The Leaders creating a movement where arts and social justice reside

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I want it for you, and I want it for me — freedom, justice, and equality. With this belief, one can envision people of our communities thriving with meaningful lives. Young people grow old and do not have their lives altered in a negative way. Black people receive essential information and resources to better themselves, bringing the next person with them. The common love for empowering black people brought Erica Perry, Jamel Campbell-Gooch, and Mike Floss together. Now as best friends, they are the leaders of the Southern Movement Committee (SMC), a movement organization driven to organize local communities for racial and economic justice. 

A Destined 2020

This constellated connection begins with Jamel, who met Erica at church camp in seventh grade. His brotherly personality bonded him and Mike as good friends while attending Tennessee State University. Fast-forward to 2019, Erica and Jamel reconnected over lunch and realized their mutual interest in the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition. 

It wasn’t until 2020 when things turned good, destiny-wise. However, what had grand expectations for a magical year universally brought shocking devastation. First, a violent tornado swept through growing areas of Nashville. The global pandemic shut down livelihoods and kept America quarantined. Also, countess racial attacks took place, which questioned the country’s racial progress that summer. Around the same time, the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition held a protest rally at city hall. There, Erica met up with Jamel, who also ran into Mike. Initial daps and ‘wassups’ opened into collective conversation on the union’s current landscape; not to mention, Erica “pressed out” Mike’s values and background check in her vetting process. What stands is how this day birthed the creation of the Black Nashville Assembly (BNA).

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BNA is SMC

BNA is a project at the SMC. They use relationship building and arts & culture to organize black communities around systematic issues. Focal points to do so may include decimating policies that harm and control black people, increasing education around organizing and advocacy, or ensuring cooperativity on investing back into the community. In a state that has over 20% of blacks disenfranchised, black people must have pertinent information to progress. BNA does so by chipping away at the grassroot problems for Black liberation. 

The different ways they engage is by getting to know what matters in the community. BNA delivers deliberate action through relationships because it helps to create solutions to community problems. Any given month of the year, they are involved. Block meetings are organized and held in people’s homes, community centers, and other spaces to talk about community issues. Town Hall meetings are organized to discuss strategies for building state power and democracy in Tennessee. Other assembly events welcome community through warm fellowship, connection, and intentional conversation.

This political grounding of building power with people is what propels changing the system. The same work and mission of BNA is SMC, but at a state level. SMC utilizes problem-solving in other Tennessee cities like Nashville. As well, they prioritize stopping the decriminalization of young black people. Under SMC, the Youth Assembly is a program that trains and organizes youth with tools to practice participatory democracy. Similar to adults, young people learn how to organize for power. To know how to build campaigns, children learn about local city officials and school board members — this equips students at an early age to understand their voice in change. The same applies to the Black Educators and Parents Collective, another branch of the Youth Assembly that assembles educators and parents. 

It is the relationships with movement lawyers, Southern organizers, community members, and volunteers that shape SMC.

What Makes the Group

Like influential leaders of the past, each brings a different fire toward the common goal. And like a group, each person brings a different style. The fight for equality in Jamel, Erica, and Mike is unanimous, but what separates SMC as an organization is the influence of individual passions.

Working with everyday people is what fuels Jamel. With a pedigree in working retail, schools, and community centers, breaking cycles through conversation is his gift. Jamel’s experience comes out in organizing, building new memberships, and “tapping” people in. Negatively normalized issues are what Jamel addresses through SMC, and if not SMC, surely by running for District 21 Metro Council.

Erica answers life’s most urgent question through her passion for movement. Her pro-black upbringing in church engrained the importance of giving back. Commending philanthropy is core, but she always knew more needed to be done. Her ambition to be in political office lessened after college, but finishing law school shaped her passion for organizing and governance. Just like church, SMC has an element of welcoming people into something that is bigger than themselves. This is what Erica strives for in SMC as a movement.

When you think of SMC, think of a civil rights group of the ‘60s combined with Southern Hip-Hop and Black church in the summertime. For Mike, he knows a movement involves new technology and new forms of communication in today’s time. The way he approaches SMC is the way he approaches his music — attracting people in a different, yet innovative way. Mike has been rapping for over a decade and he never misses a beat in relating to people. As Arts and Culture Director, he makes sure that SMC creates a space for arts and political contexts to be together. For instance, the soul-filling Meat and Three tour showcases sensational Nashville artists in a packed-house space. His SMC curation moves crowds through vulnerability and political engagement over 808s and soul samples. One entry point to leading people in an amplified way. 

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Stay Involved

A lot of blood, sweat equity, and tears went into their friendship and this organization. All three can recall at one point using the same car to get around for SMC. As they jokingly reminisce, they smile in unison knowing how far they’ve come. SMC is here to stay, and it is time to get involved. Join with dozens of other community members who are committed to the movement in Nashville. Whether registering as a block captain, attending events and meet-ups, or listening to their new podcast, you are a part of SMC. To learn more, visit their website here or follow them on Instagram: @blknshassembly. 


 

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