FOREST Circle: Building Solutions for Resilient Forests and Communities

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” – Mahatma Ghandi

We know that protecting our Southern forests requires challenging the industries and corporate interests that threaten them. But it also requires building the relationships, networks, and solutions to create the world we want to live in.

The FOREST (Frontline Organizing Resiliency and Entrepreneurial Solutions Training) Circle is a network of activists, organizers, and community leaders.

The mission of the FOREST Circle is to provide a collective space that intentionally fosters creativity and sustainability, while preparing frontline organizations through power building, education, and resource sharing.

The first FOREST Circle was held in December 2017, in Whitakers, North Carolina. Dogwood Alliance partnered with Nakisa Glover (Sol Nation) to co-organize the event. We began the process with outreach to community leaders across the South to identify the main areas that would be helpful to focus on. From that outreach, we identified some of our focus areas: frontline communities, organizing, building resiliency, and focusing on solutions, specifically entrepreneurial solutions that are sustainable for communities and the environment.

After our first summit, our group was energized and inspired. We knew we were building something special. We decided to continue working together as the FOREST Circle.

“Participating in the FOREST Summit really shifted things for me in a positive way. I’ve never been this energized.”

In May 2019, the FOREST Circle met for our 3rd FOREST Summit in Winston-Salem, NC. FOREST Circle member Michael Banner invited us to his hometown, to learn from and connect with the work that is blossoming in his community.

Our theme this year was asset mapping. What skills does our group have? What are we passionate about? What education and training do we have? How can we map this out to be more effective in the work that we do?

We began our weekend with Spirit House Introductions. Led by Cindy Taylor of Sandhills Cooperation Association, we were asked to introduce ourselves without using our names, titles, or relationships. Instead, we focused on the essence of who we are.

We learned that we are wise, we are effective, we are audacious, we are giving. We are so much more than our names and our jobs.

The next morning, FOREST Circle members Elijah Brunson and Tiffany Fant led us through workshops on relationship building. We were challenged to get out of our comfort zone and participate in movement-based activities. We learned to trust each other immensely as we were guided through a crowded room with our eyes closed and were reminded of the many ways we speak to and relate to each other without language. Our next workshop brought us back into the realm of the work we do day to day. We broke out into groups and gave each person space to speak for 5 minutes, uninterrupted, about what they are working on. Then, the other members of the group were able to respond specifically on how they can support the work that was described.

That afternoon, we left the venue to visit sites in Winston-Salem. First, we traveled to a park where the community plans to create an organic garden. Michael told us about their plans and their work to secure funding to create a garden that would provide Winston-Salem’s island community with fresh, healthy, organic produce. As we explored the site, Garry Harris trained us on how to do citizen-science. Our teams went through a series of steps to measure the height of a tree, collect soil samples, and test for mosquitoes.

Our next stop was a community garden tended to by Ms. Rosa Johnson, the niece of Maya Angelou. The women who cared for this garden told us of their journey to get the garden set up and how the school children down the street used to be shocked that they could eat something that came out of the dirt – “It’s dirty Ms. Rosa!” one child told Ms. Johnson. But now, they can’t wait to come nibble straight from the garden. Then we drove back across town to visit with Michael’s mother, a community activist and mayoral candidate. She shared with us stories from her new book and even played us a song she had written on her guitar.

The final morning, we ended our summit with an Asset Mapping exercise. Fenton Wilkinson and Cindy Taylor of Sandhills Cooperation Association taught us how to use our heads, hearts, and hands to identify our strengths. Our group has so much to offer. We are passionate about justice, the environment, our communities, and so much more. We know how to garden, build things, write grants, facilitate workshops, speak publicly, make t-shirts, draft resumes and cover letters, manage projects, and more.

As our Circle continues to strengthen, we know we are creating something intentional and powerful. The work that we do for forest protection, clean air, clean water, healthy food, and strong communities depends so much on how we work together.

In a system that consistently works to keep us divided, it’s more important than ever that we come together to build a strong and diverse network.

A healthy, natural forest ecosystem represents who we are as a circle.

A healthy forest is a diverse forest – there are old trees, young trees, different types of trees, and different sizes of trees. In a healthy forest ecosystem, trees support each other – they share nutrients, resources, and even information on potential diseases and other threats. A single standing tree is susceptible to being knocked down by wind or floods. But in a forest, each individual tree is stronger and supported by all the other trees.

“The FOREST Summit is already starting to bear fruit with new relationships already creating new impactful projects.”

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