Group from Maury County finds ways to promote, produce racial harmony
By David Dawson and Ashley Perham
Baptist and Reflector writers
COLUMBIA — With reflective expressions and hopeful hearts, the members of Stand Together Fellowship walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the afternoon of July 10.
They moved along in mixed pairs — one white and one black — as they strode across the historic bridge that served as the starting point for the March to Montgomery in 1965. By the time they reached the other side, many in the group had wet faces, the combined result of sweat and tears on this steamy summer afternoon.
The emotionally-charged scene was a snapshot that captured the essence of Stand Together Fellowship — a group of roughly 50 civic and church leaders from Maury County. The group, which includes several Tennessee Baptist Convention pastors, seeks to promote and develop equality and harmony.
“We are focused on improving race relations, building effective relationships and working with community leaders and others to bring about racial justice and equality,” said Trent Ogilvie, founder and president of Stand Together and pastor of Bethel Chapel AME Church, Columbia.
The recent visit to Selma was just one stop on the group’s two-day “Justice Journey” tour through Alabama, where they visited several of the sites that hosted the most pivotal moments of the Civil Rights movement. Their trip included the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham and the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery and also several churches where tragic incidents took place in the 1960s. (See related story, HERE).
Steve Livengood, pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, and a member of STF, said the trip made an indelible mark on his life. He said it provided him with a new perspective on just how far our nation has come in the quest for equality — and it reminded him of how far we still have to go.
“The trip was extremely meaningful,” said Livengood. “It was an eye-opening experience to go and see the history and to see all the things that happened and how it unfolded. I was born in 1962, so I was very little when so much of this was happening, and I had really only heard about it in stories. So, to be there, and to be educated on what actually happened, it was powerful.”
Ogilvie said the trip to Alabama was galvanizing for the group.
“It was a great opportunity to leave our community and go see the past history that has taken place in the South and has shaped the Civil Rights Movement,” he said.
Ogilvie added that the trip provided the group members with a chance to ask themselves three important questions — “How did this affect Columbia in the past? How does it affect us presently? (And) also how can we build a community to shape a better future?” Ogilvie said.
Although the group members learned a wealth of information on the trip, the benefits of the journey went well beyond gaining new knowledge, said Mike Dawson, transitional interim pastor at First Baptist Church, Livingston.
“The fact that I got to experience the trip with Christian brothers and sisters — including fellow pastors and other lay people of faith — made it much more than just a tour of Civil Rights museums and monuments,” said Dawson.
“Any time you go to a historical site, it can be a moving and educational experience,” Dawson said. “But to be in Alabama, and to visit some of the sites where freedom and justice truly began to take root, and to do so with my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, made it so much more of a shared emotional experience.”
The members of the Stand Together group said they felt nearly every emotion on the spectrum during the trip: Sadness and anger; joy and optimism; disgust and remorse; love and hope.
“There were times when I cried throughout the museum,” said Livengood. “(And there were other moments) when I actually stopped and prayed because I was getting so angry. I was getting angry at my own race for what we did. And especially here in the South, where I love and where I live.”
Livengood said he hopes he can help others understand the importance of such a trip.
“I’ve told everybody since I got back that I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to go,” he said. “I have encouraged everybody that they need to do something similar. Even if they can’t go with a group like we did, they should go on their own and see these things.”
MORE THAN JUST TALK
The backstory behind the forming of Stand Together Fellowship is rather simple: It all started with a suggestion.
It happened in June of 2016, when several pastors and civic leaders got together for a time of prayer in the wake of the tragic church shootings in Charleston, S.C.
“At the end of that service, (one of the pastors) said, ‘You know, the problem with these types of services is we usually just have a worship service, and then we all just go back to our corner and we don’t continue the conversation’,” said Russ Adcox, pastor of Maury Hills Church, Columbia.
After that service, Ogilvie took the lead. He e-mailed all of those who attended the gathering and invited them to a meeting to continue the dialogue about race relations.
Adcox, who co-leads the group with Ogilvie, said he wanted to be a part of the conversations and attended the first meeting.
“If you think back to the original Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, it was faith leaders that spoke into elected officials to say, ‘This needs to change’,” said Adcox. “That entire movement was prompted by people’s faith, and so that’s been the good part of having some of these elected officials sitting in the room with us … They’re getting to hear the conversation and hear from these different perspectives.”
Ogilvie and Adcox soon put the wheels in motion, and the group was officially formed. Just weeks later, STF took on its first project — overseeing the renaming of a road in Columbia that many people found to be insensitive and/or offensive. After several town hall meetings and an appeal to government officials and residents of the street, the name of the road was changed.
Stand Together Fellowship hosts a monthly dialogue — which is open to the community — at 9:30 a.m. on the first Friday of each month at the Columbia Police Department.
Adcox said he has seen God work through the greater understanding the forum brings to people. “It’s given me much greater perspective of what’s really going on, not just in our country, but in our community,” he said. “It’s just given me a lot more understanding and context.”
In the coming days, the group hopes to continue to not only stand together, but also kneel together. And work together. And live together in unity.
“I grew up in the days of segregation — in the schools and at the water fountains,” said Dawson. “So now, for me to come to this stage of my career, here at the retirement phase, and to join an organization like Stand Together that is trying to positively correct some of those wrongs, that’s what is a thrill to me.” B&R