A Project for Students and Citizens

Marion: Week Eight

In Marion on July 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Mary Afton Day is living democracy in Marion, Alabama. Mary Afton is a junior majoring in public administration major at Auburn University.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

Marion has widened my eyes, in various and amazing ways. As hard as I tried, I did start the summer with preconceived notions and some bias. The first day at Sowing Seeds of Hope eased all my fears as Ms. Anne and Ms. Faye immediately welcomed me. Everything was going to work out all right and excitement began to replace the anxiety.  Though I was readily welcomed into the SSOH family, the community still remained distant. It was and is, a challenge I willingly accepted.

Marion is a town unlike any other. Earlier in the year we heard the expression, “if you’ve seen one Alabama town, you’ve still only seen one Alabama town.” Marion embodies this expression tenfold.  This is a community with a rich history of war heroes, Civil Rights activists and once-booming agriculture now struggling with the stagnant economy.  I have learned that the citizens of Marion, who some label as uncaring and nonchalant, are in their own unique ways bettering their future and their town.  Despite a divide between some citizens and officials, change has occurred and is occurring and will occur.

The dreams of the elder citizens are to involve the youth, to keep them home. The most common description when I ask Marion citizens to describe their town is “home.”  Marion is Marion because of one simple truth: it’s home.  The empowerment of youth is a growing movement in Marion and Perry County as a whole. Parents, grandparents, elders can see that some youth are racing from the comforts of their home to find opportunities and build a life elsewhere. What I’ve witnessed up close this summer is the older generation’s efforts to involve the youth, whether it is a sports camp, trips to prominent Civil Rights monuments in the surrounding areas, or creating a leadership class in the schools. These activities are based on the knowledge that the youth are the future of Marion.

Working with Sowing Seeds of Hope has been an amazing opportunity outlet for myself and for Erica, the teen who I worked most closely with this summer.  The director, Ms. Frances, opened so many doors for networking and projects.  Erica is learning real-world responsibility and leadership skills, and I am learning how this community operates. Marion is complex in its own unique way. There is a hierarchy of officials, but the existence of programs and organizations like Sowing Seeds of Hope are proof of daily change in the town.

I anticipated a divide between races.  Everyone knows it is an issue, but many are working to mend and reestablish relationships for the future of Marion’s citizenry.  As the end of my summer nears, I know that my own acceptance into the community is proof that the love of a human, an individual, outweighs any tensions. Educated and eccentric outsiders who have moved into the community are devoting themselves to the area.  Citizens like David Austin, Laurette Turner, Don Coley and Jim Blanchett are bringing in diversity not only in race but also in beliefs and views.  Marion seems to be expanding and developing in unique ways and adapting to a changing society. Personally, Marion has found a special place in my heart. I see her faults, and I understand that there is a long road ahead for ongoing community development and change. If I were to introduce the world to Marion, I would compare her to a quilt, a community quilt—like the ladies of the West Perry Arts & Crafts Club create. An individual with his or her own story makes each stitch. The Marion community is made of varied individuals sewn together to create a beautiful work of art that is a home. Simply put Marion is a quilt, handmade, beautiful and based on the values and traditions of her history.

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