Black Belt Action Network
Residents in the Black Belt Region will experience an improved quality of life economically, socially and politically through the effective work of this university-community partnership.
The Black Belt region within the Southern U.S. stretches across the heart of the old plantation South, from eastern Texas to Virginia, covering portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Georgia and North Florida. The Black Belt contains 34 percent of the nation’s poor and 43 percent of the rural poor (Wimberley, 2008). The counties in the Black Belt region of the Southeastern United States displayed the lowest per capita income, educational attainment, and health indicators of any region in the country. This disproportionate share of the nation’s poverty is a clear reflection of slave-plantation social, political and economic legacies. The Black Belt has been historically dependent on agriculture and holds over 90 percent of the non-metropolitan African American population and 90 percent of poor rural African Americans. Within the Black Belt the deeply rooted connection between history, race, place and poverty is clear (Harris, 2012).
In 2004, BBAN came together to continue the initial regional mobilization work lead by Tuskegee University. BBAN’s university-community partnership combined academic expertise in policy, leadership training, and research with the CBOs expertise in activism and grassroots mobilization provided a strong match for a successful partnership. Collectively these two groups have increased its capacity through partnerships, coalition building, research, publication, activism and engaging key stakeholders, to make a difference in the lives of poverty stricken families in the Black Belt region. (More information on this study and proposed federal commission models can be found on the BBAN poverty reduction and resource pages.)
The BBAN group started its formation under the guidance of Dr. Rosalind Harris of University of Kentucky. The group began to bridge gaps in the movement towards decreasing poverty through policies by publishing their research (based upon the Tuskegee University and the University of Georgia at Athens (UGA) studies) strengthening and increasing regional partnerships, speaking across the southeast region, and building momentum on the community and academic levels that became avenues of continuing the work of university-community partnerships.
Black Belt Action Network - BBAN members presenting at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. From left to right: Front row, Marcus K. Bernard, 2nd row: Gena Gunn McClendon, Veronica Womack, Sokoya Finch, Rosalind Harris, and Dreamal Worthen.
BBAN is a regional collaborative network of community-based organizations, community activists, academicians, and pubic sector practitioners whose work is aimed to elevate the quality of life of the Black Belt residents. Through research, advocacy, and education, BBAN strives to influence the shaping of policies that address historically persistent poverty within the Black Belt region.
To improve the quality of life in the Black Belt region through strategic education, research, service, and action to influence policies and practices that address persistent poverty issues in the region.
BLACK BELT ACTION NETWORK PHOTO GALLERY
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“Rooted in place. BBAN’s goal in its work is to make sure that the people of the black belt are at the table to determine or play an active role in determining what’s going to happen in their place”? Dr. Veronica Womack
Documenting this mobilization – lessons learned - wisdom gained, raised awareness, research and the creation of programs within universities and communities have allowed BBAN to be grounded in what really matters for the future of the people who live in the Delta Black Belt Region.
Prior to the voting of the federal commission, in October of 2003, the grassroots organizations involved in the work lead by Tuskegee University (Tuskegee) believed so much in the partnerships of the HBCUs & 1890 land grant institutions, that this spurred a movement of its own lead by Florida Family Network and Tuskegee for the grassroots organizations to take the lead. After the Black Belt Initiative (BBI) work reached the end of its funding cycle, the grassroots organizations took the torch forward with support from Tuskegee and Florida A & M Universities. These efforts later became known as “Black Belt Initiative Transformation Group”. The CBOs were already involved in the process and therefore were able to quickly mobilize the people in their states to continue the work for a federal commission as proposed by the Tuskegee group. The main focus of this community group was to make sure that a key component of the proposed federal commission, the creation of a Constituency Representation Board (CRB) would remain without negotiation. This CRB would have at least 20% of the Authority's total appropriations for CBO/FBO/higher-ed institution programs in significantly distressed counties. In addition, they would have voting powers within the overall Authority, as well as the power to provide input on funding decisions and allocation formulas.
This CRB infrastructure was the template for ensuring those communities' critical needs such as housing, education and health care continued to be a part of the broader agenda. More than anything this ensured that the decision-making remained in the hands of local leaders best acquainted with the region's greatest challenges. At the same time, it made a commitment of resources consistent with the vast needs of the region. It was this component that communities across the region fought so hard for and refuse to negotiate any part of this one component. However, everything else about the legislation was negotiable. (More information can be found on the BBAN poverty reduction and resource pages.)
The Black Belt Action Network was formed largely from the social, political, economic aims and goals of other mobilizations in the region, but BBAN distinguished itself through the purposive linking of communities with universities in addressing policies affecting the Black Belt. The coalition of university-community partnerships and the resulting mobilization presented a complex and at times contested process that raised important questions about who actually participates in making decisions about how a community’s problems come to be defined and addressed. The blending of both voices gives not only clarity to the issues in hand, but also gives ownership to the problem and its resolution.
PARTNERSHIPS – STRATEGIC CAPACITY BUILDING
In 2007, BBAN formed a partnership with Appalachian Studies Association at the Rural Sociological Society conference held in Louisville, Kentucky. They bridged their research and shared stories of the south in a formal presentation, entitled, Activists and Scholars Engaging Communities in Partnership: Stories from the Black Belt South and Appalachia. So, began a partnership that would enrich the communities across the black belt. BBAN gained invaluable insights and guidance about the importance of keeping the community voice engaged. Also gained was the knowledge on the role of the Appalachian Studies Programs and how they navigated throughout the region in producing indigenous scholar-activists who have made significant impacts within communities and within academia. Appalachian Studies Program staff mentored BBAN on the development of a Black Belt Regional Studies and Leadership Development Programs. Read More