May 20, 2008  

Contact: Mikhiela Sherrod 229 430 9870

Equal Voice for America's Families
A Diverse Gathering in Albany, Georgia to Share Problemtic Issues in the Rural South

ALBANY, GEORGIA….On April 5, 2008 more than 150 community members and representatives of the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative (SRBWI) from across Southwest Georgia came to Albany to participate in a Town Hall discussion on issues negatively impacting their lives in rural Georgia. There were individuals from the African American, Latino and white communities representing seven or eight counties in the area. The event was funded by the Marguerite Casey Foundation and sponsored by the SRBWI the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund and other groups in the community helped with promotion.

Attending the Town Hall were a number of high school and college students, a large group of seniors, working women and men from all socio-economic levels present to voice their concerns.  SRBWI members Mayor Mary Jo Haywood (Camilla, Georgia), Commissioner Vickie Kemp (Rochelle, Georgia), Councilwoman Linda Bruton (Pineview, Georgia), and Education Board Chairperson Grace Miller (Newton, Georgia) sat on a listening panel with other elected officials.

The event opened with middle school children singing a song in Spanish about “Peace in the World.”  Community members were then invited to give testimonies on issues that concerned them such as: farm and land; jobs and livable wages, education and child care, domestic violence and immigrant women, transportation, housing, healthcare and environmental justice.

In one testimony, farmer Larry O’Neil spoke about the cost to stay in business and citing that free trade has driven up both costs and competition.  In a related testimony another man spoke on the need for information on the importance of writing wills and retaining ownership of Black land after his family had disputes over heir property.  

Other testimonies included a woman who spoke passionately about single mothers needing help with child care when trying to get a college degree, citing the importance of programs like Head-start. The frustration around "Mexicans" taking all the jobs that were available (cheap labor) came up and was addressed by Latina women who spoke about the need for all people to work together irrespective of race and culture. They reminded us that the country was founded by immigrants and that these Mexicans were treated inhumanly in the U.S. as they sacrificed to support poor family members also in search of a better life.

“The significance of the event was that it gave us a chance to be together,” said Mikhiela Sherrod Coordinator and Organizer of the SRBWI. “Rarely does this happen. We are usually in isolation in our own communities. The gathering provided an opportunity for everyone to hear the concerns of others. This included not only the sharing of experiences between people from different racial and ethnic groups but also between the young and old. It was a rich and rewarding experience. In fact,” she continued, ”some of the attendees were so enthralled with this opportunity to share and meet with others that there is already discussion about repeating gatherings like this.”

If you were not able to attend the Albany event, you still have a chance to be involved in this important process.  On September 6, 2008, Town Hall participants and other interested community members are invited to travel to Birmingham, Alabama to meet with 4,000 other families that want their voice heard in the upcoming Presidential Election. For more information contact Mikhiela Sherrod at (229) 430-9870. 

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 40th year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.
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