Color Us Connected is a bi-monthly blog that is independent of the sister city project begun by Tuskegee and South Berwick, Maine in 2017. Yet this blog was born from that experience. It is a new venture involving me (Karin Hopkins) and Amy Miller. We are both veteran reporters, now using our skills in solidarity with the sister city mission. This week we talk about how we came to the decision to collaborate.
We are two journalists – one a white woman born in New York City and living in Maine, the other a black woman born in Detroit and living in Alabama. We met when our two towns – South Berwick Maine, and Tuskegee, Alabama, agreed to become sister cities. It was, as far as we know, the first time two communities in the United States had formed a sister city relationship.
This blog is one of many collaborations to emerge from that one-year-old relationship. We plan to write a joint blog twice a month, to be published online and in two local newspapers – the Tuskegee News and Foster’s Daily Democrat. Sometimes, perhaps often, we will address issues of race and social justice. Sometimes we may not. But always our columns will be informed by the fact of who we are as women, as baby boomers, as black or white, as northerner or southerner, as humans.
The Tuskegee/South Berwick Sister City relationship began after some people in South Berwick tried to address national race issues in their community. Maine, and South Berwick, are overwhelmingly white. (The 2010 US Census Lists South Berwick as 97 percent white) After several sparsely attended programs at the public library inviting citizens to discuss “Why Race Matters in South Berwick” and “How to Talk to Your Children about Race,” a group of citizens had the idea of inviting a largely African-American community to be a sister city as a way to build a bridge that library programs could not.
The international sister city program started by President Eisenhower after WWII aimed “to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation — one individual, one community at a time.” That mission certainly fit the occasion.
After researching African-American majority cities, the folks in South Berwick approached Tuskegee. The southern city was about the same size as South Berwick; it was 96 percent African-American and it was a city with a community identity. The committee of Mainers knew Tuskegee was rich in history, home to the Tuskegee Airmen, Tuskegee University and many other civil rights milestones.
So Maine wrote to Tuskegee – specifically the mayor and other dignitaries. They had no idea if a sister city would hold appeal to people in Tuskegee. It was the ultimate cold call. In their letter they wrote, “As Americans, we would like to join with you, fellow Americans, to create a kind of virtual community joined by our common humanity, nationality and desire to further understanding between Americans.” A few months later, Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood told South Berwick residents that yes, they were interested.
A year later we have a private Common Ground Sister City Facebook page. We have friends across the country. We have met and we have had exchanges between teachers, pastors, journalists and citizens.
Nine residents from South Berwick went to Tuskegee in December. Tuskegee hosts filled the days with history lessons, museum tours, music, food and intensive dialogues. The days were also filled with developing friendships.
We, Karin and Amy, met during a deliberative dialogue on race. We agreed the sister city relationship was worth nourishing, in our communities and in the news. We agreed this partnership might have potential for other communities in our country that don’t know how to bridge the divide. We sensed that in four days people from both South Berwick and Tuskegee had experienced intensely important changes.
This blog is just one piece in the dynamic relationship forming between our communities. Although we are from the two sister cities, our columns reflect our own views. The column is an outgrowth of, but separate from that sister city relationship. In the blogs to come we may talk about projects our communities share and perspectives that we – Amy and Karin – may or may not share. Either way we will learn from each other and we invite you, our readers, to join in our process.