Michelle Ramos, Alternate ROOTS’ Executive Director | July 12, 2018
One of Michelle Ramos’ first moves as ROOTS’ new executive director was to announce the #ROOTSRoadTrip – that she’d be packing her bags and hitting the road to meet ROOTers in their communities. Responses came rushing in, and from April-June Michelle made nine #ROOTSRoadTrip visits. This is the second of a three part Travelogue in which Michelle reflects on her journey. You can read Part One here.
New Orleans, LA
Is there ever a good time to hold an event in NOLA? Why you ask? Because something is always going on! Our date selection for my hometown Road Trip visit was clearly not the best time for our New Orleans based ROOTers. While the NOLA ROOTS community was tied up with performances, Jazz Fest, and other out of town commitments, I enjoyed the intimate visit with three ROOTers in the courtyard of the Feelings Bar and Café. Hannah Pepper Cunningham, her friend John, and Joanna Russo with baby, enjoyed a beautiful early spring, no humidity New Orleans afternoon with drinks, snacks, and some fantastic deep discussions about ROOTS history, ROOTS Week, and what things folks were interested in as NOLA based ROOTers. I look forward to connecting one on one with other ROOTers in my hometown in the coming weeks and months!
Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams was a ROOTer that was not going to take no for an answer when she learned I would be coming to meet folks in their communities. She was one of the first to reach out and, once I was able to confirm a visit, put her community on notice! I was greeted with a room full of folks, some ROOTers including Hope McGrath and several others who had yet to join. These folks were ready to talk, and I mean REALLY talk about their community, and about how ROOTS could support artists in this region. I heard about the dire local funding situation and the “usual” big white institutions getting all the money scenario, but at a whole different level here. I had a powerful discourse with one young woman that pushed me in my new role and helped me to really articulate with specificity how and why ROOTS should matter to artists in Jacksonville, a community that is in our region, but that we have not not had a strong presence in. I felt stretched in ways I had not been before, and I welcomed the challenge and the desire of folks to get honest and authentic.
The folks in this room made me contemplate what ROOTS hub cities might look like. This visit ran an hour over time because people were so engaged and on fire about the possibilities. I left knowing a spark had been lit – not by me, but by the act of this community coming together in this space and sharing honestly, transparently about their shared challenges, and imagining a way in which they could support each other moving forward and how ROOTS can help support that goal. I walked into a room of about 25 people of which three were current ROOTS members, I left knowing we would have many more ROOTS members in Florida and… sure enough a few weeks later, learned a group from this convening will be stepping into Lutheridge in August. Get ready y’all, these folks are heading up, and I suspect, will take ROOTS Week by storm. I left inspired and ready to return for more. ROOTS Weekend Florida 2019 perhaps?
Hot Springs, NC
A long two hour drive up the beautiful mountains of North Carolina quickly brought me back to my Colorado upbringing and driving through the winding Rocky Mountain roads of my childhood. This long mountain journey however, ended at the beautiful Azule Arts and Cultural Center where we were greeted by Camille and about 15 of her community friends and partners who spent the entire afternoon with us in this oasis reminiscent of my recent trip to the rain forests of Costa Rica, and the honest simplicity of rural mountain life. It was a very spiritual visit and I found myself frequently in awe of the way in which these folks representing every generation were interwoven like a family quilt and all working together to realize a dream of one woman who I will forever be grateful to have met.
Camille’s bright blue eyes and energetic small stature immediately reminded me of my mother. Small but mighty women kicking ass and taking names to change the world around them. We toured Azule from top to bottom, every nook and cranny: the foundation of a new building on the property, the historical tin roof hut, and even had a peek at Camille’s workspace where we saw her quilting and mosaic studio and my personal favorite, the basement in the main house that she personally dug out herself with a shovel (although community legend we learned boasts her reputation for having dug it out with a spoon!).
I discovered on this trip a rural America I didn’t know, a rural America that has a love of arts, culture, community, and history.
That has a deep desire to work with each other and learn how to create space for others to express, gather, and simply live the life they have chosen for themselves. These people connected by their Irish, Italian, and immigrant history who understand so fully what it means to have culture erased or diminished, and yet still hold space before breaking bread for the Native community that came before them on this land. A long wooden table stretching 8-10 feet held plates of loving handmade local fresh foods prepared to share with us that day, much like pulling up a seat at a family table, a family table I always longed for as an only child. It was magical and the memory I will carry with me for a very long time. Azule, I look forward to returning home to you!
We’ll be back next week with #ROOTSRoadTrip Travelogue: Part 3!