The local social justice non-profit Chattanooga Organized for Action announced today that the group has been awarded the “We Shall Overcome Fund” grant from the historic Highlander Research and Education Center. The grant, in an amount of $2,000, will go towards a local history visual arts and documentary project tentatively entitled “the Westside Stories”, where artists and documentarians within the organization will record the history of struggle and resistance against racism and poverty in the historic Westside community, located in downtown Chattanooga.
Founded in 2010, the group "seeks to work with members of marginalized and oppressed communities to create grassroots leadership and give everyday people the power to make their communities a better place."
The organization has recently completed a two-year-long organizing project in the Westside community, where COA organizers worked with local leadership to develop the Westside Community Association. Now an official city-recognized Neighborhood Association, and with plans to become an official tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit organization, COA officials said the WCA "was instrumental in leading the charge against the recent Purpose Built Communities gentrification effort. Purpose Built Communities is an Atlanta-based housing redevelopment organization invited to Chattanooga by the Mayor's office to propose plans for the destruction of the Westside's historic public housing developments. Working together with COA organizers, WCA leaders went door-to-door in a city-wide effort and gathered over 1,200 signatures supporting the right to housing. The campaign culminated in the “March to Support the Right to Housing”, which saw over 100 residents of public housing and their allies march to the Chattanooga City Council to demand protections for low-income housing. The march was successful and Purpose Built Communities subsequently backed down from their plans."
“The Westside has a tremendous amount of stories of historic struggle, like the “Not for Sale” campaign,” said Terry Davis, COA member and CEO of UnaVerSoul Productions. “But there are stories of amazing resistance against poverty and racism that people just don't know about. We want Chattanooga to know the stories of these amazing people.”
Titled the “Westside Stories” project, the project "will aim to collect the historic stories of the fight for social justice from members of the Westside community. Particular areas of interest will include documenting the devastating impact of 1950s and 60s Golden Gateway Urban Renewal project on the Westside community, to the Civil Rights-era leaders demands for the end of Jim Crow, to the tenant's organizing for better housing conditions in College Hill Courts in the 1970s, to the 1980s fights against police brutality. The documentary will feature interviews with both current and former Westside residents and will highlight the current fight by the Westside Community Association to fight against gentrification and the loss of their homes. Copies of the documentary will be provided to both the local African-American History Museum and the Downtown Public Library so that the story of the Westside can be made a part of the permanent fabric of the Chattanooga legend."
Formerly known as the Highlander Folk School, this social justice leadership training school provided training in non-violent practices of social change to decades' worth of labor movement leaders, environmental justice leaders, and the future leaders of the Civil Rights movement.
“We want to carry on the tradition of the Highlander Folk School,” said Megan Hollenbeck, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action. “Not only do we want to train future leaders for justice, but we want to make sure that that the freedom fighters who sacrificed so much for us in the past are honored by having their stories preserved for all time's sake.”
Work is set to begin on the project in the coming month, with a fully-produced documentary expected to be finished by the winter of 2012.