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Addison Peacock appreciates living democracy virtually

Summer 2020 is one the world is not likely to forget anytime soon. Our world is dealing with issues like racial tension, civil rights violations, and a pandemic. These global issues are also permeating our personal lives, changing things as simple as our daily routine and as complex as our views of community and leadership.

This summer, I was supposed to have gotten a first-hand look at community by living in a place that was different from my own, Collinsville. A typical Living Democracy experience would have allowed me to spend 10 weeks living in this northeast Alabama town and interacting with its citizens. But my Living Democracy experience was anything but typical. And I am so grateful for that.

At first, I was a little skeptical when Dr. Wilson first asked us to continue the internship remotely. How were we supposed to “live democracy” virtually and engage with community members we had never met?

In order to answer that question, we had to dive right in. I found myself doing something I had never done before: contacting strangers over Facebook, email, and even sometimes just calling them and hoping someone would answer.

Even during  the first week, when I had decided to write a story about how COVID-19 had impacted the Collinsville High school, I was shocked at the kindness and generosity that was displayed by both the CHS principal Bradley Crawford and teacher Devin Bouldin as they both agreed to spend an hour of their week talking with me.  

As the summer went on, I would learn that the selflessness I had experienced that first week was not unique to CHS but is a characteristic of Collinsville’s citizens in general. I was able to speak with so many people who call Collinsville home, and each of them provided me with an invaluable perspective about the makeup of their community and what makes it special.

 I spoke with librarian Jennifer Wilkins, business owners like Lana Cosby, healthcare professional Dr. Frannie Koe, and public servants like Fort Payne’s Chamber of Commerce director, Jennifer McCurdy.

Each of them said this about Collinsville: this is a town where everyone does what they can to help each other in times of need and celebrate each other in times of success. They sent the message that Collinsville citizens lift each other up despite any differences that would lead them to tear each other down.

That sentiment was reflected in the stories they told of what had happened in Collinsville since March, when COVID-19 really hit. I learned about a food drive that CHS and several local churches started to help feed kids who had no place to eat after COVID shut down their school. I learned about the beautiful and unique businesses and tourist attractions that the area has to offer and how they are being affected.

I learned about the Dekalb County Leadership Program and the skills it teaches Dekalb County citizens and learned about which parts of Collinsville made its younger citizens proud. Each perspective I was able to hear taught me so much about what Collinsville is.

I also got the wonderful opportunity to work with Teresa Bobo, Monica Denis, and the rest of the Collinsville Historical Association to help them in their project to restore the historic Cricket Theater. The theater, built in 1946, was abandoned and almost torn down years ago, but was saved because of public efforts to restore it and put it back to use.

The CHA, a non-profit organization whose work centers around preserving Collinsville history, has worked tirelessly to make progress on the building. While they have come a very long way, there is still work to be done. They are looking to finance a new roof for the building, as well as some technical projects like lighting and sound needed to host public performances.

I am so grateful for the CHA. This organization allowed me to learn so many new skills and create so many new connections with the theatre community of Alabama this summer. I also am incredibly grateful for each and every person who agreed to speak with me. Your patience and openness will never be forgotten.

After the events of this year are long behind us, I cannot wait to visit the beautiful community I have been introduced to and meet all of the wonderful people who I feel I have learned so much about.

Tags: Collinsville

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