"(The meetings) are a great space to talk about race relations, economic development in underdeveloped areas, casting light on the issues of everyday people, education and housing," Working Together Jackson Vice Chairman Ronnie Crudup Jr. told BOOM Jackson.
In 2009, a sponsoring committee approached the Industrial Areas Foundation, community-organizing network, about starting Working Together Jackson. In June 2012, WTJ became a fully operational broad-based community organization.
Working Together Jackson operates as a 501c3 organization. Its core money comes from member institutions such as churches, which pay annual dues to support the group.
Lead organizer Perry Perkins says the organization focuses on many issues that come out of the member institutions through house meetings and listening sessions. WTJ partners with Industrial Areas Foundation for staff and leadership training.
WTJ, which focuses on areas in Jackson most in need (primarily south and west Jackson), helps push initiatives such as community development and institutional repair around the city. WTJ is currently discussing how to make public transportation in Jackson more disability-accessible, as well as doing gun violence and crime-prevention research.
At the meeting, Perkins said that while the organization wants to help Jackson's neediest neighborhoods, Working Together Jackson also wants to help rebuild the whole city.
"This reporter asked me the other day what we meant when we talked about rebuilding Jackson. And I told him: All of Jackson needs to be rebuilt," Perkins said. One example he gave to BOOM Jackson is the entire city's need for improved infrastructure.
Perkins says WTJ is currently working with Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, the Jackson Public Schools board of trustees and the Better Together Coalition as the school district makes its new transition. Perkins says the group has met with community members to discuss what they would like to see happen in the district, how they can contribute and more.
WTJ also focused on the passage of the 1-cent sales tax initiative, and later, its implementation. It worked with Kroger once the store decided to leave the Terry Road location to keep the grocery-store deed on the property, so another grocer could come into the space. WTJ recruited a new store, Cash and Carry, to move into the old building to keep a grocer in the area.
The organization has a partnership with Hinds Community College to recruit students for a retraining program, where the school will help a student obtain a General Education Degree certificate when applicable, and in turn, register the student with a technical program specializing in workforce training. The program began with 17 students two years ago and currently has 300 students. By press time, 100 students had graduated with starting pay rates between $19 and $35 per hour.
When various speakers mentioned these past achievements and current progress at the meeting, the audience erupted in applause. Those who spoke were aware of the negativity that often surrounds the city. They could sense progress, though.
"I initially joined Working Together and have stayed because the group is so diverse," Crudup Jr. told BOOM Jackson.
"We come from all backgrounds of race, religion and economic status. Our group can help bring attention to issues often neglected by politicians. We give people a voice when before they felt powerless. This is a unique and effective forum to solve problems."
For more information on Working Together Jackson, find the organization on Facebook.