Values and Guiding Principles
The evolution of the Alabama African American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium is evidence of the power of collective work and responsibility and the truth of the saying that “we are stronger together”.
Volunteer stewards of historic sites from three distinct regions of Alabama came together to work toward the shared goal of saving and sharing African American history to understand and address contemporary issues.
Clear definition of constituents Sites were selected based on their documented role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, their status as institutions founded and nurtured by African Americans AND the availability of an active contact person to participate. It was determined that these sites would be places of worship, lodging and civic engagement.
Planning with, not for All Consortium initiatives developed from issues identified by the site representatives through a series of needs assessments, surveys and meetings. Three clear goals were to preserve the buildings, promote the stories of the people, and engage a new generation. Programs were designed to increase their capacity to attain and sustain these goals.
Structured flexibility Planning is essential to developing any successful project. However, leaders must be flexible enough to accommodate changes as needed. Sticking to a plan that isn’t working is as ineffective as having no plan. (For example, when we started, email was our preferred form of communication; however, we learned that some individuals required telephone calls and face-to-face meetings. As a result of Covid-19, our team adapted to online communication and Zoom meetings.)
Mutual accountability Many ideas are shared at Consortium meetings and the staff works to implement specific projects with clearly defined (and realistic) expectations. Accountability is mutual. By managing expectations, the staff has been able to deliver on its commitments. At the same time, site representatives are accountable for adhering to meeting dates, times, deadlines, and a level of participation to be eligible for special projects.
OUR FIVE CORE STRENGTHS
The role of the Consortium continues to evolve. What began as a project incubated within the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is now a multi-pronged organization with its own mission and scope. As part of the 2019 strategic planning process, researchers explored the impact of the Consortium with Consortium staff, sites, organizational partners and funders and identified five Core Strengths: Creating Community; Preserving Spaces; Protecting Stories; Teaching and Learning; and Expanding the Table. The quotes were made by site representative responses as part of the 2019 Strategic Plan.
Creating Community: Building relationships across boundaries. Prior to becoming part of the Consortium, many members worked in isolation, often unaware of the work taking place at other historic sites within their cities. Some struggled to build internal support for historic preservation and faced competition for limited resources. The Consortium became the space for like-minded people with similar challenges to build relationships with others who were at different stages of development. At convenings, meetings and retreats, site representatives connected with others with similar missions. The Consortium became a locus for sharing ideas, information, strategies and resources. These connections superseded traditional boundaries.
Our pastor saw the magnitude and the passion. He understood the common mission of all of those people there together…It was feeling of community and we were part of that community.
Preserving Spaces: Protecting and restoring physical structures. Each member organization manages at least one physical structure that is undergoing a preservation and/or restoration process. The physical structures are sites for activating conversation, storytelling and learning through tourism and education programs. Renovating buildings is part of the process of restoring communities that are traditionally under- resourced. The Consortium is committed to supporting organizations in the physical preservation of historic structures.
The Consortium is really about the preservation of African American Civil Rights related history all over the state, wherever that is.
Protecting Stories: Recording and sharing historically accurate information to the benefit of the community. The Consortium members and leadership stand out as an example of an organization that equally values storytelling and building preservation. Central to its mission as a resource for gathering the whole story of the places and people of historic significance, is the belief that such stories should serve to generate economic, social and cultural benefit for the communities directly involved in the creation and preservation of that history.
Other people have come to the party lately who are not from the South, who did not live through this…They (Consortium members) want to be able to tell their own story in their own voice and the voices of their institution.
Teaching and Learning: Empowering sites and stakeholders to build professional skills. Most representatives have no formal training in historic preservation or any affiliated professional disciplines. At the same time, they are called on to be local experts and advocates on their own behalf in their communities. The Consortium serves as a training resource for its members while supporting knowledge-building efforts with internal stakeholders, community partners, and other potential allies.
I’m still learning a lot as a member of the Consortium…I’ve had the opportunity to meet people that they’ve actually brought in to inform us, engage us and empower us as individual sites.
Expanding the Table: Developing an inclusive model for access to opportunity. The Consortium intentionally incorporates a range of members from those that already benefit from international recognition to those that are in danger of being overlooked within their own communities. Being connected to a larger organization raises the profile of all members. It ensures that access to information, opportunity and resources is available regardless of the developmental stage while supporting the goal of telling a comprehensive narrative.
We had worked to get on the state registry, and we had worked to get on the national registry, but yet that still did not get us to the table. That’s what the Consortium has done for us…We were at the table.