Sway – The People’s Guide To Community Organizing, was fully launched Monday night inside the Glass House Collective offices with its inaugural cohort of artists and residents.

The curriculum for the workshop training, developed by longtime community organizer, Michael Gilliand with CALEB, and Chattanooga spoken word and social justice artist, Erica Roberts, is designed to spark new relationships, develop new leaders and help individuals come to an agreement around collective community goals. The aim is to increase the community’s capacity to create change.

This was the first of 8 workshops happening over the next two months for this group. Their time and training together will culminate in a collaborative demonstration project identified and developed by the artists and residents in the cohort later this Fall. CNE is also partnering on the evaluation process to help document feedback on a weekly basis so the pilot can improve, evolve and potentially expand to other neighborhoods.

Training is only one word to describe what is about to happen with this group and why they spent a rainy Monday night together inside the Glass House Collective office.

Every person in the room was there to get real about living their values, picturing what kind of world they want to live in, being honest about their comfort levels around holding power, and taking a closer look at what it really means to work for the good of all using the tension of diversity as fuel for positive collective action.

“Remember, our goal is to improve ourselves and be better change agents. Sometimes this creates tensions. This can be good. We want to be challenged. It will take some tension to change the way power works and for whom,” Michael Gilliland reminded everyone. The class discussed the importance of understanding what motivates individuals to act on their values. This can be a means to recognize and identify others with similar motivations who might be willing to act collectively toward common goals.

And while this group is definitely diverse, including from cross generations and artistic disciplines, they all resonate around ideas of what community means and why this Sway pilot and the work they’ve signed up for this summer is important and needed now.

“In my community I see hope, but I also see people wanting and struggling for hope. And that’s what I want out of the program,” Deborah Bledsoe told the group. Deborah, a gospel singer, and musical artist, believes everyone has an artist within them and its ok to be unique. “What is the artist in you? What talent can you bring out to the community to give and be hope?” she wondered.

Sway’s lead artist and co-creator, Chattanooga poet, Erica Roberts, believes community means being united together, understanding a common goal and committing to the journey to that goal. “With Sway, I hope to gather a better understanding on how open-hearted I can be and learn how I can become a better instrument for change in my artistic language, beyond poetry,” she said.

GHC’s executive director, Teal Thibaud, let everyone know how much the organization values the artistic process more than any particular outcome or product. Glass House Collective’s work is based in creative placemaking and place keeping ideals. “We believe in the power of creativity and art to transform places and people. We will be your support system for whatever you come up with at the end of this program and make sure you’re supported to see it through,” she said.

Sway is the people’s guide to community organizing, with a name that is defined by an ability to influence decisions and sway things in the direction of community interest. Sway is also a way of moving. We look forward to seeing these emerging leaders move together as one body swaying collectively toward change.

Sway is was made possible by support from CNE, Footprint Foundation, The Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga in partnership with CALEB, Velvet Poetry and Glass House Collective.