By Ellie Walton, Filmmaker & Educator
On Wednesday I led an MHP workshop with a group of Americorps volunteers at Habitat for Humanity. The workshop was focused on how art can create social change. The workshop formed part of a three-day seminar organized by the United Methodist Church and was entitled, “Becoming Conscious: Recognizing and Responding to Injustice.”
The workshop began with the screening of my film Chocolate City, a story of displacement and poetic resistance to the gentrification of Washington DC. Two of the women from the film who had been displaced by a redevelopment program, Debra Frazier and Rose Oliphant, kicked off the post-film discussion. Debra and Rose described how their organizing and the amplification of their story through Chocolate City, led to their eventual return to the neighborhood. This sparked a conversation with the group about the value, strength and richness of community, a dialogue which too-often gets sidelined when outside groups come in to ‘revitalize’ impoverished neighborhoods.
The Americorps volunteers commented on how the film revealed the vitality and power within communities like those where Debra and Rose lives. The Americorps volunteers spoke about the need to collaborate with people in the rebuilding of their own neighborhoods. They also shared personal reflections about the role of community in their own lives growing up and in their work with Habitat for Humanity. We ended the session by creating a collective poem (illustrated in the video), which was composed of each of our own definitions of identity, community, and dreams.