Thursday, February 9, 2012
Model City initiative kicked off
By SUE WATSON
A new concept of creating space for community members to talk about improving their neighborhoods and local economies is underway in Holly Springs.
Assisting is Future America, a non-profit organization with offices in Washington, D.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; Atlanta, Ga; and Tulsa, Okla.
The Model City Plan is being studied in Memphis and across Mississippi with emphasis on Holly Springs, according to Kilolo Ajanaku, national director of the Model Cities Initiative. The non-profit operates from private donations and volunteer leadership, she said.
The Model City concept is not new, but this particular effort from the Future America Initiative is oriented toward African American involvement in local government, culture, education, and planning to complete the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. that the U.S. Constitution be understood and lived out by all races and classes.
The movement is based on the research of Nkosi Ajanaku, born Isaac Taylor in Tunica, 77 years ago. Taylor earned a law degree from Memphis State University, then studied his own past to find answers to understanding who he is. The movement, which involves self study and study of culture, society, and government, has its roots in Memphis.
Nkosi Ajanaku wrote in the Commercial Appeal years ago, that the movement is about the distorted view blacks and whites have about slavery, its origins and how it is continued from generation to generation. He believes slavery is a voluntary condition and attitude of the mind and that the mind can be reoriented to a free identity. Education and knowledge is the key to achieving this new state of freedom for all races, he has taught.
He quotes from William Johnson’s book “King” – “The first thing we’re going to have to do to get anywhere is to squeeze the slave out of ourselves,” King is quoted as saying. “I know I haven’t squeezed it out of myself yet.”
Nkosi Ajanaku “squeezed the slave out of himself” in a number of ways, first questioning who he really is, then changing his dress and appearance to resemble the African, then coming to know how slavery arose and who is responsible for abolishing it. Each individual of all races is responsible for freeing themselves and then helping others to free themselves from the beliefs that keep slavery alive in America today, he said.
“One can make the other prisoner, but the prisoner must decide whether to be a slave and assume the behavior required,” he said. “I and my staff and supporters persist without resorting to the tactics employed by the African American agitators who rail against the injustice of ‘the white man.’
“I am building a foundation that will provide individuals the opportunity to pool resources and work collectively after embarking upon my process of debriefing oneself from slavery.”
Kilolo Ajanaku, who renamed herself after the style of the leader of the movement, explained that the movement is about “creating the social and financial wealth in this country for all people.”
In introducing the Model City concept at the kick-off meeting at Annie’s Restaurant several weeks ago, Holly Springs Mayor Andre’ DeBerry summarized how he sees the initiative.
“In a capsule, what we are trying to do is to make real the provisions of democracy,” he said. “We have to get real where the rubber meets the road.”
A 45-member committee is taking an introspective look at the city, Marshall County and Mississippi to see how the city, county and state can be a model both to itself and to other states, he said.
Developing a new model should not be the option of last resorts, but the first option, he said.
The outreach and call is to all races, political leaders, educators, bankers, churches, businesses and people, DeBerry said.
“This is not about me. It is about us,” he said.
Retired CME bishop Lynn Brown, of Memphis, supports the Model City Initiative wholeheartedly.
“He who prevents the shipwreck of others, also saves himself from the storm,” Brown said.
Kilolo Ajanaku said she left a government job of 14 years working with the juvenile justice system in the District of Colombia feeling like a failure, because she saw no progress.
“I had no book with the solution, so I decided I would go into ‘the movement,’ an intellectual and down-home movement that gets me to the essence of making a difference. Each of us has a role in making a difference in the world.”
The most important ingredient in the initiative is the who, she said.
“What is missing in this country is the importance of the human being,” she said. “Everybody is a baby to knowledge. We are talking about ourselves. I got on this bus just before you did. I’m leaving all the time. We study ... ourselves ...so we can have integrity in relationships and with others.”
Ajanaku said policies and laws should make sense so children can understand them.
“The idea of Holly Springs is the idea of living out what the founding fathers (called for), equality, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness,” she said.
She called for “real talk.”
“Let’s don’t go around the corner and talk about it,” she said. “Let’s solve it together.”
She said King said there were only two problems that needed solving. First people have to relate to each other to solve the race issue of black vs. white. Second, people have to learn how to live out their dream.
“Vice president Lyndon Johnson said in 1963 at the celebration of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, ‘A hundred years and the Negro is still in bondage to the color of his skin.’
“King said, yes, Johnson, you’re right,” she said.
Kilolo said the reason the work is needed is because of today’s leadership.
“It’s really ugly,” she said. “Somebody’s got to do better and I start with me.
“I didn’t know I could walk into Congress. I didn’t know you can go down there anytime you want to and say, look, I got something to say.
“Nobody teaches the Declaration of Independence. It’s mind-blowing what’s in that. We are talking about a whole orientation. Our youth need to know ... this power and how America works. You can’t do anything by yourself in America.
“We need to set up a neighborhood model. The who is you and me, who decide this is important. There is nothing wrong with our children, but they don’t know this stuff.’
The Model Cities Initiative has a volunteer staff of about 12 people, most of whom are in Atlanta. The chairman is in Washington, and there are people in Chicago and Tulsa.
DeBerry said that the community itself constructs its own model.
Scott Beggs approved of what was said, but wanted to know some specific goals the committee can look for.
Hunter Hollingsworth suggested that some young people be invited to the table as they want to know what they can do in Holly Springs if they come home to work and live.
Maureen McNally said the city needs a children’s park that caters to toddlers and one for older children. She suggested shallow safe sprinklers in the toddlers’ play area and lots of shade.
DeBerry explained the city has some plans for a new water park but not the funding in place, but a place to start.
Edythe Taylor of the Meadows said a park would both keep families in the city and draw industry, too.
“Don’t expect it to be like Alka-Seltzer,” she said, “where you plop it in a glass and fizz.”
“We all know what our problems are,” said Barbara Caldwell. “We are to pinpoint the important problems we can get solved and come up with steps. I think education is the number one problem. If we can educate our children, including our parents...you are looking at poverty, unemployment, pregnancy.”
Tim Liddy asked if the model deals more with personal development or with building a park.
DeBerry said the community “needs self-motivation to change the community into what it ought to be relative to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the pursuit of happiness.”
“It’s really about building a community from the bottom up,” said Kilolo Ajanaku. “Our goal is not to build your model, but to help stimulate the human being to get involved. Human beings are unlimited by what we can do, but we decide what we want to do. It is amazing what we can do and develop it in young people.”
Brown summed up the plan as he sees it, using Martin Luther King’s words – “To create a beloved community.”
“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives as King said.”
To learn more about the beloved community, visit the local website www.wearethebelovedcommunity.org.
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