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The Philosophy of Southern Echo, Inc.

Southern Echo is a leadership development, education and training organization working to develop grassroots leadership throughout the State of Mississippi and the Southern region. The primary objective is to enable communities to make the political, economic, environmental and education systems accountable to the needs and interests of the African American community. Southern Echo emphasizes the importance of building strong community organization, through effective community organizing work, as the essential means through which to advance the fundamental goal of empowering the community.

A special emphasis for Southern Echo is the active inclusion of the young people in the community in this process on the same basis as adults. The young people have the fewest ties to the past, the least fear of the white community, and have the potential for creating a broad vision of a fair and just society. The young people are the present, as well as the future, and their effective participation is essential if the struggle to empower the African American community in Mississippi is to be successful.

Only when the African American community in Mississippi, and other parts of the South, is empowered and able to make the system accountable, can the community begin to fight racism effectively. Southern Echo works through its training and technical assistance programs to provide the information which community people need to develop the skills to become effective community organizers, enable people in their respective communities to assume leadership roles, and work together for the empowerment of the African American community.

Truthtelling is central to the empowerment process. In the training sessions and in the community, it is essential that community people develop the willingness and skills to overcome their fear and tell it like it is. Until people are willing to confront the real problems which their communities face, including who the gatekeepers are that hold back the community, it will be impossible to build a solid foundation within the community to fight for change.

At the same time, every community person has to deal with the fear which that person carries within as the result of generations of subjugation to the terror imposed on African Americans by the dominant white society. Learning to overcome that fear is an essential part of the Southern Echo training process.

Southern Echo's Community Tours:
Listening to the People; Identifying Common Threads;
Organizing Local Communities; Building Networks

Southern Echo's work since 1990 has carried its staff into 65 of Mississippi's 82 counties. During this time Southern Echo staff have prepared and conducted 47 residential training schools, more than 750 workshops, and more than 2,500 community meetings, regarding a wide range of substantive issues which local communities have defined as important to them.

During this period Southern Echo staff have published 29 separate Training Manuals, including this one, on community organizing, county, legislative and municipal redistricting, environmental racism, fighting the location of waste dumps in residential communities, creating a quality public educational opportunity for African American families, Get-Out-The-Vote, Non-Profit Corporate Board Practices and Procedures, the Mississippi governmental process, and Conflict Resolution.

Normally, at least one-third to one-half of the participants at each of the residential training schools are young people ranging from 6th grade middle school to college age. They work together with the adults in every phase of the training activities, which affords both the adults and younger people an opportunity to learn to work side-by-side, respect each other, and demonstrate that an inter-generational model can be effective.

In addition, training workshops, most often on weekday evenings or on Saturdays, are held throughout each year in numerous Mississippi communities in support of local organizing efforts at the request of local grassroots organizations.

Southern Echo establishes its programmatic goals each year. As part of that process, each year Southern Echo staff undertake a tour of the communities in which they have been working. During the tours Southern Echo staff participate in community meetings organized by local African American community activists and public officials. These meetings focus on what community people identify as their priority needs and interests. This is also an opportunity for Southern Echo staff to share with each community what is being identified as priorities in other communities. This cross-fertilization process is very important because it attacks the sense of isolation and uniqueness which people have in their respective communities, even when they are experienced activists and public officials.

These tours are very revealing. No matter where you travel in the state, African American communities identify the same issues. For example:

  • lack of decent, affordable housing;
  • lack of jobs, low-paying jobs, job discrimination;
  • lack of community organization or the deterioration of existing organizations;
  • lack of quality educational opportunities for the children and the community,
  • denial of access to information by county and municipal public officials;
  • discriminatory, often violent, mistreatment by law enforcement officials;
  • location of toxic waste disposal facilities in primarily black residential areas;
  • inferior recreational facilities for the black community or none at all;
  • the out migration of the young people because of lack of opportunity at home;
  • the inability to borrow money to support black enterprises.

In some of these counties community people satirically refer to their county as the "Free State of (name of county)", because they regard their county as isolated and unprotected by the rights, privileges and immunities of citizenship guaranteed in the United States and Mississippi Constitutions. At present the reality is that their rights are whatever the local white public officials say they are.

As part of this phenomenon, African Americans across the state insist that conditions are "the worst" in their county, beyond what anyone else has to experience. People are often surprised to find that in other counties people like themselves feel the same way about their respective counties, and identify the same goals, obstacles, and frustrations.

Unfortunately, one component of this attitude can be a degree of exasperation on the part of activists and public officials. The exasperation can pour over into hopelessness and disbelief in the ability of the community to overcome the obstacles to creating meaningful change in their communities. This can result in a cynicism about the possibility of change, and a fear of taking responsibility for reaching out to the broad base of the community to involve them in the fight to empower the community.

Another attitude that emerges in these discussions is the notion that the factions in the black community will not set aside their differences in order to struggle together for the common good of the community. This view explains away, in advance, all failures to win battles and focuses the blame on the black community, rather than on the white community, for the oppressive conditions which burden the community.

This concept also takes the so-called "leaders" off the hook for their failure to be effective, and blames grassroots people for the inability or unwillingness of the "leaders" to engage in effective community organizing to empower the community.

What Southern Echo has learned from the tours is that the underlying needs in each community are basically the same. Long-time activists and community leaders know how to mobilize the African American community around a specific, defined crisis. But activists and leaders acknowledge their frustration that they do not know how to engage in the kind of long-term community organizing which enables the community to change the basic power relationships within the African-American community and between the African American and white communities.

In response, Southern Echo has made the development of a cadre of skilled community organizers in every area of the State a primary goal of its training and technical assistance programs. Central to the development and training process is the creation of a clear vision of the problems facing the community, the changes which are needed to rectify these problems, and effective strategies for building strong organizations to fight for change.

Fundamental to this process is training on how to broaden the base of people involved in the work to build networks within each community, in order to involve the whole community, especially the young people. Last, but not least, when the organizational base in each community is sufficiently strong, the networks built across community lines to bring everyone together will be very powerful.

In the words of the African proverb:

A Thousand Spider Webs Linked Together
Can Trap and Hold the King of Beasts!

revised May 24, 2001

Southern Echo, Inc | PO Box 9306 | Jackson, MS 39286 | (601)-982-6400, Fax 601-982-2636 | E-Mail: souecho@bellsouth.net
Last modified: Aug 17, 2005

Copyright © 2001-2005 Southern Echo, Inc.