RDLN Assembly in Georgia
Rural Leaders from thirteen states joined in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the first community land trust in the country, New Communities in Albany, Georgia, from October 4-7, 2019. As representatives of the Rural Development Leadership Network (RDLN), they participated in a festive gala on October 4, where the keynote speaker was Andrew Young, a civil rights leader, former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Mayor of Atlanta, Congressman, and U.S. Representative to the United Nations. Our host at New Communities was RDLN graduate and Board Vice Chair Shirley Sherrod. We are proud of her work, her history, and this bicentennial landmark!
Charles and Shirley Sherrod and other members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) led the formation of New Communities, as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights movement in 1969. In 1985, the group lost the land because discrimination by state officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture kept them from funds for planning, farming, and business development. Through the Minority Farmers lawsuit, they received compensation for this great loss, and they purchased the new land in 2011. As a sign at the entrance to the New Communities property proclaims: "This land was owned by the largest slave owner in Georgia, and is now owned by descendents of slaves".
New Communities Gala
Speaking on RDLN's panel, "Multicultural Voices from the Land" on October 5 were Marie Cirillo, founder of Woodland Community Land Trust in Appalachia, the second community land trust in the U.S.; Twila Martin-Kekahbah, former Chair, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, who spoke about American Indian land struggles (Moderator); former Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council, who spoke on Access to Land for Affordable Housing; John Zippert, Program Director Emeritus, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, who spoke about Black Land Retention and Cooperatives; Anita LaRan, Executive Director, Collaborative Visions, who spoke about Land Grants and Holistic Farming; Dorothy Grady-Scarbrough, Executive Director, Mississippians Engaged in Greener Agriculture, who spoke about Farming, Food, Health, and School Food Purchasing; Nkwanda Jah, Executive Director, Cultural Arts Coalition and Environment Committee Chair for NAACP, Gainesville, FL, who spoke about Environment and Land; Lillie Webb, Educator and Garden Leader, Hancock County Public School, who spoke about Farming as Business. All speakers focused on heritage, struggle, and resources. Absent was Tirso Moreno, former Executive Director of the Farmworker Association of Florida, who was slated to speak about Access to Land for Farmworkers.
Remembrance of Those Who Have Gone On
Geri Hewankorn sings with Nancy Gaynor and Twila Martin-Kekhabah to open the Assembly. Shirley McClain and Leticia Carréon lead network members in remembering those who have gone on. These revered people include: founding Board member Dave Singleton; board member and National Rural Fellows graduate Unita Blackwell; RDLN leaders Martha Beatty, C.J. Jones, Carol Judy, Birgil Kills Straight; and National Rural Fellows graduate Oscar Harris.
The Assembly continued with discussion of the RDLN academic program, recruitment of new participants, the challenge and benefits of presenting the Arts in rural areas (especially theater). Network farmers spoke of gathering and selling herbs as a business they would like to pursue, perhaps as a collaborative.
RDLN Board presentation to Shirley Sherrod
Tour of New Communities
RDLN Network members Michelle Cole Barnes, Bobbie Miller, and Tirso Moreno on trolley touring New Communities land.
Networking After the Assembly