Today is my last day working at WonderRoot and the Arthur M. Blank Foundation on Off the Wall before heading back to school. Off the Wall: Atlanta’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Journey’s main goal is to create community amongst our city by emphasizing the idea of uplifting civil rights and human rights as a shared purpose that we can all advance to tell an everlasting story of coming together for change. As I reflect on my time, here are somethings I pondered as our city thinks through how we continue to have these hard yet urgent conversations about justice for all. Below are some of the things I see happening throughout the initiative that are important for me to think through when I think about the community based work I hope to do in the future.
The first ongoing conversation I faced was the conversation around Civil Rights versus Human Rights. As you can tell by the project’s title, we did not explicitly use Human Rights when launching this project. It was not until we really began talking to our partners, especially those who represent immigrant communities in the city did we see how excluded our partners felt when we did not use that language. The goal of this project is to discuss issues related to the black liberation movement, race, women’s rights, LGBTQ, immigrant and refugee rights, workers’ rights, rights of the differently abled, and any other injustices visible in our community. I think living in Atlanta, people think of the Civil Rights Movement and instantly go to the Black Liberation Movement of the 50’s and 60’s. It was an important learning experience for me, and the rest of my team to realize that the language we use in this project is powerful and has to be thoughtful so that we are inclusive of all those in our city who struggle for justice.
Second, is finding balance between cultural preservation and elevating the intersectionality of these stories. A lot of our murals will be placed in neighborhoods that have a long standing legacy from the civil rights movement. At the same time, we have a global city with other newer stories that have space in our city as well. It is important to us to honor the legacy of those neighborhoods. We also understand that a lot of these stories are intersectional. That is to say, our predominantly black neighborhoods should not only have a “black neighborhood”, and same with our LGBTQ, Immigrant, etc. spaces in the city, but should share all of these stories with each other to acknowledge other people’s struggles and build a sense of collective understanding that everyone should care about each other’s struggle for justice.
Lastly, the healing process. These community conversations that we have hosted over the summer and early fall have been both empowering and traumatic. We have asked people to be honest about their communities, identity, and the injustices they face. This was the most important lesson for me. When we talk about community revitalization work, economic stability and education are important; however, I believe we cannot have complete progress without asking people to reflect on their trauma and begin their healing process. These community conversations are only an hour long, and the road to healing and long an hard. When I think about the community based work I want to do in the future, healing is a priority I believe all community based workers need to be fulfilled within their programs.
It was an amazing summer, and I am excited to connect with WonderRoot and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation next summer to continue the great work that they have to offer for our great City.