January 15, 2016
Members of NOAH, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, kicked off their first meeting of 2016 looking to build on the successes of 2015, ready to face some of the city’s toughest challenges in the year ahead.
“We’re not going to rest on our laurels,” NOAH board member and AME pastor Rev. Ed Thompson told those gathered in the sanctuary of the 15th Avenue Baptist Church on Jan. 12.
NOAH members gathered on a cold winter night, eager to take on specific tasks related to the organization’s three focus areas: affordable housing, criminal justice, and economic equity and jobs.
The discussion around affordable house struck a chord with Michael Taylor, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Church, a NOAH member organization. “The neighborhood around St. Vincent has a lot of low-income housing, but it’s a city-wide problem,” he said.
St. Vincent is one of several local Catholic organizations that are members of NOAH, including the Nashville Community of Passionist Partners and the Nashville Franciscan Group. A representative from Christ the King Parish was also present at the Jan. 12 meeting.
Being involved with NOAH “is a way to give back to the community,” said Taylor, Grand Knight of St. Vincent’s council of the Knights of Peter Claver. “It’s a way to pull together for the common good.”
NOAH, a 2015-2016 recipient of a $50,000 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, is a faith led coalition that is multi-racial and interdenominational. It is comprised of congregations, community organizations and labor unions that work to give voice to traditionally marginalized people. NOAH engages citizens in the political and economic decisions affecting their lives, giving a unified voice to the faith and justice community to act on its values in the public arena.
Last year, NOAH raised its profile considerably by hosting a well-attended mayoral candidate forum, and received a pledge of support from all candidates. The organization will have its first meeting with Mayor Megan Barry later this month. NOAH members also spread their message by regularly attending Metro Council, Planning Commission and School Board meetings, as well as engaging with political and city leaders and the public.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, members of NOAH’s Affordable Housing Task Force spoke about how Nashville’s rapid growth and gentrification in many neighborhoods is forcing longtime, lower income residents out. NOAH supports mandatory inclusionary zoning initiatives, which would require developers to set aside a certain percentage of units for affordable housing. NOAH members planned to speak at a Jan. 14 Metro Planning Commission meeting to support inclusionary zoning.
Members of NOAH’s economic equity task force reported on some of the issues they are addressing, including an update on Amendment 3, which was approved on last August’s ballot. It required that 40 percent of construction workers who are assigned to Metro projects be from Davidson County and that at least 10 percent of those jobs go to low-income workers. The Amendment, however, is in “legal limbo,” NOAH organizers reported. The economic equity task force also discussed the need for more transparency from Metro government, in particular, the need to determine how the city benefits from corporate relocation incentives.
On the criminal justice front, NOAH representatives reported that they had made some progress on efforts to reduce racial disparity in school expulsions and suspensions by meeting with school board members, principals, teachers and others. NOAH hopes to disrupt the “school to prison pipeline” and find better solutions to serve students with discipline issues.
“There are so many issues intertwined” in addressing juvenile justice reform, but it can begin with how school discipline is handled, said L.B. Gaiters of St. Vincent. A retired professor of criminal justice at Tennessee State University, Gaiters spearheaded St. Vincent’s involvement with NOAH, but was not at the Jan. 12 meeting. “I’m appreciative for any voice that can help with these issues,” she said in a phone interview, expressing her support for NOAH’s mission.
The overarching message of NOAH’s first meeting was the need for members to show up and make their voices heard on issues that matter to the community. “We can hope something happens or we can make something happen,” NOAH organizer Mike Hodge told those gathered.
NOAH is recruiting new member organizations and supporters, and more information can be found at www.noahtn.org or by calling Hodge at (615) 905-6624.