In This Place, There Is... – A three-part series intended to educate and frame our interconnectedness as Memphians and humans and inform the public on the work being done at Historic Clayborn Temple. 

by Anasa Troutman —

Anasa Troutman is executive director of Historic Clayborn Temple. (Courtesy photo)

This spring at Historic Clayborn Temple our In This Place initiative is blooming. 

In the spirit of cooperation, Historic Clayborn Temple engages in collective visioning of the future we are working towards.

Simply put, the future we want is bountiful, safe, free, joyful and abundant. We want this for everyone. Not some of us — all of us.

Our culture is entrenched in the ideologies of individualism and exceptionalism.

Individualism upholds the goals and rights of the individual without concern for others. 

Exceptionalism upholds that some individuals, and even our country, are superior to others. If we continue to uphold that some individuals are superior and that their goals and rights are superior to those of others, too many of us are excluded from the bounty of this life. Human nature is not to exclude, it is to work together for the good of each and every one of us.

Our culture does not align with the truth of who we are as human beings. 

What is our true nature? It is cooperation. The first humans knew that cooperation led to safety and allowed us to survive and flourish, individually and together. Their cooperation allowed us to survive and build communities large and small. 

This moment in history has illuminated both the destructive power of individualism and the healing power of cooperation. 

Millions around the world have died from COVID-19 as it spread like wildfire. Millions more lost loved ones, livelihoods and connection with each other. 

And now, millions are being protected from COVID-19 by vaccines that were developed by cooperation among the greatest minds in the world working tirelessly for our collective wellbeing. 

We have seen the pain and suffering caused by divisions among us as we separate ourselves into groups based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and the man-made borders we were born inside of. 

We have seen the collective outcry and cooperation to end the pain and suffering of these divisions.

We have seen human cooperation at a scale never before seen. We’ve taken to the streets around the world, calling for our wounds to be tended. 

We’ve taken up new ways to tend our own and each other’s wounds, to seek healing together for our collective good.  

This is a slingshot moment. Will we allow the power of this moment to propel us towards destruction or healing? 

We have a choice to make. Cooperate to survive and thrive or continue our selfish trajectory towards destruction.

At Historic Clayborn Temple we have chosen cooperation; as both our legacy, our present and our future. 

We look to the past to discover how those, who have been excluded, found ways to thrive and survive and found examples of cooperation. One that aligns with the cooperative effort to organize for worker’s rights that happened in this place was the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alabama that a group of Black women sharecroppers formed in 1966.

 Their cooperative sold quilts and together they purchased 23 acres of land and built a sewing factory, as well as providing refuge for evicted sharecroppers. 

We look to the present to discover how those lessons inform and uplift communities now, especially Black communities that have little access to societal resources. 

We found that there are more than 600 worker co-ops in the U.S. and that they have fared better during the pandemic than many traditional business models. 

We look to transform the future of the Historic Clayborn Temple and other disinvested Memphis neighborhoods by launching the Community Leadership Council. 

This community led council will learn about and engage in creating worker co-ops based on the principles of restorative economics, an economic model that turns from one of extracting labor and resources from communities without including them in the bounty of the economic gains, to one that is led by and for the community itself. 

We learn, share, laugh, play and build together. Yes, In This Place There Is Cooperation. 

If you would like to learn more about In This Place, nominate someone, or apply to participate in the Community Leadership Council please visit https://clayborn.org/inthisplace.


AT A GLANCE:

Part I: In This Place, There Is Wellness  Why cultural wellness is the cornerstone of the vision and foundation from which Historic Clayborn Temple works to restore the city.

Part II: In This Place, There Is Cooperation – Cooperatives as a business model. Past examples, the resiliency of present-day co-ops and the future.

Part III: In This Place, There is Restoration – Restorative Economics as a model to build a society that works for all of us. 

(Anasa Troutman is executive director of Historic Clayborn Temple.)