Southern Echo has developed a vision for change based on the experience of its staff in working in community struggles during the past 40 years. Change can only come about when the African American community takes responsibility for and control of its own destiny. The African American community must develop its own leadership and organizations and not allow gatekeepers, black or white, to undermine the ability of the community to build strength through unity and unity through organization.
A primary objective of the work of Southern Echo is the empowerment of the African American community. When the community is empowered the community can have an impact on the formation of public policy at all levels of government, and make the political, economic, educational and cultural systems accountable to the needs and interests of the African-American community. The community can become empowered only through the organization of the community. Therefore, effective community organizing is the foundation of the process of change.
Truthtelling is an important part of the empowerment process. Truthtelling requires being honest with oneself, and with the community. At times this will make some black and white people very uncomfortable. But if reality is not at the foundation of the vision and the strategy for change, then the efforts are doomed to failure.
For example, in Mississippi racism concerns the need of the white community to dominate and control the black community. Racism is at the root of the problems facing the black community. Therefore, the community must acknowledge that an integral part of the empowerment struggle is fighting racism. The purpose of this kind of truthtelling is not to absolve African Americans of primary responsibility for their future, but to create an understanding that the white community will not voluntarily yield or share their domination and control.
From the outset Southern Echo has not seen itself as the primary instrument of change. Rather, in our vision it is the decentralized, African American-based, grassroots community organizations, working separately in control of their own agendas, but linked together across the State of Mississippi, and eventually the southern region, able to share their strengths and resources to enhance their work, that will ultimately transform the culture and empower their communities.
From the beginning we have talked of educating and training a cadre of community leaders and organizers, based in the local communities from which they came, and bridging all age groups. These individuals will develop the tools and skills of community organizing to work for the empowerment of an African American community, knitted together like a giant spiderweb across the flatlands and hills of Mississippi.
We feel that only in this way can we achieve the goals for which Southern Echo was created. We know from experience that not everyone with whom we begin to work will be able to stay with the work. Some will participate for a while and then leave, for a variety of good reasons. Others will work for a while, do something else, then come back to the work. But some who begin the work, we believe, once inside the crucible of struggle, will be uplifted in a way that will cause them to stay the course. It is these individuals that we hope will become the core of the new and emerging leaders needed to transform the culture. But, first, it is necessary to enable people to transform themselves.
At the heart of the process for the individual in transformation is the development of an understanding of the true nature of the African American struggle to empower the community, in terms of where we have been, where we are, and where we need to go. It is the responsibility of Southern Echo, we reason, to create a process of training, technical and legal assistance, flexible, adaptable and accountable, to support the education, development, and the work in community, of those individuals who are prepared to work to empower the community. Out of the work, we anticipate, will emerge those who will experience the greatest personal transformation and who, therefore, will be prepared to struggle to stay the course. Such individuals, working collaboratively within their communities and with each other, we maintain, will provide the leadership at the grassroots level to build accountable organizations through which the community can transform the culture of their respective communities, and therefore, the state as a whole.
Effective organizing enables grassroots people to sustain work together through locally-controlled organizations before, during and after high-visibility crisis mobilizations have come and gone. The tools and skills of effective organizing are designed to enable grassroots community organizations to pool their strengths and resources across traditional political and geographic barriers to impact the formation of public policy at the local community level, and at the state and regional levels in support of the work done at the local level.
From the outset of our work ten years ago, building relationships with public officials has been a critical objective. After all, public officials at the town, county, state and federal levels have a decisive impact on the formation of public policies which impact the grassroots African American communities across the state and the region.
Consequently, we also focus in our community organizing work on building organizations and leadership that can hold public officials accountable to the needs and interests of the African American community. As part of this process, we seek to identify through the work individuals in the community who demonstrate that they can and will be accountable to the community. We define accountability as putting community interest over self interest. We encourage such individuals to aspire to public offices at all levels of government in Mississippi. In many of the towns and counties in which we have been working, African Americans had never been permitted to run for such offices, not to mention actually win an election for such offices.
Southern Echo, Inc | PO Box 9306 | Jackson, MS 39286
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Southern Echo, Inc.