Forging a community through dialog

Published 11:00 pm Friday, July 22, 2016

Ask Dana Wilson and Shabrell Reynolds how they would describe themselves, and they are quick to answer.

“I’m an advocate. I’m an activist. But I’m not a ‘radical,’” said Dana, founder of Humbled Hearts Inc. “I will advocate for what I believe is my foundation … and I’m standing on the word of God. That means I’m standing in the gap for the oppressed, the minority, the disadvantaged, the underprivileged …”

And Shabrell? “I am a radical. I’m a radical for Jesus and what He believes … but I’m also an advocate.”

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Together these two women spearheaded a critical community forum on July 14. The gathering took place at Murphree Park and brought together representatives of the Pike County Sheriff’s Department, the Troy Police Department, Troy government and the public to dialog – to ask questions and share insights in a safe, non-judgmental and non-threatening space created to foster understanding.

Shabrell, founder of Flowing Brook Inc., said the idea for the forum came to her while in the shower, of all places. And she has no doubt it was inspired by God.  “So I called Dana … because she understands where I’m coming from.”

In the wake of the deaths of two black men at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and Minnesota, and following the killing of five Dallas police officers on July 8, the women felt called to facilitate the forum. They worked quickly, gaining support from city leaders who expedited permits and law enforcement officers who quickly agreed to join in the conversation. And they blanketed social media with information about the forum, dovetailing with articles in The Messenger.

While the crowd that gathered at Murphree Park may have been smaller than they originally expected, it was exactly as it should have been.

“It was quality over quantity,” Dana said. “After everything was said and done and we were wrapping up, Shabrell and I realized that everyone who was supposed to be there was there … it was exactly as it should have been.”

By all accounts, the forum was a success. Topics ranged from how to alert police officers of a concealed weapon during a traffic stop to understanding deeper societal issues, like the white father of a black teenager son whose humble plea touched hearts. “He said, ‘I have no idea what it’s like to be black male and I want to understand, so I can help my son,’” Dana said.

The dialog extended well beyond the two-hour time of the forum, and as the night wound to a close one question remained: “When is the next one?”

“We hadn’t really thought about it, but now we know we have to do another one,” Shabrell said.

And so they are developing a calendar and a plan for more forums, more opportunities to engage and grow our community. “We don’t know if we’ll do this quarterly or monthly or how often,” Shabrell said. “But we will do it.”

The momentum sparked but that initial forum drives them. “Being there in the moment, in the heat of everything, I realized this is a movement,” Dana said.

It’s a movement toward community, driven by civic engagement and fostered by the commitment of two women answering a call to serve.

Their model is Jesus Christ, a radical in his own time who though a Jew dined with tax collectors and dared to converse with Samaritans and Gentiles. Jesus taught the Gospel simply, through conversations and parables, lessons shared over the breaking of bread and selfless acts of love.

Stripped away from social media and the baggage of society, the participants at the forum simply talked, as well. Dana likened the interaction to what happens when Christians share their faith with others. “You see that when you say ‘I’m humble enough to ask’ someone else will say, ‘I’m humble enough to answer.’”

And in that humility, a community is forged.


Stacy G. Graning is publisher of The Messenger. Follow her on Twitter @stacygraning.