I am Terri L. Bailey. I am the founder of The Bailey Learning and Arts Collective, Inc. (aka BLAAC – pronounced black). We are a community-based outreach and education organization, promoting activism and a recommitment to the arts. Our tagline is BLAAC2BASICS. Our mission is to help build knowledgeable, socially responsible communities and leaders through grassroots ideology, low and no-cost activities, and arts promotion and instruction. Our goals are to offer events that promote individual and community activism and empowerment; to provide organizing expertise to individuals and organizations for community outreach efforts; and to promote cultural, visual, and folk-art education through conferences, workshops and community celebrations.
I am a child of grassroots organizing. My aunt is Rosa B. Williams, a community mother, organizer and civil rights veteran. I followed her around and inadvertently participated in integration efforts, political activism and forums where ideas were formed and movements were born. In addition, my best friend’s mom is Byllye Avery, one of the founding mothers of the Black women’s health movement. Her organization, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, went from an idea at the kitchen table in Gainesville to a campaign empowering women in the heart of Atlanta’s West End. Its current home is in Washington, DC, where its influence continues to grow. These women showed me that even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can make an impact on your community.
I returned to Gainesville from Atlanta in 1997 and was shocked at how much it had changed. I had spent a decade working in women’s reproductive health and had pretty much seen the gamut of social and economic issues. I thought I was prepared for anything, but I was not ready for the level of gentrification on my beloved Fifth Avenue, the rapidly growing number of HIV cases in Gainesville or the lack of art activities that I was so used to growing up. While Gainesville could never have been called a liberal or progressive city, it was certainly a lot better before I had left.
In 2009, I attended the Urban Initiative for Reproductive Health in Atlanta. The primary focus of the conference was on reproductive health and justice, but there could not be a conversation about those issues without discussing health disparities and gentrification in southern communities. I couldn’t believe it! I was in the middle of a conference with hundreds of people complaining about the same issues I was. These activists were making big changes and helping people at the community level with the hopes of eventually effecting change at the policy level. That night, the Bailey Learning and Arts Collective was born.
BLAAC organizes from the ground up by getting out and talking to other community organizers and bringing together local organizations and leaders to maximize our outreach efforts with the minimal resources available to us. We have partnered with organizations such as M.A.M.A.’s Club and institutions such as the University of Florida. We are an incubating company at the Santa Fe Center for Innovation and Economic Development, which allows us to always have access to a venue. BLAAC hosts numerous events every year with no formal budget or money in the bank.
I have been accused of having high ideas and uppity ways that lead to impossible, unreachable goals. I have been admonished for a mission that seems too broad and could never be accomplished. Doubters and haters had to step aside as we partnered with local organizations to provide a venue for a teach-in that eventually led to the removal of the confederate statue. They couldn’t believe it when we helped organize Gainesville’s first holiday parade in 40 years. It went down the middle of Fifth Avenue and entertained more than 1,000 people without incident or injury. In February, we worked with the city for Black History Month and hosted a program featuring black artists and poets as well as a children’s dance and storytelling event. All of these events were offered at low or no cost. In May, we are offering a free business seminar for visual artists and writers that is co-sponsored by Queenchiku Ngozi Art Gallery, Inc., Visit Gainesville, Gainesville Fine Arts Association, Deepwell Studios and Third House Books.
I am excited to do this work. I hope that anyone reading this will consider making a donation and attending our events. We are raising funds for a 501(c)(3), looking for a city-owned building that we can occupy in the Pleasant Street area and hoping to expand our programming. We are looking to partner with other organizations to bring programs to people that are politically informative, culturally relevant and creatively inclined. •