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The Growth Alliance conference room was packed on Thursday night with a diverse group of West Point/Clay County citizens, bouncing ideas off of one anotherâ€™s heads in an attempt to bring the community together.
This is not the first time Unity in the Community has met. The group has been meeting for almost a year, but Thursday nightâ€™s crowd was the largest in the organizationâ€™s short history.
The goal is simple. Unify the community.
Leroy Clemons, with the William Winter School of Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss was on hand to guide those in attendance with proven strategies that promote harmony and unification.
One strategy is what he calls â€śstorytelling.â€ť
The goal is to get people from different cultures and backgrounds comfortable with sharing their stories with one another, opening up a safe and productive dialouge.
â€śWe have to create a safe space,â€ť Clemons said. â€śItâ€™s about having difficult conversations in a safe environment.â€ť
Clemons urged those in attendance to â€ślearn how to listen.â€ť
He says that many mistakes are made when individuals or groups like Unity in the Community decide to do something nice for a neighborhood, but they do not ask for input from the locals or give them a sense of ownership in what they have done.
The idea is to go in and establish real relationships and trust with individuals.
West Point School District Superintendent Burnell McDonald was asked to speak on Thursday night, as the group tries to address education problems that include the local dropout rate.
He was in agreement with Clemons.
â€śIf we can reach on child, weâ€™ve made a difference,â€ť McDonald said.
Members of the audience, which included folks from all backgrounds were free to make comments, suggestions and ask questions about their role in the community.
Right now, Unity in the Community is aiming to go one neighborhood at a time, forging friendships and relationships to address our communityâ€™s problems.
Anyone is welcome to come join in these meetings and offer input.
The next will take place on Thursday, February 7.