“History is so much of a choice,” said Dr. Imani Perry during an engaging dialogue with Jerald Crook, founder and executive director of Alabama’s Higher Ground Society (HGS) and program coordinator for the Georgia Humanities Council. “It is like mapmaking….when you make a map, you make decisions about what matters.” A Hughes-Rogers professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of the recently released book, South to America, Perry joined a series of rich conversations with Alabamian humanists, artists, musicians, writers, and community organizers on season two of the HGS Podcast, sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Alliance, last month.

Emphasizing the value of honesty, Perry describes the importance of resisting historical mythology and destabilizing dominant narratives of the South, and of the nation. Perry invites listeners to “contemplate history differently, to think of their location in history differently, and to be inspired to dig around a little more.” By doing this, she suggests, we are not only shifting historical narratives but we are also shifting human relationships. 

Building community through open, honest dialogue is central to Higher Ground Society’s work. In 2013, Crook founded the Alabama-focused project, formerly titled Young Man Visions, Old Man Dreams, with the mission of “forging community and understanding through engagement in the arts and humanities,” and a commitment to “to laying the foundation for a more just, tolerant, and empowered local society for generations to come.” Hailing from Bay Minette, the county seat of Baldwin County, Alabama, Crook has a demonstrated passion for the humanities, arts, and social and environmental justice.

For nearly a decade, HGS programs have supported civic engagement, community resilience, mental health, and creative expression amongst Alabama residents. With intention, HGS “facilitates genuine experiences where people in small Alabama communities can engage the arts and humanities on a more intensive level.” For example, HGS’s Chat for Change program is a virtual series which fosters conversations that allow Alamabians to connect and understand each other on a deeper level. Curated with creativity and care, the Chat for Change program holds space for audiences to share and explore a variety of topics. Recently, participants contemplated the role of love in their lives through the “Love Out Loud” series.

The HGS Podcast also features a diversity of Alabama voices from “creatives and thinkers of note who uplift their state and contribute wonderful things to greater society.” In addition to Dr. Perry, Crook has spoken with Birmingham-based educator, organizer, and State Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones about her journey of artistic expression through writing. Jones recites her poem “Manifest Destiny” from her recent collection, Reparations Now!, and discusses “examining the U.S. through a literary lens.” In another episode, Sheyann Webb-Christburg, the “Smallest Freedom Fighter” of the Civil Rights Movement, recalled her first encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., her powerful experience participating in the 1965 Bloody Sunday March from Selma to Montgomery, and how it’s shaped her lifework. Alabama-raised writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist Brontez Purnell also sat down with Crook to discuss his latest book release, 100 Boyfriends, and “what it means to be unapologetically Black and queer today and in times past.” These guests emphasize the importance of investing in Alabama youth, working across cultural differences, and creating community in the fight for, as Webb-Christburg puts it, “protection for all [Alabama] residents.”

In 2022, HGS is working on creating a patchwork symphony of Alabama musicians. This “collaborative, multi-genre, 12-track studio album” will feature musical messages from across the state, “be they found in local church choir lofts, open mic nights at dive bars and clubs, or in-home kitchens preparing family dinner.” In partnership with Alabama Contemporary Art Center and Cartographer Records, patchwork symphony will “showcase Alabama’s rich musicality while simultaneously highlighting the unsung stewards of this unique heritage.” Interested Alabamians can submit their musical works until May 2, 2022. Read more about the Submission Guidelines today.

Through “vigorous and inclusive” engagement, HGS is increasing access to the humanities, the arts, honest histories, and empowered community across the state. Dive in and explore more from the Higher Ground Society by visiting their website. Stay up to date by following them on Facebook, Twitter (@hg_soc), and Instagram (@highergroundsociety)!

Written by Jazzy DiMeglio