NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Local organizations are hosting a social justice conference in Hampton Roads.

The Center for Crime, Equity, and Justice Research and Policy and the Hampton Roads Christian Community Development Network will co-host the first Hampton Roads Social Justice Conference.

The event is being held Monday and Tuesday at Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

Registration is required for in-person attendance. To register for the event, CLICK HERE.

Keynote speakers are addressing several topics, from racial justice to economic inequality and climate change. The purpose of the event is to “facilitate dialogue” by bringing together officials from all sectors of the community.

“I think the goal of the conference is kind of multiple different things. For people working in all different fields to hear what is going on in other fields and different places. For practitioners and professionals to hear about academic research to hear about what people on the ground are doing,” said Johnny Finn, who is the chair for the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology. “For local elected officials to see the landscape of social justice activism that’s shaping the region, that’s one important part of it The second is to gather some sort of critical mass around these issues and create forward momentum.”

Organizers like Finn hope that people will take that momentum into the community to make changes that are deep-rooted.

“We want them to walk away informed and empowered,” said Dr. Steven Keener, who is the director for the Center for Crime, Equity, and Justice Research and Policy.

The center is currently helping the City of Newport News conduct a gun violence and safety survey for residents.

Keener says the complex topics of justice can help people understand why violent crimes are happening.

“When students come to the classroom and think about violence, they think about rational deterrent choice mode and the idea that someone … is rationally choosing to engage in violence and they don’t dig into the set factors that brings individuals to that circumstance,” said Keener, who is also a criminal justice lecturer.

Some of the circumstances can stem from issues like affordable housing issues, communities, climate change, criminal justice reform, and more according to Keener. All subjects that are being discussed at the conference.

“I think the big thing people take away is ‘Oh gun violence is more complicated than I thought it was.’ Does it mean we should actively look for ways to address it but it does force us to think bigger in solution and there are a multitude of factors involved and we should think of a number of factors to address it,” Keener said.

Charles Cheek, with the Hampton Roads Christian Community Development Network, hopes people will be able to gain ideas about making positive changes in the city where he grew up.

“Usually conversations are taking place in boardrooms or city hall council changers. Rarely does it get out into the community,” he said. “Very rarely do people in the community get exposed to experts in certain fields and those who value their opinions. So, the idea to get folks engaged in the process and make momentum to make change in the community.”

Cheek believes the national and regional discussion about gun violence helps make the conference even more prevalent.

“All of this is tying it together. It’s fantastic. It’s great. Gun violence can only be prevented by people in the community. It’s not a police issue. It’s not a city council issue. It’s a people issue. It’s a heart issue. We’ve got to start changing hearts and minds,” he said.

Cheek encourages those who attend the conference to not be afraid once leaving with the education and established relationships.

“Don’t be afraid. Be willing to take the next step. People are willing to progress. They want to end hopelessness in their community. We’ve got part of the answer but they’ve got the rest,” he said.

For more information about the event, CLICK HERE.