NLIHC convened its second annual Collective Retreat (previously known as the Tenant and Community Leader Retreat) on October 6-9 in Albany, Georgia. This year, NLIHC returned to the sacred grounds of the Resora on Cypress Pond, a property of New Communities, which was founded by the late Reverend Charles Sherrod and his wife Shirley. The Sherrods were revered civil rights trailblazers, instrumental in creating the first community land trust (CLT) in the U.S. The Resora is now used for retreats devoted to promoting racial equity, learning, and community. Members of NLIHC’s 2023-24 Collective (previously known as the Tenant Leader Cohort) gathered to discuss their shared goals for achieving housing justice and to engage in community healing in preparation for their upcoming work.
This year’s Collective includes 13 advocates:
- Ramona Ferreyra, Save Section 9
- Miracle Fletcher, City of Atlanta housing commissioner
- William E. Higgins Jr., executive director of Homeless Advocacy for All
- Tara Madison, National Alliance of HUD Tenants
- Sharon Norwood, housing justice organizer with Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance
- Taylar Nuevelle, executive director of Who Speaks for Me?
- Daniella Pierre, president of NAACP Miami-Dade Branch
- Robert Robinson, special advisor, Partners for Dignity and Rights, and adjust professor of urbanism at New School University in New York City
- Dee (Derris) Ross, founder and CEO of The Ross Foundation
- Vee Sanchez, Empower Missouri
- Marsh Melody Santoro, tenant leader with Fairview Arms Apartments
- Albert Townsend, National Alliance to End Homelessness
- Shannon (Sunshine) Washington, Sunshine Charity Community Investment Coalition and Sunshine Tenant Authority Patrol and Support
The weekend commenced with members joining in a musical improvisational circle crafted by local historian and musician Michael Harper and his partner A.J. Parker. Music has proven to be a potent tool for fostering community and forging deep connections. The music the group created set the mood for a transformative weekend grounded in the spirit of unity. The Collective members had the privilege of introducing themselves to one another, to the NLIHC staff, and to the esteemed facilitators joining them for the weekend. This year, the Collective was joined by Rebeccah Bennett of Emerging Wisdom LLC & InPower Institute and Dr. Jennifer Mullan of Decolonizing Therapy. Following a delicious dinner prepared by local chef Michael Daniels, the Collective gathered once more with Mr. Harper and Ms. Parker to create a music circle where they learned about the healing power of music. Following this experience, Collective members headed back to their hotels to rest up for the weekend.
Saturday morning started early as Collective members arrived at the Resora property. Once settled in, they watched the Arc of Justice film, which told the history of the Sherrods, the Resora, and New Communities. After learning about this history, Collective members embarked on a farm tour by Albany local Mrs. Geraldine Hudley, who provided a historical perspective on the land as they rode through it on The Birdy, a large tractor wagon. Mrs. Hudley revealed the diverse initiatives underway at the Resora, including the annual pecan harvest, a budding grape field for winemaking, collaborations with local universities, a satsuma grove, pine straw harvesting, truffle cultivation, and much more. Collective members also had a chance to marvel at the river that is located on the property. After the farm tour, the Collective enjoyed a lunch and captured images that would preserve the moment in time.
The remainder of the day was devoted to educational sessions on community healing and the importance of rest in the tireless work for justice. The evening brought dinner with a special guest, Ms. Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers, who shared songs and insights from her Civil Rights Movement journey. After connecting with this significant leader, the Collective departed to prepare for the night.
Sunday began with deep healing, guided by Dr. Mullan’s wisdom about decolonized mental health. Collective members learned about crisis intervention and trauma-informed care. After the group had some revelations and worked through some of the content, they got to participate in a dance party that morphed into a soul train celebration! This celebration led right into a communal lunch.
After lunch, Collective members engaged in a session led by Rebeccah Bennett, “Stalking the Healed Future,” where members used creative expressions to demonstrate their version of a healed future. Following this activity, the Collective gathered at Vicks Estate, owned by Albany local, Clinton Vicks. Mr. Vicks prepared a delicious Southern barbeque meal that left everyone’s stomachs happy and full. While at Vicks Estate, Collective members met some local housing advocates and even got to help in prepping dinner. Following another delicious dinner, the Collective went home for the night to prepare for the last day of the retreat.
Monday, the last day of the retreat, began the same way the retreat started: with music. However, this time, the Collective members led the musical improvisational circle, alongside Mr. Harper and Ms. Parker. Afterwards, they had the honor of meeting Mrs. Shirley Sherrod, co-founder of New Communities, who shared her inspiring story of resilience against institutional racism. Her perseverance was a testament to the enduring struggle for justice, a torch that she was passing down to future generations, including members of the Collective.
Following an inspirational meet and greet, the weekend was closed out with a conversation about the work ahead between members of NLIHC and the Collective. Afterwards, a final lunch was shared by Collective members, during which they were able to enjoy one another’s company before returning to their respective homes.
This restorative weekend served as a time of reflection for members of the Collective, inspiring them for the work ahead. Over the next nine months, the Collective will convene to discuss shared concerns, chart an advocacy path, and ensure that NLIHC addresses the needs of low-income people and families throughout the country.