A transformational movement is underway in Selma, AL, redefining community engagement and forging connections that strengthen neighborhoods. Led by Felicia Gill, the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation's (SCNTR) Beloved Community Block Clubs (BCBC) are leading the charge with a commitment to fostering community bonds, addressing pressing issues, and propelling positive change. Starting in East Selma as a result of a Beloved Community Chat & Chew event on August 8, 2023, the BCBC initiative is doing the work of being and building the Beloved Community.
What is the Beloved Community?
The term "Beloved Community" is often associated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who used it to describe a vision of a society built on justice, equality, and love. It's a concept that emphasizes the importance of understanding, empathy, and cooperation among individuals from diverse backgrounds. It is a nonviolent concept, an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and people can fulfill their full human potential.
The Inaugural Beloved Community Block Club
The inaugural Beloved Community Block Club, the East Selma Neophytes, emerged from conversations during the Chat & Chew event hosted at the SCNTR. The event was a platform for community members to voice their concerns and needs, reflecting on their sense of safety, and sharing thoughts with neighbors which provided a reassuring environment to speak candidly. Neighbors rallied together, uplifting the importance of aiding each other, especially the elders in the community, when they hear or see something of concern. While a general sense of safety pervades, fears loom, ranging from the concern of unleashed dogs to unsolved violent acts, and unaddressed truancy issues overlooked by authorities.
Safety is an Issue
When asked about the suitability of their neighborhoods for children, chuckles filled the room. A unanimous agreement surfaced: It's the children who often trigger episodes of violence. Amidst concerns, the lack of adequate streetlights emerged as a pressing issue. Many streetlights lay destroyed, and the burden of replacement—around $200 for homeowners or landlords—rendered nights unsafe for walking or even leaving homes. Within the group of participants, three out of five had experienced some form of violence. One participant bore witness to the tragic murder of their mother within the family home.
Top Left: Ms. Ruby whose house was shot up earlier this year. The bullet holes are visible in the picture. Nothing has been done about this crime. According to a participant, she is not interested in moving, but she is fearful of violent crimes such as stray bullets. Also in the picture is Dianne Hurry, a neighbor who looks out for her.
Bottom Left and Right Side: Miss Felicia Gill and Sharon Caver, BCBC Captain of the East Selma Neophytes
Who is in the Club?
The East Selma Neophytes, comprising nine participants, emerged from these discussions with a shared mission—to establish a block club that would address these issues collectively. Their stories mirrored those of residents encountered during the East Selma canvassing efforts. These efforts defined the blocks and streets that would constitute the Beloved Community, encompassing areas such as Maxey Street, Water Avenue, Perham Avenue, Annie Cooper Avenue, Hardy Avenue, Caver Avenue, Gregory Avenue, Division Street, Plant Street, Lavender Street, and Ackers Alley.
Selma residents lead complex lives, with 29% living below the poverty line as of the most recent census. In the Beloved Community of East Selma, most residents have called the area home for over 15 years. Despite the challenges, the community remains warm and welcoming. A canvassing initiative brought these stories to light, with brief but meaningful conversations engaging at least 20 residents. Occupied homes stood amidst the backdrop of dilapidated structures and abandoned properties, with neighbors lamenting the impact on property values.
In the area of the East Selma Beloved Community Block Club, there are three businesses: B&B Grocery Store, The House of Endurance (an Airbnb), and Politz Baber and Sandwich Shop, as well as three vibrant churches—Second Missionary, Mt. Ararat Missionary Baptist Churches, and Plain Truth Holiness Church—cementing a strong spiritual presence within a 2.5-mile radius. Also located in the same area are 51 dilapidated structures which include homes, businesses, and a Selma City School project not the result of Selma’s 2023 Tornado that devastated large portions of the city. In contrast to that, there are 81 occupied dwellings which include houses, trailers, and apartments.
Looking ahead for the East Selma Neophytes, the first step involves a meeting to establish leadership and a value system, guided by Integrity, Compassionate Accountability, and Interdependence—values resonating across all Block Clubs within the SCNTR's network. With Sharon Caver at the helm of the BCBC East Selma Neophytes, members are poised for action. Training sessions are in the pipeline, and plans for a Resource Fair and Block Party—uniting all three churches within the Beloved Community—showcase the determination and commitment to creating a stronger, more connected Selma.
Through resilience and unity, the Beloved Community Block Clubs are setting the stage for meaningful change, one block at a time. The stories of East Selma Neophytes illuminate the power of community bonds in shaping Selma's future.
You can also send an email to Miss Felicia Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org