The Daily Pulse:

New Youth Group KnowHow Hosts Community Dialogue

Eleanor Scott reports on an interesting new community group:

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Around 40 people attended "Understanding Place," the KnowHow community dialogue held Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in East Knoxville. 

"And no one got shot or stabbed!" quipped Andre Canty, a speaker at the event, voicing one of the persistent negative stereotypes he's often fended off regarding East Knoxville. Canty grew up in East Knoxville, a part of town he says has a rich culture and history, despite its reputation for violence.

The community dialogue, a mixture of formal speakers and group discussion, explored race, geography, and changes both positive and negative occurring mostly in East Knoxville, a hot bed of cultural clashing and melding, misunderstandings and partnerships.

Kristi Maxwell and Elizabeth Wright founded KnowHow, a new organization to "support leadership development and community engagement among Knoxville's youth." Kristi Maxwell is a published poet and lecturer in the UT English Department. Wright is a social worker and musician involved in the past with various local bands and social justice groups.

"The idea for KnowHow developed eight years ago when I was an intern at Highlander [Research and Education Center] and learned about cultural organizing and the importance of art, music, and culture in sustaining and contributing to efforts for social change," Wright says. "As a social worker and musician, combining those worlds appeals to me."

In October Wright and Maxwell held the first KnowHow event, an Art Carnival Show and Tell, at the Birdhouse 4th and Gill Community Center. Wright says the aim of the event was to provide materials and mentoring to help youth create works of art "expressing their unique viewpoints." Local musicians and artists guided students and their families through a screen printing station, comic paneling station, painting station, and bookmaking station. At the end of the day, each participant took home a book, painting, and T-shirt made that day.

The community dialogue at the YWCA was KnowHow's second event. Speakers included Josh Inwood, UT Professor of Geography; William Isom, organizer at the Birdhouse; and Amira Inas Williams, local artist and filmmaker. 

The highlight of the afternoon was a pair of presenters: Andre Canty, a founder of the Odd Fellows Scholars Program, and 16-year-old Trevon Covington, one of the first Odd Fellows Scholars.

One of Knoxhow' goals, stated in a handout, is to "support leadership development and community engagement among Knoxville's youth, celebrating art, culture, and media as vital tools to cultivate a sense of agency in youth, to amplify their voices." This is exactly what the Odd Fellows are doing.

The voluntary Odd Fellows program recruits interested students from Vine Middle School. For two years the Odd Fellows meet twice a week for workshops in which adult mentors teach the students writing, researching, interviewing, and film-making skills. 

Canty and Covington's presentation included a screening of the short film The Cemetery of Life, written, directed and narrated by the students. The film documents the students' exploration of the neglected Odd Fellows Cemetery in East Knoxville, and their research on historically significant people buried there. Cal Johnson, the first black millionaire in Tennessee, is buried in the littered, overgrown cemetery, along with 30 soldiers of the First U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery regiment, who fought in the Civil War. The film won first place in the 2013 Knoxville Film Festival High-School Competition. 

The project "made us realize how crucial it is to preserve the Odd Fellows cemetery," says Covington, in a voice-over following a memorable image of a young man planting flowers on a forgotten soldier's grave.

When asked about his impressions of the event, attendee Tom Torres said he was struck by the "mixture of folks in the room," and how the diversity of perspectives especially emerged in the discussion of gentrification. As Inwood remarked, individuals' varying places in the community affected their definition of and stances on "revitalization" or "urban renewal." Torrez added that in addition to community discussions, it's necessary to "follow through with tangible projects," and mentioned the Birdhouse Community Garden as an example.

The upcoming KnowHow event "Music and Making" features live music and a gift-making workshop tentatively scheduled for December 22 at the SHAREhouse in Parkridge.

Also, Wright hopes to revive her Knoxville Girl's Rock Camp in the summer of 2014 as part of KnowHow's calendar of events. 

Tax-deductible donations can be made to KnowHow through Community Shares at  info@communitysharestn.org.  

UPDATE DEC. 11:

Credit is due to KnowHow members Emily Robinson and Kaitlin Malick for initiating and organizing the "Understanding Place" community dialogue.

Also: The KnowHow Making and Music event is confirmed to be held on December 22 from 2-5 p.m. at the SHAREhouse at 1640 Jefferson Avenue.


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