Hearths of Courage: Growing Beloved CommunitiesPosted: August 8, 2015
A few weeks ago near Harrison, Arkansas the KKK hosted a week long training camp. Open to ages sixteen and up, the camp attracted people from around the nation and sought to build “a mighty army” to fight against “racial genocide” and bring about “racial redemption.” This is the same KKK who purchased the large billboard near exit 81 on I-40 in Russellville.
In response to this training a coalition of several organizations and individuals across the south launched a media campaign calling on white people in small towns and rural areas to stand up against white supremacy and break through the cultures of silence surrounding race and racism. Together the coalition wrote multiple media pieces which were published both online and in regional print media sources, calling on our communities to take a stand against racism in all its forms, recognizing that racism and our current forms of white supremacy rarely show up in klan robes. (see links to related pieces below).
Since then our campaign has gone viral, and we’ve had hundreds of regional people take part in our social media campaigns, sharing photos speaking out against hate in silence and using hashtags such as #notmyozarks,#notinmyname, #theotherarkansas and #wemaketheroadbywalking. The campaign has been featured in national publications and shows no signs of stopping. It’s sparking conversations near and far about how we can build what Martin Luther King referred to as the “beloved community.”
Following our media campaign we’re now moving into more direct work within communities. Last week the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources hosted our first ever living room conversation in connection with this larger campaign. Entitled “What the Children Will Expect of Us: Speaking Out Against Silence and Hate,” this gathering was attended by twelve adults and five children.
The premise of the gathering was to move from organic conversations that pop up naturally to a more intentional effort to bring people together to talk about racism in our communities and build locally-based solutions.
Far too often when we discuss social problems we talk in abstractions and distance ourselves from pain, making it easy to for us to divide amongst ourselves and forget that at the heart of our struggles are the daily lives of children. During our gathering we agreed to speak only from personal experience, and, at every turn, to consider what kind of world we’re building for the generations to come.
So much of southern culture is about ancestors. We love family trees, stories passed down among generations, and talking about who our people are. Get Arkansas people together and you’re sure to have a conversation about who is who’s grandma and where the old home place is. We have a beautiful regard for the people who have come before, and it’s part of what connects us to the places we love and call home. It helps us define who we are and can be one of our community’s greatest strengths.
The thing is, one day we’ll all be ancestors, too. And young people—children who have grown up here and recent immigrants alike—will be looking back on the lives we’ve lived, seeking stories they can draw from in their own lives. What kind of ancestors do we want to be? What will the young people of the future want us to do today to build more loving communities for everyone?
During our first gathering we voted to meet every first Saturday of the month to continue these conversations and to build actions that strengthen our already strong communities, and work toward the fearless work of beloved community. We’d love to have you join us as we build communities of courage.
We’ll be meeting again on September 5th at 6:00 pm at the McElroy House at 420 S. 2nd Street.No big deal if you missed the first gathering! We’ll be building resources for our work and exploring elements of Kingian Nonviolence.
Please join our media campaigns on social media via The Other Arkansas and Not My Ozarks. You can also check out our friends at The Other Mississippi and The Other Tennessee. Please consider submitting your own photo speaking out and joining us in the living room conversations.
If you’d like to host a living room conversation in your community, we’d love to help with that too. We’re working in connection with a regional group called Southerners on New Ground, and we’d love to see these gatherings pop up all around the region. Together we can do this. We may not always know how to take the next steps, but together we can make the road by walking. Thanks so much for reading.
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier newspaper serving Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action and srtives to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.