Demetria Ledbetter of Beloved Community Center (BCC) in Greensboro, North Carolina is writing a series of email letters to her community to update them on BCC’s new job training program as it unfolds. She is publishing those letters on CoLab Radio as well. Her letters reveal how thoughtfully planned and dynamic this training program is. This week, Ledbetter worked with the trainees on a local community garden. She found that the students had more to teach her than she did them.
We have started week two of the Pathways to a Green Career job training program. Week two curriculum focuses on community gardening and community building. We developed a survey asking members of the East White Oak community which vegetables they would like planted in their community garden.
My task this week was to draw a connection between this survey and the community building discussion led by Beloved Community Center Executive Director Nelson Johnson. With this task in mind, I focused one how communities can be built around a common purpose. The garden serves as a mechanism to create power and unity. When communities are ‘one,’ a paradigm shift will occur, and this is one way communities are built and how ‘real power’ is realized.
Our Equipped for the Future program curriculum standard today was ‘Speak Clearly So Others can Understand’. The participants were broken into three groups. Today, my group today consisted of six African American males. Before venturing out into the East White Oak Community, we did a session on role playing and developed a script to make sure everyone knew what to say when conducting the survey.
Before canvassing the community with the community garden vegetable survey, everyone quickly admitted their shyness. Within five minutes I could really tell these guys were really intelligent. My response to their shyness was, “You guys are really smart!” Their response to me: “Ms. Demetria, when given a chance, reason or an opportunity to be smart, we know how to be smart.” So I asked, “What do you mean?” Mike, one of the participants quickly answered, “Yes! We are smart, but we are not given the chance to be smart. When you are smart people often think that you are trying to be a know-it-all, and basically people don’t want to be around people that act like that. I know how to be smart and when it’s time to be smart, I become smart. ” At that moment the group quickly echoed Mike’s response and they all agreed.
Here I was in a room with six African American Males who are very passionate about their task at hand, and equipped with the skills and knowledge to do anything, but clearly adamant about needing a reason to be ‘smart’. While we planned this training program for over a year, I never thought about the life lessons I would personally gain during these six weeks. I came to impart, but before leaving they imparted so much more to me.
I gained so much more clarity and understanding on what happens when equity and wealth is created for those who don’t have access at the table. Not only did Beloved Community Center’s garden and community building component demonstrate equity and wealth, but it gave those six guys a reason to be ‘smart’. For me, it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Knowledge is Power’. It also gave me a personal goal: How can I create platforms and reasons for our Young African American men to be ‘smart’. I hope this story will give many of you reasons to do the same.