Chattanooga organization wants to unite public on solutions to inequality

Chattanooga organization wants to unite public on solutions to inequality

May 18th, 2017 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

If you go

When: Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Where: South Chattanooga Youth and Family Development Center, 1151 W. 40th St.

A local coalition is hoping to unite the public around solving Chattanooga's rising inequality problems.

Organizers of the grassroots organization say they want to be a consensus builder, meeting in the middle on economic issues that now polarize the left and the right.

On Saturday, the organization called Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence, or CALEB, is hosting its first educational summit to discuss how to address the city's rising housing and energy costs and inequality in education, while promoting best practices from within the community.

"This organization isn't going to focus on radical activism," said Steve Main, the organization's board chairman and an organizer for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. "We want to make a space where we can talk about adult things without worrying about what your end of the spectrum thinks."

Michael Gilliland, Chattanooga Organized for Action's board chairman, said the summit is the next step to finding solutions for the drivers of inequality raised in the Times Free Press' series The Poverty Puzzle.

CALEB operates under the Chicago-based Gamaliel Foundation and is a partnership among eight Chattanooga organizations that consist of labor unions, churches and the social justice group Chattanooga Organized for Action.

The organization began to form in September 2016 when a small group of local union and community members met to talk about how to replicate a model in Nashville that is bringing people together.

Gilliland said he was struck by how Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, also an affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, is uniting the community around issues such as affordable housing and getting residents engaged again in local elections, including the recent mayoral race.

After CALEB was created, Main said, the group began meeting to discuss how to get people to find common ground in Chattanooga with the two competing narratives of a city in prosperity and in poverty.

Too many people have an attitude of "you're either with us or against us," Main said, which is not productive to the conversation. CALEB hopes to help change that and bring residents of all faiths, races and economic backgrounds together to encourage new leadership from within the community.

Saturday's summit, which is open to the public, will feature keynote speaker Ken Chilton, a Tennessee State University professor and former director of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. But organizers say they don't have cookie-cutter answers and want solutions to come from the broader public.

"Hopefully this economic summit won't just be one of a passing of information," Charlotte Williams of Eastdale Village Community Church said in a news release. "But of collaboration for the community and community officials, to ensure that people have equal access to power and resources to change their own lives."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith at jsmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.


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