Historic Selma, AL March Headquarters to Open in March

I grew up in Selma, Alabama from 1977-1987. My father had been a U.S. Air Force pilot and had purchased a home in the town when he trained at Selma’s Craig Air Force Base. I attended integrated public schools, where each year a handful of students would be accepted to Ivy League schools. Since then, the schools have declined, but when I lived in Selma, the city provided me with an integrated, world-class education in and out of the classroom.

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In Selma, I learned about two types of hospitality. The first type of hospitality is personified by my 6th grade teacher Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson. Mrs. Jackson’s home served as the residential headquarters of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. The Jackson family hosted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Heschel, and other prominent leaders of the Voting Rights Movement for months.

The Jackson family opened their home to people of different races, gender, religions, and creeds as long as you were there to build a community where all people could flourish. In Mrs. Jackson’s memoir, “The House by the Side of the Road,” she shares the story of her family’s hospitality as they nourished a new vision of humanity that called America to look in the mirror and discover the angels of its better nature.

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Contrast this with a different vision of hospitality. Have you ever been at a table where food is used as a psychological weapon? Instead of a nourishing feast, have you experienced a time when you were judged by how much you ate? Whether or not you complimented the chef enough? Or had the meal disrupted by the cook’s feelings about the food? When we are in this situation, food is not meant to nourish bodies or a community. It’s about judgment and ultimately about the provider being the source to which people must pay homage. It’s not grace and community nourishment.

What does this look like today? One need look no further than a recent open letter by some Selma leaders complaining that U.S. President Obama will visit the city. Apparently a sitting president seeking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March on March 7th conflicts with these leaders’ idea that March 8th is the day to commemorate the occasion.

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How can we think about hospitality in ways that nourish our communities? What should we do when we find people using hospitality in ways that use us for their purposes? I consider these questions:

1. What nourishes me? What hospitality does my soul need today?

2. What kind of community would I like to see form? What kind of relationships will need to be fostered? How can my home, table, and food create a common ground for people to build this community?

3. When I offer hospitality, people will sit in my favorite chair; eat my food sometimes without helping clean up; break an occasional coffee cup; and forget things at my house. What boundaries do I need to set so that I do not deplete myself? What losses am I willing to accept to reach my goal?

4. What phrases or actions tip me off to the intention behind hospitality? Where am I vulnerable to being seduced by another’s rich table or powerful friends? What agreements do I need to make with myself, in advance, to remain true to “Who I am?” What steps should I take next if I fail?

By nurturing healthy hospitality, and by having a plan when we meet self-serving people, we are able to build healthier lives and communities.

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In March, the historic home of Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson, located in Selma, Alabama will open as a museum with tours given by appointment.

{Image: Former home of Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson, courtesy of the Jackson Foundation and Museum}

About the Author

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Allegra Jordan is an author and innovator focused on human flourishing at the edges of life. She led marketing at USAToday.com, handled crisis communications for the Enron investigation, co-developed a Google Glass app and has taught innovation in 16 countries on five continents. Her articles, cases and book reviews have appeared in USA Today, TEDx and in publications by Duke, Harvard and UT-Austin. She curates a top-ranked reconciliation poetry website. A graduate with honors of Harvard Business School, she has been named a top executive under 40 in Austin, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama. The End of Innocence (Sourcebooks, August 26, 2014) is her debut novel.

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