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Sep 212015
 

A couple weeks ago, I got fooled into eating some alligator at a festival (I thought it was a super-sized chicken finger) and also frog legs (which I thought were chicken wings).  The taste is different, although does resemble some taste of chicken in the mix; but they are certainly not something I would choose to eat.

Interestingly enough, I grew up eating these foods, in addition to turtle, rabbit, squirrel, snake, and occasionally, bear.  I ate these foods because we were very poor and this was what “poor” people ate when they couldn’t afford to buy foods like chicken or beef.

Today these items are sold as a delicacy in some fancy restaurants, or at festivals, and are very expensive.  My stomach still turns at the idea of having had to eat these things, especially bear!  But when we were hungry, and it was one of our only sources of protein, we welcomed it into our hungry bellies.

In the United States, the richest country in the world, one in five children goes to bed every night hungry or malnourished.  It’s a hard fact to swallow.  I am haunted by the billboard I see as I drive out of my community that says one in four children go to bed hungry in North Carolina.

How can a country this rich and privileged allow that to happen? 

There are many wonderful programs out there trying to address the problem:  school lunch programs, food stamps, soup kitchens, food pantries, etc., but it is not enough!

We have to look at the root of the problem.  Why is our government actually not paying attention to this?  Why is there such a push to cut programs like food stamps, school food programs, and welfare while often blaming poor people as being stupid or lazy?  Or, accusing the fact that so many children are hungry (and homeless) as somehow being their parents’ fault and therefore not their responsibility.

Just to set the record straight: my father was not lazy.  He worked seven days a week as a tenant farmer and picked up other odd jobs.  He worked 12 to 16 hour days.  I started working in tobacco and in the fields when I was 10-years old.

Even though we worked all the time, we often did not have enough to eat in my years growing up and being malnourished for months on end. We were going to bed hungry because after dividing the small pot of food into the plates of two adults and three growing children, it was just not enough to satisfy our hunger. We would often depend for days on end on a staple of pinto beans, which we could grow and store.  For a long time after, I couldn’t eat them, although I have grown to like them again.

Today, our movement refers to this phenomenon as “food insecurity”.  I call it hungry or malnourished.  Growing up, I thought hungry looked like the poor starving children advertised on television with large crying eyes and bloated stomachs.  I had no reason to complain. I don’t want to discount the necessity to addressing starvation as an international crisis as well.  But we also need to understand the impact of hunger and malnourishment in children today.

How do we understand hunger?  How do we look at the fact that the majority of states that have the highest rates of hunger, also have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in children?

I never went out to a restaurant or actually had a steak until I was 17 and was invited by a friend’s family. I was appalled at spending $10 on a meal.   I never had Chinese food, pizza, or other ethnic food served in restaurants, or even things like broccoli and asparagus, as we didn’t grow those things in the hot South.  I was 27 before I tasted any of these foods.  At the age of 44, my wife and I went out to eat, I became hysterical and ran to the car just because she would dare to not order the cheapest entrée, but also ordered an appetizer, a soda, and a dessert.

My most spectacular memory of food though was when I was a teenager and my father had enough money to go to the gas station on Fridays nights and buy 10 cooked hotdogs with buns for $1.  On special occasions, he also bought a Baby Ruth candy bar which 5 cents and had two small bars in the package.  For dessert, my parents would get one bar cut into two pieces.  And us girls would get a bar cut into three pieces.  Ecstasy!

Some harder memories are the fact we ate dirt as small children.  Why? We craved the nutrients in the red clay dirt of rural piedmont North Carolina.  Poor pregnant women especially craved the clay that I now know is rich in calcium, iron, copper and magnesium. These are essential minerals for the human diet but even more critical during pregnancy.

First and foremost we need to start talking about this issue!  We need to educate ourselves about how serious this problem is.  How did you experience hunger, if ever? 

I encourage you to write your comments – about ever being hungry, about having an overabundance of food, about how much food you waste, or about actions we can take to solve these problems in the comment sections below.

Help us at Spirit in Action continue this conversation and continuing our work organizing poor people to address these issues through our local program in the Appalachia, We the People: Working Together.

Next week, I will send out part 2 of this hunger blog as part of a series of blogs about experiencing poverty.  Please resend this blog to your contacts.  Thanks.

Jun 112015
 
WTP 2015 photos stills 8

We the People April 2015 Community Visioning in Swannanoa, NC

Click here to read the entire Spring 2015 Newsletter

A Letter from Linda Stout

Dear Friends,

We are at a time of great unrest and unimaginable opportunity. In the words of YES! Magazine, “A new civil rights movement is being born.”

We watch in horror as practices that are ages old are brought to light through new technology like cellphone videos. Savvy young people are drawing increased attention to police brutality, poverty, and a country built on systemic and institutionalized racism.

The outpour of protest seen from Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL to Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond has brought hope that practices targeting and criminalizing African-Americans will be rejected at last.

Young people rallying their generation (and ours) for transformation can take us down a new path where everyone is treated equally and with dignity.

While protests to bring attention to what is happening are critical, this is an issue that requires a long-term solution. We need movement infrastructure in order to organize and build power for long-term and systemic change. Supporting youth leadership development is one vital step. But we must also mobilize for voter registration and voter turnout to elect local officials and government as well as state and national representatives who will be accountable to their communities.

The protests have called for a new level of democratic participation.  In 2016 we have a chance to begin to elect folks at the local level that truly represent people. North Carolina has been referred to as “ground zero” for the 2016 elections, due to changes in demographics and population, a major senatorial and governor race, and state representatives that can turn around repressive policies.

Spirit in Action will be working in collaboration with other state organizations to build a voice for power among disenfranchised people.

Peace, Power and Love,

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

Linda Stout

Executive Director

 

May 212015
 

Last month, on April 22nd, We the People held our first community visioning!  With over 40 people in attendance, our potluck-style gathering was a huge success.  The positive energy in the room was tangible and every single attendee had something affirmative to say in our closing.  “Inspiring,” “exciting,” and “motivating,” were just a few of the words floating around the room.

Spirit in Action’s We the People organizing initiative is located in the unincorporated community of Swannanoa, North Carolina.  We have been conducting a listening project in collaboration with Warren Wilson students for over a year now, and has interviewed well over 200 community members in Swannanoa.  Through this listening project, we’ve identified the top concerns, and this big event was our first step towards making the transition from listening to action.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

Of course, this event was aligned with Spirit in Action’s values of listening, collective visioning, and building trust.  We held the potluck in the basement of the Swannanoa United Methodist Church, which is where the Welcome Table (featured in our last blog post) is located.  It was a laid back, upbeat atmosphere.  After we all had our fill of food, Linda led the room in a creative visioning process, asking community members to envision a happy, healthy Swannanoa.  Everyone closed their eyes and imagined what Swannanoa could look like 20 years from now.  We were each asked to picture a child we know in Swannanoa, and to dream of what we wanted this community to be like when that child was older.  Then, in typical Linda fashion, we pulled out the art supplies and drew that ideal community.  This envisioned community had sidewalks, traffic signs, hospitals, public transportation and a true sense of community. Just by drawing a town that had positive energy, the room filled with positive energy.

 

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

Once the creativity level was high and our minds were wide open with the possibilities, we voted on the top 3 community concerns (identified through the listening project) and formed 3 committees: public transportation, sidewalks, and the revitalization of downtown.  We split ourselves between those 3 committees and got to work.  As the ideas bounced between community members, you could feel the energy in the room!  Everyone had something to contribute and by the end of the evening, each committee had solid action steps to take forward.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

During the months of May and June, We the People interns will be busy researching next steps for these three issues in Swannanoa.  We will be hosting follow-up meetings with each committee and working with community members to develop leadership for these committees in order to start moving Swannanoa towards a better future!  Stay tuned for many more success stories to come.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

 

Feb 232015
 

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The best part of getting older (I just celebrated my 61st birthday!) is that I get to see young leaders that have come through one of our trainings or networks, now taking the reins of both new and old national organizations, as well as regional and local.  It is a thrilling moment to see these young leaders now being the leaders and keynote speakers at major national conferences and something I hope to keep contributing to from the place of an “elder” activist (I don’t feel old enough to deserve that term, but young people now talk about their elderly parents or grandparents that are younger than me!).  We have too much work to do to separate across generational lines.  And we have a lot to learn and teach each other.

As part of an effort to forge greater understanding across generational divides, and to generate a space to post more personal musings that might not be included on Spirit In Action’s website, I have created a new website – www.lindastout.org.  I invite you to check out this new website and let me know what you think!

I first began a personal website when I launched my last book, Collective Visioning.  I was finding a lot of people are reading the book and looking for a website that represented a forum for Collective Visioning. As my last book, Bridging the Class Divide, is coming up on its 20th anniversary, it is still used in over 800 colleges across the country.   While I plan to use the website as a space to discuss my books, it will also be a way to direct people to our work at Spirit in Action.

We are working hard to find more ways to communicate with people throughout our spheres of influence and this is just one of the ways.

While many of us struggle to stay “caught up” with the new digital communication, and some of us even reject it, I have found that if I want to stay in communication, especially with younger activists and leaders, I have to join in on the digital revolution.  Thanks to Tracy Van Slyke and others from Progressive Communicators Network who “made” me get on Facebook, and later to learn to tweet (or is it twitter?).  I will work hard to stay in touch better, both with those who like the snail mail approach and for those who use social media to communicate.

I especially want to thank the youth that I work with in teaching me to balance between my experiences, a new generations experiences, and to listen to their energetic wisdom they bring into our movement for change.  It is humbling and thrilling.  The movement is alive and thriving because so many young leaders have joined to bring new ideas, new insights, and renewed energy.

There is a place for all of us!

Please visit us at www.lindastout.org and www.spiritinaction.net for more ways to stay involved.

Peace, Power, Love,

Linda

Dec 182014
 

We the People: Working Together is an exciting new research and organizing project that endeavors to make the crucial and vital shift from division to unity in order to create and sustain equality and justice for all. Please see above video of how our organizing is helping communitiy members and students engage with each other for greater change.

Sep 242013
 

linda with drawing of her journey

I was blessed to learn from one of the greatest women of color who taught me my first baby steps into organizing. But it didn’t stop there. This is the beginning of my own cultural shift in how I understood and thought about things. In this blog, I tell this story and progress to the now.

I first began organizing in Charleston, SC when I was living in a Black community which primarily consisted of low-income apartments and projects. At my bus stop, I was always the only white person, and kept complaining to other bus riders about the fact that the bus didn’t take us down to Broad Street where I worked. Many of the folks that I rode the bus with worked even farther away.

People would mostly just smile, chuckle, or shake their heads at this young, naive white girl and tell me, “That’s just how it is.” Some were more direct: “’They’ don’t want busses full of black people coming into their neighborhoods.” And so we continued to ride on the bus, then get off and walk several blocks into those white neighborhoods where we worked.

But several people told me that if I wanted to do something about it, I had to go talk to Mrs. Clark. I walked by her house several times before getting the courage to knock on the door. A young person answered the door and took me to Mrs. Clark, who I immediately fell in love with — an elderly, caring, strong, and wise woman. It was almost a year later before I learned she was a very famous leader, Septima Clark, often referred to the as the “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mrs. Clark wanted to know my own story and then asked me to join them for dinner. After dinner she asked me why I was coming to visit her. When I explained what I thought was the unfairness of the bus system, she perked up and started telling me what I needed to do.

First, she told me to knock on all the doors of the community and to ask them how they felt about this injustice. Intially, this was difficult, but quickly became easier as I told people I was sent by Mrs. Clark.

Next, she helped me put together a proposal. She informed me that I would need to go to the NAACP to present it to them and see what they suggested.

This was in the 1970s, but I had no idea what the “NAACP” was. I grew up in the rural south and segregated schools. We never learned anything about civil rights. When I first went to the NAACP meeting, I was mostly ignored and felt too intimidated to ask anything or speak up. I went back to Mrs. Clark, whining, saying “I was the only white person there. They didn’t like me; they don’t trust me.” She quickly responded, “Well of course they don’t, what did you expect? Now, next time you go back….” I went back three times before a gentleman finally asked why I was there. When he heard Mrs. Clark had sent me, I immediately had the platform to present our proposal and eventually, a few years later after much hard work, we won – the busses began to run all the way past Broad Street and beyond.

It was one of my first steps in learning to be a white ally. I learned that I could not walk in immediately expecting people to trust me and waiting for them to show me that they liked me. And being a better white ally was essential to becoming a better leader.

Just as Mrs. Clark taught me, I have continued to learn a different way of working and of organizing from strong women of color leaders. It has been a wonderful, challenging, and joyful life-long journey.

After hiring a young, powerful woman of color leader to work as a program director at Spirit in Action, I continue to be challenged to go even deeper in my understanding. Taij Moteelall is an experienced leader and the founder of Standing In Our Power, a project of Spirit in Action. As a white Executive Director of organizations for thirty years, I still have privilege and power in my position and even while I try to “share power,” ultimately I have the final power in decision making. As I move into a time of transitioning into sharing leadership, Taij is stepping into a more powerful place of leadership within our organization. And while there have been moments of challenge, it has mostly been an amazing gift of love, learning and support.

siop group in circle of appreciation

The leaders emerging from Standing in Our Power are creating a new paradigm of leadership that is holistic, healing, and practical. It is more inclusive, loving, and powerful and will allow us all to move toward a truly inclusive, love filled and joyful movement.

As a white ally, I am called to act in a new way forty years after my lessons learned working with Mrs. Clark. As I stand in solidarity with the women of Standing in Our Power, I continue to be challenged in the way I think, to look at other ways of doing things that are outside of my “norm” only to learn a smarter, more effective, way. As a supervisor, my privilege and superiority sometimes let me say to myself “well, let them [a staff person] do it their way and when it doesn’t work, it will be a lesson learned”. My lesson is that instead of finding it doesn’t work, I find new ways of accomplishing the same goal – better than the way I might have done it. This helps me understand that the way I do things is not the “only way” or even the most successful way. It makes me begin to look at other approaches and understand new ways of doing things.

That is why I’m so proud that we can support women of color to come together and bring their amazing wisdom that has often been ignored or seen as “not the right way to do things” by white culture. I am standing with these powerful sisters and ask you to join me. I hope you will consider supporting this network as they get ready to kick-off a 10-month Transformative Leadership Institute.

Standing In Our Power will give us a new way of thinking that will help all of us: men, women, different cultures, ethnicities and colors. The way members of Standing In Our Power are recreating leadership is inclusive, healing and powerful. As we learn from this group of women new ways of leading, we will also be guided to build a movement based on peace, equity, and love that will allow all of us to move forward together.

I have been blessed to have many women of color in my life who are leaders and who sometimes harshly, but mostly lovingly, taught me what it means to listen and to follow. It has been the most valuable lessons I have learned and has taught me to be the kind of organizer and leader I am today.

This is the ultimate cultural shift we must make: learning to listen to those whose shoulders and backs we have often stood on to have the privilege and benefits as white leaders is a struggle that we need to embark on in order to be transformative leaders and true allies; learning to listen to the varied and often enlightened voices of women of color who can shed new insights and cast great light upon our vision for a more equitable and just future for all I will continue to share my journey of learning in future blogs. I hope you will join me in that journey.

If you are interested in supporting Standing in Our Power, please use the link below: