Article by Bob Martin (Clear Creek, KY); Photos by Bob Martin and Nicole Garneau (Chicago, IL)
Bob Martin, your Executive Committee (ExComm) Board Chair here with an update and recap from our spring Face-to-Face (F2F) meeting down in New Orleans, LA. Your lovely and amazing Board President, Ms. Rebecca Mwase, was our host and as you can imagine she took her job quite seriously making sure we all had plenty of good food, warm beds and proper ROOTy-ness throughout the weekend.
As our meeting was scheduled to begin Saturday morning we arrived on Friday and met up at the National Performance Network’s beautiful new home, Arts Estuary 1024. NPN’s website describes Arts Estuary 1024 as, “a multi-tenant arts facility … focused on creating a space that fosters the growth and development of organizations dedicated to the creative arts and community engagement.” This gorgeous, recently remodeled space held our opening night ROOTS Rhizome event hosted by Rebecca and several members of Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians family along with performances and entertainment by Mardi Gras Indian royalty representing five different crews: Big chief Al Womble & Big Queen Wanda Womble—Cheyenne; Tribal Queen Littdell Banister—Creole Wild West; Big Chief Dalcour & Spy Boy Ace – Aaron Washington—Creole Osceolas; Queen Mary Jones—Golden Eagles; Pharaoh Andrew Wiseman, Big Chief Brian Nelson & Queen Cherice—Guardians of the Flame.
Big Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson from Guardians of the Flame organized the food and barbeque as we all supped, fellowshipped and ultimately danced to the sweet sounds of these famed culture bearers of New Orleans. She also shared about her work opening the Mardi Gras Indians Hall of Fame and the Donald Harrison Sr. Museum honoring her father’s fifty-plus years of masking.
As if this sweet Rhizome event wasn’t enough to welcome the ExComm to New Orleans, we were all invited post-Estuary over to ROOTers MK Wegmann and Lisa Q. Mount’s gorgeous home and balcony over looking Frenchmen Street for an all-NOLA ROOTS mixer. It was a joy to see long-time ROOTer, ExComm member, and musical historian Don Harrell, in his first time to the Crescent City, standing on Lisa and MK’s balcony with a huge smile listening to a ten-piece Brass Band below us on the corner lighting up the night and providing a perfect soundtrack for our gathering.
As many of you might know the ExComm intentionally decided last year to employ the strategy of moving our seasonal meeting around the ROOTS region. This strategy enables us to: 1) better inform and include the membership in your elected body of representatives’ work throughout the year and 2) shed light and resources on our Rhizomes, so that the ExComm coming to town might be a catalyst for activity. Judging by the 50 or so ROOTers and allies who came together over these opening night events, I’d say this strategy is working well.
Down to business: Saturday, March 7th. We kicked off our day with another welcome to the space by MK Wegman and honoring those who couldn’t be with us (Shout outs to Nikki Brown, Dan Brawley, Keryl McCord and Ashley Davis). During our first day of meetings we reflected on and discussed three comprehensive staff reports: Executive Director’s Report led by Carlton Turner, Operations Report led by Keryl McCord via phone conference, and Programs Report/ROOTS Week update led by Carlton and our new Programs Associate, Wendy Shenefelt who is taking the lead on ROOTS Week organizing. We also went over our current finances (ALL GOOD!) and approved an amendment to the previously approved 2015 budget due to substantial unexpected increases in funding from several of our funders (YAY!!).
These reports are available upon request — please feel free to reach out to staff or any ExComm member if you’d like more information about anything mentioned in this reflection. I’ll also say a main takeaway for me from this very full and impressive day of updates on the current state of ROOTS has been HUGE KUDOS to our staff as our current organizational development, growth, and standing in the field reflects inspiring, intelligent, and diligent work that is deeply aligned with our mission.
Once we adjourned our meeting, we headed straight to the Ashé Cultural Arts Center for yet another beautiful ROOTS Rhizome event, a workshop co-hosted by ROOTS’ organizations Progress Theatre and Junebug Productions called Singing for Movement Building co-facilitated using Junebug Productions’ Story Circles facilitated by Stephanie McKee and Soulwork by Dr. Cristal Chanelle Truscott of Progress Theatre. The evening held deep wisdom by elders of the Civil Rights Movement sharing stories of frontline resistance in the face of great danger along with a roomful of stories centered on how singing or song can get you through times of great need. After witnessing each others’ stories we sang together ending the evening with joined hands in “WE SHALL OVERCOME.” The spirits were definitely with us that night in Ashé, give thanks.
Day Two: Sunday, March 8th. On our last day we had two main areas of focus: next year’s 40th Anniversary programming and our current and future Strategic Planning. We tackled the 40th Anniversary in the morning hearing a proposal from Carlton that was developed through visioning work at the F2F in Baltimore in October combined with staff input. Thank you to all the members who added their thoughts to this process as Carlton laid out a beautiful year of potential programming designed to celebrate and uplift ROOTS’ work and members past, present and future! The ExComm unanimously approved the direction of this work moving forward and it will now head into a 40th Anniversary Innovation Ensemble for shaping and then onto the full membership to review and reflect on at ROOTS Week in August. All very exciting business; if you are interested in joining the 40th Anniversary conversation please reach out to Board President Rebecca Mwase (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information, as she’ll be chairing this committee.
We then moved onto a two-part process reviewing our current closing Strategic Plan (2013-2015) and looking ahead towards our next Strategic Plan. Here the staff had prepared another spot on, in-depth analysis of where we’ve met our goals, where we are still working and possibilities/ questions arising. As the ExComm reviewed this solid work from the staff we added our thoughts toward reaching a shared analysis that set the stage to move into pre-thinking for our future Strategic Plan. We also took the time to celebrate the goals we’ve met in our current strategic plan by developing group affirmations or cheers of the work including: the Strategic Planning Hokey Pokey, Lift it Up-Lift it Up-Lift it Up!, and Patty Cake, Patty Cake Baker’s Man—Strengthen Organizational Stability as Fast as You Can! Who says we don’t use art in our Board Room Activities! Amazing.
This work will also head into a Strategic Planning Innovation Ensemble that I’ll convene with Carlton towards presenting a draft of our next Strategic Plan at ROOTS Week for feedback and review. If you are interested in joining this conversation please let me know, email@example.com.
We wrapped this extremely full and productive weekend talking about logistics for our next F2F meeting in early June in Jackson, MS hosted by the Turner Family and our fellow Mississippi ROOTers. BIG THANKS to the New Orleans and Gulf Coast ROOTS community for showing such warm hospitality and care for all of us. It was a joy to be in your home/s.
Again, if you have any questions, ideas, thoughts or comments on this update from the ExComm NOLA F2F please don’t hesitate to reach out—we’d love to hear from you. Thank for your service, artistry, hard work and know we are doing our best as your Executive Committee to support Alternate ROOTS in every way we can. See you at Lutheridge in August, if not before!
Robert “Bobby B” Martin – Chair
Rebecca Mwase – President
Tamiko Ambrose – Secretary
Tracy Broyles – Treasurer