#SouthStandUp: Racial Equity Practitioners and Partners Gather in Dallas for the GARE Southern Regional Meeting

By Fronsy Thurman posted 06-14-2024 07:38 PM


From May 14 to 16, 2024, GARE hosted Governing for Racial Justice: The Southern Regional Meeting in Dallas, Texas. Over 150 racial equity practitioners in government representing 21 GARE member jurisdictions in 6 states across the southern U.S., along with partner organizations and non-member jurisdictions gathered for the three-day event to strengthen relationships within and between jurisdictions, connect and share learning, and develop a shared understanding of challenges to and opportunities for racial justice work in the region. The hashtag #SouthStandUp, a key theme of the convening, marked the collective effort to drive racial justice in the South. 

Attendees gathered for a welcome reception on Tuesday evening that included rousing performances by poet laureate, Joaquin Zihuatanejo, and singer-songwriter, Kamica King. Keynote speaker, pastor, educator, and social activist, Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes delivered a powerful address entitled, “The South Got Something to Say.” Dr. Haynes urged practitioners to, “Celebrate and commemorate King’s vision. Activate your own vision of what this ought to look like.”  

Each day of the convening began with an early morning mindfulness session. Following that, Wednesday’s agenda opened with a land acknowledgment and a performance led by singer Michael Childs. of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson, - often referred to as the Black National Anthem. GARE Senior Director, Marsha Guthrie, and Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, Carolyn King Arnold addressed attendees ahead of the opening plenary, Dallas City Showcase, in which panelists, Thor Erickson, Assistant Director of Office of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization; Danielle Thompson, Director of Office of Procurement Services; Martine Phillippe, Director of Arts & Culture; Rosa Fleming, Director of Tourism, Conventions, and Events; and moderator, Dr. Lindsay Wilson, Director, Office of Equity and Inclusion discussed how they were operationalizing racial equity efforts across city agencies. For the late morning and afternoon, attendees were divided into two groups. The first group remained at the event site and participated in breakout sessions segmented by years of experience in local government, racial equity work, and jurisdiction commitment to racial equity. The breakouts were followed by a panel discussion on environmental justice and supporting impacted communities. 

The second group participated in a Dallas area historic cultural tour with Hidden History DFW. The tour group visited sites that were instrumental to the history of African American communities throughout the Dallas area, such as Freedman’s Memorial Cemetery, a burial ground for formerly enslaved African Americans during the late 1800s, which was rediscovered in 1990. The memorial, an evocative space designed by sculptor David Newton, honors the lives of those buried at the site by visually walking visitors through the African American experience of enslavement, beginning in West Africa through the Middle Passage to enslavement and violence, and finally, to healing. Sheila Williams of Austin noted how much of the history provided on the tour was new to her, “It really makes you rethink what you know. Misinformation has always been in the foreground.” 

The next tour stop was Griggs Park, named for Rev. Allen Griggs, a former slave who became a Baptist minister and educator, located in the historic Black neighborhood of State Thomas, an area absorbed by the rapidly developing Uptown neighborhood. Other sites included the Moreland Branch of the YMCA, and home of Dallas civil rights leader, Juanita Craft. Hidden History DFW owners, Don and Jocelyn Pinkard, with a deep knowledge of and affinity for local history, narrated the tour, skillfully weaving issues from Black wealth building to gentrification and displacement into the story of Dallas. One tour participant, Ricardo Garay of the City of Austin’s Equity Office, reflected that “it was really important to recognize history. Equity work needs a historical lens.” 

When the tour returned, practitioners reconvened for an afternoon breakout series. The day was closed out with an Equity is Evergreen evening mixer that featured keynote speaker Jerry Hawkins, Executive Director, Dallas Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation, in conversation with Olusola Tribble, GARE Director of Innovative Practice. In his presentation, Mr. Hawkins walked the audience through how historical and collective memory can shape inclusive narrative that leads to healing and systemic transformation. The most powerful Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli dancers performing in the tradition of Danza Azteca graced the stage. These dance forms and many of the performers are of the people who have inhabited Dallas for 3,000 years.  

The final day of the convening opened with New Strategies for Navigating Southern Local Government, a plenary discussion with Dr. Arelia Johnson from Harris County, TX, Andrea Blackman from Metro Nashville, TN, Lacey Williams from Charlotte, NC, and Sharon Williams from Durham, NC. in which panelists spoke deep truths about the daily realities of doing racial equity work in the South, “where we don’t have to be loud, but we can be smart and strategic,” as Dr. Johnson said, and that centers “ relationships threefold: Relationships with each other, relationships with our electeds, and our relationships with our communities,” to quote Sharon Williams. Each panelist grappled with ideas of truth-telling as innovation in systems accustomed to lying, fostering equity through all policies, and building seen and unseen networks across these municipalities. Andrea Blackman from Nashville said, “Once we see a thing, we can’t unsee it[...] the strategy is looking at history [...] and making [the South] understand her role in historic harm and making the government understand its role in that [historic and present] harm.”  

Two additional breakout series followed the plenary. Popular sessions included: Strategizing Around State Policy; Consensus Building, Creating Buy-In, and Navigating Pushback; and Welcoming as a Bedrock. Dr. Lindsay Wilson, Director, Office of Equity and Inclusion, City of Dallas, and GARE Senior Director, Marsha Guthrie closed out the event, reminding attendees that as they returned to their daily responsibilities, they should ”draw strength and inspiration from our ancestors and the South's deep-rooted history of resilience and activism, learning from the past to innovatively meet the needs of the present and future.”  

Southern Regional Photos

Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes