Welcome to The carr Window: A Message to The Grassroots
By jeff obafemi carr
“During the few moments that we have left, we want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me — us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand…”
-Malcolm X, Message To The Grassroots
I’ve been blessed to have been around a ton of smart people in my life. I mean really smart people. Some people tell me I’m really smart—and I’ll take the compliment—but I’ve always enjoyed being around people who make me feel like I need to go back to the books. Truly, that’s the way it should be, because iron sharpens iron, and I’ve always felt uncomfortable when (outside of teaching environments, of course) my ego starts to tell me that I might be the smartest person in the room. That means, usually, one thing: I’m not growing.
And growth is the very essence of the Universe.
Speaking of the Universe, there is a lot going on in the world today. Heck, forget the world, let’s just look at my growing metropolis of a hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. In just one week’s time, we had tornadoes that wreaked havoc on some of the most vulnerable populations in our city and, while in the midst of recovering from a swath of devastation, the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic reached us. That’s a lot to heap onto humanity’s plate.
And yet, we stand.
I was up working on the Northeast side of town when the tornado hit. I remember hearing the winds howl and seeing the lightning flash outside the windows. Then it grew quiet. Too quiet. I stepped outside and you could hear a rat pee on cotton. I looked around, then stepped back inside, having no idea that if I’d stayed outside for another minute or two, a lightning strike would have made me a witness to an E-3 tornado destroying the backside of my Alma Mater, Tennessee State University, headed on a path through North and East Nashville, just across the Cumberland River.
As I drove through Metrocenter on my way home well after midnight on March 2-3, I thought it was simply a bad storm that had darkened the roads and scattered debris on the interstate. A 5 am call from a friend provided the shocking context: we’d been hit. Hard.
I awakened my wife, Kenetha, and we decided it was time to do what we are called to do as Spiritual Leaders—find a way to help. We made our way to North Nashville to start providing support for people there who were in shock. At 21st and Formosa, the pastor and some members of the historic St. John AME Church were sorting through the rubble, the facade of what remained of the church now an humbling display of nature’s power. We shared some videos via social media, encouraged local political officials and community leaders to get together, and began looking for ways to connect resources.
Our next stop was the Northwest YMCA, where several grassroots groups were collecting items. There were still no accessible shelters available, so we headed over to Lee Chapel AME Church, where a generator was keeping a community room open for the gathering of supplies by other grassroots groups. There were politicians, ministers, and lay people there, together, all trying to figure out what to do. Strategy was beginning at a grassroots level, and it was nothing short of beautiful.
People were going to need shelter, and for now, people were gathering at the Northwest YMCA. Getting on the phone with YMCA of Middle Tennessee leaders, I was grateful to speak with some decision-makers who agreed to keep the YMCA in Bordeaux open for 24 hours, for anyone who needed to make their way there safely.
The rest of day one was spent back and forth in neighborhoods, connecting people with services, offering support and advisement to some of the young—but powerfully bold—grassroots voices who’d never seen anything like this before, but were willing to stand in the middle of the foray and be there to fill a need. I wouldn’t call it a “blessing” to have coordinated disaster-relief efforts before, going back to Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, but I’m grateful that I had something to offer behind the scenes, and that people were willing to listen and, more importantly, act.
This is the power of the grassroots. And this is why I have this message for everyone today: in any situation like this, it is usually the grassroots people that take the lead, whether it’s an official organization like The Infinity Fellowship (which I’m proudly a part of), one of the many groups that sprang into action as well, or whether it’s a neighbor who drags a stranger out of their bathtub-storm shelter when they are discovered at first light. By the time the news trucks arrive, the city leadership begins to tour, and states of emergency are declared, a lot of good work has been done. That good work continues, up to this very moment—and it depends upon people like you to keep the momentum going.
This website is here, specifically, “to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.” I’ve learned that you can’t ride the bench and expect Change to be made, so I offer this website as a resource for the grassroots people out there who need it. On this site, you’ll find postings, articles, podcasts and mini-podcasts that will serve as resources for people who need a hand-up to get back on their feet. I invite everyone who is interested in being a part of the grassroots energy that has re-emerged in our city like never before recently to find a place where they can “get in where they fit in,” because it’s time to be the Change we want to see in the world.
I’m what my scholarly friends call an “organic activist.” In lay terms, it means that I grew up in this city, a public school kid in a working class neighborhood, my wife and I went to college here, and we decided to keep our roots in the ground in our home city, for the distance. I’ve got a long term stake in the success of Nashville. It’s time to step things up.
Spread the word. In between getting out there to put in my physical work, I’ll be updating this site with resources and “quick-hitter” posts that can direct people on where to go and what to do to navigate the various storms that have hit us all lately. Share it with people. If something here resonates with you, then be a part of making the change; if not, find a space that does resonate with you in your spirit and put down your engagement roots there.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”
Let’s go, grassroots, folks. It’s time to keep moving. This is the Message. This is the Moment. This is why we are—and will continue to be—#NashvilleStrong.
Welcome to The carr Window. Let’s take a ride.
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about jeff obafemi carr
Rev. jeff obafemi carr, a Nashville native, is a widely-recognized Activist and Creative who has worked at the intersection of interfaith spirituality, the arts, media, community building, and social justice for over three decades.