” Carroll said. “I think it’s really around having a Long Beach community where every resident is seen, heard and understood, for who and what they are in their very authentic selves.”

CCEJ’s Annual Interfaith Intercultural Breakfast will be on March 3 at The Grand, 4101 E. Willow St. The breakfast program will run from 8 to 10:30 a.m. (livestream will be available) and the convening will continue after 4 p.m. More information about the Annual Interfaith Intercultural Breakfast is available here. Make a donation here. Volunteer information is available here.