Think of Selma, Alabama and your mind will likely turn to historic images from the civil rights movement. You will think of Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery Marches, and the Voting Rights Act. Think of Selma and you will think of history. But for the nearly 19,000 residents of this town – It is home.
Two years ago, our nation’s first black president, along with civil rights leaders, celebrities, and activists descended on Selma, Alabama to walk across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. A historic day indeed, and one that many never imagined could ever come.
But after the crowds and cameras left, after banners came down and the dust settled – Selma went back to being just what it was – an historic town, marred by historic violence, full of residents and community members going about their daily lives. Their lives are nothing short of extraordinary.
In 2014, Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, was named the poorest county in Alabama. In 2016, it was named the most dangerous place to live in Alabama and the 8th most dangerous city per capita in the entire United States. Yet in Selma, organizations, community members, and elected officials are working to make Selma the “beloved community” that its residents so deserve.
One such organization is the Selma Center for Nonviolence Truth and Reconciliation. Founded in 2015 in the aftermath of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the Selma Center’s founding launched a movement, “Selma 2.0” as it’s called, to finish the unfinished business – to bridge divides, and build the beloved community.
Selma has been the target of historic violence and trauma – physical, emotional, political, and racial. With such history, the currents of racism and divisions can run deep. The Selma Center has made it their mission to not just march forward, but to heal the wounds of division while doing so. As Executive Director Ainka Jackson said, “laws were changed but not hearts and minds.”
To combat hate the Selma Center works across diverse communities to have the difficult and at times uncomfortable conversations. They host “Beloved Community Dinners” where community members of diverse backgrounds and political ideologies come together to break bread, learn together, and establish meaningful relationships based on truth and understanding. Community members attend anti-racism trainings, Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation training, and strategize effective rapid response techniques. Utilizing a “train the trainer” technique, the Selma Center continues to build its reach and create a cultural shift that will benefit the entire community.
Jackson elaborated on their mission, “The world bombards us with hate – until there are relationships and you are able to see the humanity in each other, then we cannot move past it.”
The work of the Selma Center is doing just that – demonstrating the humanity of a community that has largely been forgotten. “Some people forget, others are shocked. They come here with the idea that it is some sort of utopia – They take a picture with the bridge and then leave.” But as Jackson elaborated, “people don’t invest in Selma – we’re working to change that.” Jackson makes it her mission to highlight that Selma is truly an asset rich community – the people, the passion, the potential.
In our current political climate of heightened tensions and increased divisiveness, many, myself included, look to the civil rights era as a source of motivation. 52 years ago, the world’s eyes were on Selma, Alabama and under unbelievably difficult circumstances, Selma changed the world. There is truly something special about this community and its ability to bring about change. When in need of motivation, I need look no further than the work being done through Selma 2.0. As Jackson says, “Selma will change the world again,” and I believe her.
To learn more about the work of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation, visit their website at: https://www.selmacenterfornonviolence.org/.
This blog was originally posted on Huffington Post.