Over 25 years ago, a small group of activists and organizers from some local social change organizations were looking for a better way to raise money for their organizations. However, from the beginning it was about more than raising money. Community Shares’ mission is “to create just and caring communities”. In addition, we support groups who do three things: They work to change the system to make it more just, they use collective action to work together to solve problems and they involve the people most affected by the problems in helping to solve the problems.
This is not an easy time to be a social change organization. Funding is scarce and we have communities crumbling into poverty and violence, energy extraction techniques that destroy our future, foreign policy that fuels violence and hate rather than sows seeds of peace and domestic policy that teaches fear and exclusionism. In the past year we have seen a rise in both hate speech and violence.
During the Circle of Change Awards, we come together to celebrate people who are working in their own way to heal these terrible wounds. These are the people who have taken to heart Gandhi’s maxim to “be the change we wish to see”.
DANNY MAYFIELD CHAMPION OF CHANGE: Corinne Rovetti
Danny Mayfield was a leader in our community and a champion of the disenfranchised and of justice. He was a man full of hope and brimming with contagious enthusiasm. After Danny died in 2001, Community Shares chose to honor his service with the Danny Mayfield Champion of Change Award.
For decades Corinne Rovetti has been a tireless advocate for women’s health and affordable access to reproductive health care. She has dedicated her life to advocating for healthcare and women’s rights in East Tennessee from the time she moved south to make healthcare more accessible, through her years as a nurse with Planned Parenthood and now as co-director of Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health and one of the founders of Healthy and Free Tennessee, Corinne has supported women and men in their own reproductive health and in healthy family planning.
While many hesitate to express in public their views on women’s health and support for access to abortion, Corinne is fearless in her resolve, speaking at public forums, in media interviews, writing op-eds, and face to face with those who want government to interfere in private medical decisions.
Corinne had also helped victims of sexual assault, providing trauma-sensitive reproductive healthcare, and healthcare options, to the most vulnerable women and teens, including those who had avoided all reproductive healthcare following trauma long ago. Before institutional healthcare existed in East Tennessee for girls who had been sexually abused, Corinne provided that care. Unlike other healthcare providers who might shy away from “cases” that would end up in court, wanting to avoid the burden of testifying, Corinne was fearless in her support of survivors. Several years ago, Corinne worked tirelessly to ensure that assault survivors could access their private and public insurance resources to pay for the reproductive services they needed and had a right to receive.
More recently, Corinne has been a valiant organizer on behalf of the Vote No On One campaign. She hosted a weekly phone bank at her clinic and took on many media & public speaking opportunities in addition to continuing to serve as a Nurse Practitioner for women at KCRH 5-6 days a week. She always remained upbeat, even in the face of very poor attendance/participation in the phone banks at her clinic. She guided new callers through the process, met with the press and helped new young people learn how to give a TV interview. She always remained calm and centered, even when facing irate, emotional, irrational responses on the phone. Following what others may have taken as defeat, she regrouped and remains in the forefront of the campaign.
Corinne is active on other issues as well. She has a deep appreciation for Mother Earth and spends time and energy working her land. In addition, she has worked hard to keep unnecessary development from taking land in South Knoxville.
She is a strong believer in justice and has been active with the Knoxville Area Women in Black since it began in 2001. Her perspective as a Jewish woman and her commitment to Peace with Justice for Israel and Palestine enriches and deepens Women in Black’s efforts.
GARDENER OF CHANGE: Gloria Johnson
Gloria Johnson is a Knox County schoolteacher with 26 years experience educating special needs children. In 2008, she organized hundreds of people, including scores of young people, to register voters. In 2012 she ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives with a campaign foundation to have a person with experience in education helping to create laws for TN teachers, lower or eliminate sales tax on food, boost education as the main job engine, create fairer wages, and ensure every child in every zip code has a quality education.
She won this seat and became a tireless advocate for schools, women’s healthcare, good-paying jobs and protections for mountains — prompting a Knoxville paper to say, “she’s considered by her party’s leaders to be one of the best freshmen legislators in modern memory.” During her time as the Chair of the Knox County Democratic Party and as a Tennessee State Legislator Gloria touched more of the community than most public office holders and effectively impacted legislation as well as informed more people about the impact of public policy on their lives than any other party chair or public office holder in Knox County.
Gloria Johnson is an educator who has taught us all how to “stand tall” above the fray of politics but who has never shied away from fighting the good fight. She is passionate about teaching but most importantly, she teaches by example – and we can all learn from her.
Please help me congratulate our 2015 Gardener of Change.
ARTISTS OF CHANGE: Sparky and Rhonda Rucker
James “Sparky” Rucker has been singing songs and telling stories from the American tradition for over forty years. Sparky grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and began playing guitar at age eleven. Rhonda Hicks Rucker, originally from Louisville, Kentucky, practiced medicine before becoming a full-time folk musician.
Sparky has been involved with the civil rights movement since the 1950s alongside Rosa Parks, Myles Horton, Bernice Reagon, Guy Carawan and Pete Seeger. He was Vice President of the Black Student Union UT, he worked with the Poor People’s Campaign and with SNCC, SCLC, and the Southern Student Organizing Committee. He marched shoulder-to-shoulder with SNCC Freedom Singers Matthew and Marshall Jones and played freedom songs at rallies, marches, and sit-ins.
The Ruckers now reach thousands of children each year with a combination of music and storytelling which present the true histories of African American, Appalachian and Southern people.
Rhonda published the historical novel “Swing Low Sweet Harriet– a historical novel for young people based on Harriet Tubman’s work as a spy and scout during the Civil War. Rhonda is a passionate voice in social and environmental advocacy through her songwriting. Since early childhood, she has studied the ecological challenges that face our world. Her background as a physician also provides her with unique insights into numerous other social problems. She creates moving songs about such topics as global warming, the broken health care system, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sparky and Rhonda have taken their environmental message across the country, performing at numerous Earth Day celebrations, national parks, and environmental education centers.
SEEDS OF CHANGE: David Hayes, Angel Ibarra, and JT
In the last few months the slogan “Black Lives Matter” has become a rallying cry for people of all races who are working against racism and injustice. Although this is not a reminder that many of us had hoped would be necessary in 2015, it is a reminder that, on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, there is still much work to be done in our country. Last October there was a group of young people who went to Ferguson for the Weekend of Resistance and came back to Knoxville to organize locally. A group called Knoxvillians Against Injustice was formed as a result of that work.
David Hayes, Angel Ibarra, and Jasmine (JT) Taylor came back and took leadership roles in various ways.
David became a lead organizer of Knoxvillians Against Injustice and helped organize a “Ferguson-decision” protest during the Christmas parade. He has also become a leader in Knoxville movement to turn off the school to prison pipeline and helped create the school push out teach-in. He has taken an active role with the “fight for 15” to raise the wages of fast food workers and has also been active with several environmental groups.
JT is a co-chair of UT’s PSA and has taken the work to campus. JT works with Students Against Sweatshops and the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), who has campaigned alongside the United Campus Workers for LivingWages and collective liberation.JT has been a Collective Liberation Caucus Co-Chair and the Co-Chair of the People of Color Caucus. She helped organize UT’s Break the Silence after seeing lack of collective liberation. In regards to that event she said. “This is beyond the social injustices for the black community. This is for the stories that were overshadowed when they should have been given equal concern and respect.”
Angel helped start the Hip Hop Forums and is the Community Service & Volunteer Director of The Flow and the Music Event Chair for The Birdhouse. He is also a lyricist and host of Cypher Saturdays, an open mic for local Hip Hop Artists. He helped organize and lead the solidarity rally held in Knoxville after a grand jury failed to bring an indictment in the Michael Brown shooting. He has a passion for working on immigrant and human rights. He has been active for years with TN Immigrant Rights Coalition and the local Comitte Popular. I was told that he was instrumental in helping them create a fundraiser several years ago – so he takes every role from teach chants to the crowd to organizing a yard sale.
INSTITUTION FOR CHANGE: Joshalyn Hundley and the City of Knoxville Title VI/ EBOP office
As the coordinator of the City of Knoxville’s Title VI, Equal Business Opportunity Program, Joshalyn Hundley was responsible for initiating and directing an amazing series of events last year celebrating the Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Last November Joshalyn hosted a meeting that brought together a variety of community leaders to discuss ways the City of Knoxville could commemorate the 50th anniversary. What grew from that initial meeting, thanks to her leadership, was a series of events that drew the city into collaborations with a diverse range of community organizations and institutions cutting across racial, cultural, economic and every other kind of line you can think of. What began as a general idea to commemorate the anniversary became, through Joshalyn’s determined leadership, eleven distinct events that brought hundreds of Knoxvillians into close contact with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
From the standpoint of creating social change, the method Joshalyn used may have been even more important than the remarkable product. For each event, she convened a committee of community members and listened carefully to ideas as they were presented, guided the committee as sit sifted through ideas, and then, after a plan was adopted, she acted to make it a reality, collecting in-kind donations from corporations, individuals and institutions.
These commemorations are vitally important at a time when the historic progressive gains captured in these seminal pieces of legislation are being rolled back by courts and legislatures across the country. Each event was not only a history lesson, but a call to treasure and defend hard won rights, and to build upon the legacy of past generations.