Community group fights to develop the Black Belt area

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004

There are a variety of community development efforts under way in Selma and Dallas County that stem from the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The most recent is organization of the Four Rivers Global Leadership Association Inc. which expects to achieve nonprofit status in the next six months. It involves weekly mass meetings, daily leadership meetings and an effort to establish community development associations in Selma and most communities in Dallas County, centers in schools or other such institutions with staff, and, eventually, a countywide association in which all the local groups are represented.

The term &uot;community development&uot; has historically had a range of meanings, but the newest effort is focused on Selma and Dallas County and has the goal, according to its organizers , &uot;To enhance the quality of life and to bridge the gap between the secular and sacred world with a holistic approach toward global leadership and social entrepreneurship nurturance.&uot;

The goal is help move the civil rights movement, which focused on voting rights and desegregation, to the renewal of whole communities, especially those citizens who have suffered from economic deprivation and social degradation.

The strategy is to organize community development associations in Selma and other Dallas County communities, to train executive staff to provide administrative support for each association and center, and then to weave community associations and staff together into a countywide organization.

The Dallas County association would become the model for neighboring Black Belt counties.

According to Rep. Yusuf Salaam who has been a key organizer of the

new movement for social and economic development, what happens in Dallas County in the coming months and years could serve as a model for economically disadvantaged communities across the country.

The community development effort known as Four Rivers Global Leadership Association began with Monday night mass meetings in January 2003.

The meetings, until recently, have been held at the Word

of God Christian Center, 2814 Citizens Parkway, in the old Gibson shopping center.

In the past year, a number of high-profile speakers have been invited in to address a group of 50-100 on various topics relating to needs faced by citizens in Selma, Dallas and surrounding counties. Salaam says that a couple of thousand individuals have attended these meetings over the last year.

A more recent development is the bringing together of a group of what are being called &uot;community builders&uot; &045; a Selma-area leadership group, each of whom is in a position to donate time and energy to work together with 10-12 others as a vanguard of community builders.

These are people with particular skills and expertise who are committed to helping communities to develop a new vision of what they want their communities to become and to bring together resources to accomplish forward steps.

The community builders group meets daily at noon in the Selma Islamic Center. This group makes plans for the movement and receives information about matters of interest going on in the community. For example, a recent meeting involved a report from two officials from Selma University about work that has been going on over the past several years to regain accrediting, to raise funds and to rebuild the academic program.

As Salaam pointed out at that meeting, the civil rights movement had and continues to have deep religious roots, and he believes that Selma University is a critical asset that must be revitalized in the years to come.

The reports of progress were promising.

The first center opened recently at Clark Elementary School, in cooperation with school officials.

It is an after-school program designed to provide educational resources for children, to increase their knowledge about the community of Selma and its needs.

The idea behind these community associations and related centers &045; located in schools or other facilities &045; is to focus on the developmental needs of individual communities and at the same time allow each community to be able to draw upon the resources of the larger group. Salaam believes strongly that if there is to be genuine community development in Selma, Dallas County communities and in the Black Belt more generally, the movement will have to emerge from the grass roots.

Salaam believes it is appropriate to seek assistance through governmental channels but grass-roots participation of people dedicated to improving their own lives, their neighborhood, their cities and beyond is just as important, if not more important. Salaam and those with whom he is working have a clear vision of what they are trying to accomplish, are making major time commitments and are willing to work for an extended period of time to achieve their objectives.

To find out what the Four Rivers Leadership Development Association Inc. is currently doing, attend one of the Monday night meetings now being held weekly on Monday nights at 7 p.m. through the end of February at Clark Elementary School.

The meetings will become monthly in March and the new schedule will be announced soon.

For information call Gabriel Fair at (334) 418-4788.