Selma: From Chaos to Creating the Beloved Community

Written by: Ainka Jackson

Date: June 01, 2016

Editor’s note: NCRP Senior Research and Policy Associate Ryan Schlegel and Field Associate Ben Barge recently visited the Alabama Black Belt as part of a listening tour hosted by Grantmakers for Southern Progress and the Black Belt Community Foundation. This is the second in a series of blog posts from activists, organizers and community leaders they met during their trip. NCRP strives to elevate the voices of grantees and potential grantees in conversations about philanthropy. This blog series will address topics relevant to the work underway for social, economic, racial and environmental justice in the Black Belt from the perspective of the people doing that work. Read Jackson’s first post here.

The Voting and Civil Rights Movement was never just about getting the right to vote. It was about people recognizing the humanity in all of us and our laws reflecting that recognition. However, we failed to finish the work of bridging divides and building the Beloved Community. This is the work of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation.

I moved back to Selma from Nashville to lead this effort because I realized that all of the wonderful work that public defenders do, that I loved doing, didn’t mean much if we don’t have truth and reconciliation, if we don’t heal the cancer of racism and internalized oppression. In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander explains that we have recreated a caste system through mass incarceration and that we have to change hearts not just laws. When Bryan Stevenson recently spoke at the Center, he said: “Slavery didn’t end. It just evolved.” In order for slavery and institutionalized racism to really end, we must each share our truths, and we must each listen. There can be no reconciliation and healing without truth.

However, while we are engaged in a longer, deeper healing process of truth and reconciliation, we recognize that people are suffering now. Therefore, we:

  • Help organize and mobilize institutions to show their power in numbers to address violence and other issues plaguing our city while training indigenous, neighborhood leaders in nonviolence and conflict resolution (including using the arts with young people) so they can lead the effort to change what most directly impacts their lives.
  • Advocate in and out of court for those who have less-than-zealous appointed attorneys and assist in counseling, job/financial stabilization and other services needed to achieve self-sufficiency.
  • File lawsuits to eradicate debtor’s prisons and police brutality.
  • Represent children who have been expelled from school while organizing the community to change the policies that require kicking them out for even nonviolent offenses.
  • Facilitate a collaboration started by the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty to address issues related to poverty like the lack of a homeless shelter in Selma and the need for community policing.
  • Are creating a farm-to-table cooperative where indigenous leaders, including those formerly incarcerated can be owners not just employees, a place where people cease to be “the other” while breaking bread together.

In the 1960s, many tried to persuade Bernard Lafayette from coming to Selma, declaring Selma hopeless because “Whites were too mean and Blacks were too scared” for anything to change. However, Lafayette came to work in Selma in 1962 determined to help make lasting changes.

Although many still consider the situation in Selma hopeless, Lafayette is still determined and a spirit of hope has emerged. He recognizes that there is still work to be done. Dr. Lafayette, who was instrumental in creating “Selma 1.0,” has returned to help create “Selma 2.0” as Master Trainer and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Center.

Selma has the social capital to make Selma 2.0 a reality, but we lack the financial resources to break the cycle of poverty and violence. We need funding for the people who are committed to creating Selma 2.0. New nonprofits are often reluctant to ask for flexible multi-year funding. However, foundations must recognize that the people who are a part of our organization have been doing this work for decades and since we’ve come together, change is indeed coming.

Now we realize that this long, tedious work may not be sexy to funders, but it is necessary to bring real and lasting changes to our community. These changes can then be modeled for other communities that frequently send people from around the world to Selma looking for answers.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community … the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.”

The Center is committed to continuing the movement and finishing the unfinished business of bridging divides and building the Beloved Community. We invite you to join the movement! Invest in Selma as Selma has invested in the world!

Ainka Jackson, Esq., is executive director of The Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth & Reconciliation at the Healing Waters Retreat Center. Follow @SelmaCNTR and @NCRP on Twitter.

Image by toml1959, modified under Creative Commons license.