Sway: The People’s Guide To Community Organizing is launching this summer in East Chattanooga with the aim to pilot a new kind of training series for community change agents. The 8-week training program begins June 17th with its first class of 6 local artists and 6 Glass Farm residents forming the inaugural cohort.

These twelve individuals have committed to a brand new opportunity and path to become part of the next wave of community organizers leading and driving change in East Chattanooga.

During the training phase this summer weekly topics and focus areas will include Power and Self Interest; Public Relationships and Teams; Issues, Strategies and Tactics; Research; Effective Meetings; Communications and Media; Fundraising and; Organizing in Diverse Communities.

After the training, the group will stay together for an additional 2 months to work on a new group project that they will identify during the training. The group project will be supported with a $2,000 grant. All residents and artist participating in Sway also receive individual stipends for their time and feedback on the pilot.

“This training opportunity was put in place because we heard from our neighbors that they were eager for learning opportunities on how to better organize the community at large. There’s a lot of individual power in the neighborhood, but learning to act from collective power is what this training will be about. We value the individuals that have been organizing in our community and hope this opportunity allows for everyone to better work together,” said Teal Thibaud, GHC co-founder and Executive Director.

Why artists? Over the past 7 years, Glass House Collective has learned that the artistic process itself can serve as a form of organizing. Community members build relationships, research the issues in their community, and develop collaborative artistic actions. Through this process, a community develops new leaders, comes to an agreement around collective goals, and increases its capacity to create change.

The Sway artist cohort contains diverse mediums represented including photography, dance, poetry, spoken word, graphic design, and music.

Erika Roberts, with Velvet Poetry Productions and Sway co-creator, said the curriculum and training process are new so there are many unknowns, but that is the power and excitement of creativity itself. “We may not know exactly what will be created together each day but I can assure you that an atmosphere that welcomes the spirit of creativity will fill the room. Creativity is a spirit. Let it fill you.”
We’ve really enjoyed working with Michael Gilliland with CALEB and Erika on co-creating this program and look forward to having them lead each session. We can’t wait to get to know each these folks individually and as a class. For now we have included brief bites from their Sway applications answering questions on leadership, strength and community:

Deborah Bledsoe says when it comes to leadership, wins come when love leads. “It’s about humanism and overcoming with genuine love.” She’s looking forward to building her power with training on how to be a better organizer.

Gayla Randle says leadership means to always be willing to go above and beyond making sure the community’s voice is represented and heard properly. It means inspiring the younger generations to want to be a part of change and do everything that one can to fight for the community.

Lynesha Lake believes that being a leader means helping her neighbors be better. She is interested in the training to get a better understanding of her community and how to get people engaged

Saundra Boston wants to bring positive change to East Chattanooga and is already the kind of person who encourages people to come together to be the change they are looking for. She believes love in the home becomes love in the community.

Marie Mott believes leadership means taking on the challenge of fixing age old problems. She understands it doesn’t happen overnight and you will make mistakes. Admit them and keep working. Keep your word and keep the people informed to what’s going on. Marie brings Listening, Educating, Brainstorming, and an ability to get people together around action items.

Gail McKeel said  having an ability to engage people, and listen is just as important in a leader as the ability to then go out and make something happen. Staying informed is a challenge the community faces today and Gail hopes th new training can help improve this.

Courtenay Cholovich
Artist, performer/writer
Courtenay believes leadership is the ability to recognize that you are a piece of the whole and not the central focus; it means being of service to the greater good rather than to promotion of one’s self.

Blake Blamalam
Artist, Woman, Photography and interactive/ immersive
Blake says she knows there will never be enough time in the day for one person to fix the issues in our community. She is seeking a network of people who are willing to work together to address issues, and break down barriers to making change.

Amy Brauer
Artist, muralist, designer, and illustrator
Amy is a new mom looking for connection and a community of collaborators working for good. She says she is itching to put her skills and experience to good use, and feels she can do the most good serving as part of a team.

Caleb Golson
Artist, poet
Caleb believes being a leader is all about Responsibility, dedication, and having a clarity of bigger purpose to the community. He also believes everyone has the power to lead & be impactful in a positive and powerful way.

Anthony Wiley
creative philosopher, meditation guide, musician and producer
Anthony hopes to provide a holistic perspective to the challenges residents in this community face and to provide tools to help navigate and affect change. He brings Integrity, Courage, Commitment, Honor, Love and Joy.