The Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth & Reconciliation has been a critical addition to the community, promoting racial and economic justice in Alabama for more than six years. Ainka Jackson, the founding and current executive director, and her team, accomplish this by partnering with local and national organizations, like Black Voters Matter, while galvanizing community involvement.
Jackson is also the creator and editor of the Selma Superheroes children’s book series that shares the history of Selma’s foot soldiers and encourages youths to be “Selma 2.0 Superheroes.” Through the series, she tells the younger generation that though the city had the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, now it’s their time to take the lead.
The mother of three and lawyer by profession has had her hands full this year. With the rise in protests and continued civil unrest, she partnered with local clergy to focus on community healing and is currently working on a sustainable tourism campaign to infuse funds into the city.
Now, as she gears up for the presidential election, in a year like no other, she’s getting her community together once again to get out the vote with some fun initiatives.
What do you have planned in your community for Election Day?
We have 29 polls here in Dallas County, where Selma is located. So, at each location, we will have voting ambassadors, hype men and women, and DJs. The voting ambassadors will be walking around with signs that read: PROBLEM WITH VOTING? VISIT THE PURPLE TENT. At the tents, we’ll have all kinds of voting resources. We want everyone to know if they’re at the right location, what their voter ID rights are (i.e., the law says IDs are for identification purposes only, not for address verification), and be a resource to them in any way we can. For some, it may be their first time voting, so we want them to feel seen and heard.
At 17 of the 29 poll sites, we’d also have a drawing for $500. Those 17 neighborhoods are the most impoverished, marginalized, and the hardest hit by this pandemic. And now, with the effects of Hurricane Zeta, they’re facing power outages where in some homes the food has gone bad. So we hope the drawing will not only motivate people to come out in those communities but that it’d help those with the greatest needs.
Part of your organization’s initiative is to get the incarcerated vote in, how are you doing that?
We partnered with the Vote or Die campaign. Essentially we’ve been working with those in the Dallas County Jail to get them registered and have them vote by absentee. We covered the postage cost needed to expedite their ballots. We also wanted to use our time to educate those who qualified for some of the pandemic payments. For example, some people are still locked up over tiny bill payments that they couldn’t pay to get out, which is insane. So, for those who qualified for those payments, we’re helping them navigate that too.
What issues matter most to your community?
Selma is often forgotten. People come take a picture on the bridge, and leave; they don’t spend money. People use our infrastructure, but they don’t invest in Selma. And people use our name so much that if we got $10 every time somebody said Selma, we won’t have financial problems as a community. What matters most to us right now, is that the suffering ends. We have a new mayor and council that gets sworn in on Monday. And so this is an opportunity for us to do a reset.
We want the pain to stop and the healing to start, and that begins with local and national leadership. That’s why voting down the ballot is so important. If we didn’t have so much division, we could work through all of the things that seem to be holding us back from moving forward. And that’s representative of our nation, right now, not just Selma.
What are some changes you are advocating for right now in your community?
So, our organization’s work focuses on nonviolent initiatives and helping our community get to that place of balance and peace. The Department of Justice just awarded us a grant for our nonviolence street outreach program we’re calling Selma 2.0: A Beloved Healthy Community Framework. The outreach street workers used to live a particular lifestyle but don’t live that life anymore and can understand street dynamics of youth crews and gangs in ways that an outsider might not. And we hope this would help understand that population better, reduce retaliation, prevent conflict from erupting, and communicate nonviolent messages. The outreach workers won’t just stop at focusing on that balance; they’re also educating people and helping connect those in challenging situations to employment and victim services. I’m really excited to get this rolling in our community!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.