Power + Place Collaborative receives $10K Impact Alamance grant to connect religious communities

A partnership between Elon, the African American Cultural Arts and History Center and the Mayco Bigelow Center, this year’s work will focus on telling stories around faith traditions and moral leaders in Alamance County.

The Power and Place Collaborative was recently awarded a $10,000 Impact Alamance Community Forward Grant to create dialogue across faith communities and to collect and share oral histories around religion and spirituality in Alamance County.

“Stories of Alamance County: Spaces of Faith and Spiritual Diversity” will continue through fall 2023 and include multiple events for interfaith and community dialogue, as well as the presentation of oral histories from residents of diverse faith backgrounds.

“Our goal is to build bridges of understanding across differences and support oral history projects across faith-based organizations,” said Danielle Lake, director of the Center for Design Thinking and associate professor of human service studies. “The ‘Stories of Alamance County: Spaces of Faith and Spiritual Diversity’ project aims to build bridges of dialogue across lines of racial, religious, geographic, and generational division and to create spaces of understanding, healing and action.”

A group of people seated around a table talking and smiling
Students and community members meet at The Power and Place Collaborative “Building Bridges: A Night of Intergenerational Storytelling” event on Nov. 9, 2022 at the Mayco Bigelow Community Center at Burlington’s North Park.

The Power and Place Collaborative is a joint effort by Elon, Burlington’s Mayco Bigelow Community Center and the county’s African American Cultural Arts and History Center to preserve and present oral histories from Alamance County’s Black and minoritized communities. Students in Honors Fellows seminars and Human Service Studies courses meet with, interview and create video projects around individuals’ stories. Their finished projects are displayed at community events that invite conversation and continued dialogue.

The partnership has so far digitally recorded more than 40 Alamance County residents’ oral histories to ensure future generations can access and learn from their experiences.

Impact Alamance is a nonprofit that works to support health, education and community-wide dialogue for lasting change and invests more than $2 million annually into advancing those goals. Its Community Forward grant program supports initiatives, innovations and improvements that build stronger relationships and community connections.

Impact Alamance recently partnered with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a national organization dedicated to strengthening communities, which in turn produced a report about the strengths and challenges facing Alamance County.

That 2022 report helped inspire the Power and Place Collaborative’s focus this academic year on religious traditions and diverse belief systems within Alamance County. It showed divisions across race and social classes, rural and urban areas, and among faith communities — highlighting the importance of churches to Alamance communities and necessity of religious leaders in creating change, but illustrating few structured opportunities to connect and sustain partnerships across racial and religious differences.

A man standing up speaking to a crowd with a microphone
Community member Tyson Fearrington speaks at a December 2021 “Stories of Alamance County” event in McKinnon Hall.

The report “noted the unique mobilizing role that faith-based organizations play in the community,” said Associate Professor of Geography Sandy Marshall, who with Lake and Associate Professor of Human Service Studies Vanessa Drew-Branch coordinates Elon’s work with the Power and Place Collaborative. “In addition, many of our past oral history interviews and digital stories have highlighted the important role that people of diverse faith backgrounds have played in the community.”

Events planned for the fall 2023 semester include:

  • A dialogue dinner Tues., Sept. 5, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Lakeside 212 with the theme “Dialogue Across Difference,” inspired by Elon’s Common Reading, “I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times” by Monica Guzmán;
  • Visits to places of worship around the county including historically Black churches, the Burlington Masjid, the City Gate Dream Center, among others;
  • Walking tours in areas of Burlington including downtown and the former “Black Bottom” business district, Rauhut Street and East Burlington;
  • A visit to the African American Cultural Arts and History Center;
  • Community deliberative dialogues on important local issues; and
  • A community book club centered around “I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times” by Mónica Guzmán, and a Sept. 21 discussion with Guzmán from 4-5:30 p.m. at Elon Community Church.

The project will culminate in a screening of digital stories based on the oral history interviews collected and discussion about the common themes that emerged from the stories on Nov. 29 from 5-7:30 p.m. at Elon Community Church.

“Our hope is to deepen connections with local faith-based organizations, including the Burlington Masjid, CityGate Dream Center, First Baptist of Burlington and First Baptist of Elon, alongside others,” Lake said. “We plan to share stories representing the diversity of spiritual practices, faith traditions, religious communities, and moral leaders in Alamance County.”

Elon students continue to see benefits from participating with the collaborative both in academic skill-building and through deeper connections with communities beyond campus.

“Over the past four years we have found that this form of placed-based, relational learning — specifically community dialogues, story-sharing, and walking tours — has served as an opening for students to critically examine dominant narratives embedded in the physical landscape,” Lake said. “Students and faculty have indicated that this form of learning shifted their perceptions of how social change efforts unfold.”

“Likewise, community partners have expressed appreciation for the time, talent, energy, and creativity that Elon students bring to this project,” Marshall said. “In turn, students have expressed to us a feeling of greater involvement in and responsibility toward the local community.”