As we move into 2017, we want to do so cloaked in a strong sense of community. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is approaching and my mind is drawn again and again to his idea of a Beloved Community, and how each of us, in our own way, can bring people together for a common cause or a common interest. Collectively we comprise a global community, and each of us has smaller geographic and cultural communities to which we belong; we have communities of choice and communities of circumstance. In the coming year, I hope to see us all celebrate the things that make us unique, but in thoughtful ways; I want to embrace community in an inclusive way, whenever we can.
In the past, Alabama Chanin and The School of Making have celebrated the power of making together, of creating in public spaces as a way of creating a community. We have seen, time and again, that the act of making can open hearts and minds and join together people who might have otherwise never connected with one another. This idea overwhelmed us last year when I visited the University of Georgia in Athens for a weekend to attend the Willson Center’s Global Georgia Initiative—a series that attempts to examine global issues in local context, with a focus on community.
The weekend’s events were to begin with a small, two-hour sewing workshop held in the atrium of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. We prepared a limited number of materials for participants and expected to have an intimate discussion with a small group of art students. We were unprepared for the 125+ people (both students and community members) who showed up to talk, listen, and be a part of the community discussion. What this told us then—and what it reminds us now—is that when you put out a call to the community, they often listen more than you realize. We were looking for an audience interested in looking at global issues as they affected a specific community, and that community was primed to respond; they showed up in droves, in earnest, and ready to talk and listen and sew.
There will be calls for discussion and change in the days to come. We have learned not to underestimate the power of a people who want to learn and are invested in outcomes. Those people will show up to tackle difficult discussions and help problem solve larger issues. Community organizers do not necessarily have special skills, other than a heartfelt connection to their community and a belief in drawing people together. There will be many opportunities for you to organize, unite with, and grow your communities in the future. We hope that you will embrace the opportunities as they arise, even surprising ones, as they may offer unexpected chances to bring about change.
Special thanks to Rinne Allen, Dave Marr, Eileen Wallace, Jennifer Crenshaw and Winnie Smith for putting together our memorable weekend in Georgia last January—one that reminded us what a united community could be.
Images courtesy of Rinne Allen