The Grant will allow a public event to take place in Beloit scheduled for September or October that will help educate the community about stopping usage of the word Nigger. The Beloit Historical Society wants to host an event that will symbolically both bury the use of that word along with educate people about the full breadth of its destructiveness.
In 2006 the Beloit Historical Society hosted an event called “Burying the N Word” in which 200 members of the community held a funeral for and service eulogizing the death of that word.
But Wanda Sloan, a citizen of Beloit, feels like it is time to revisit the event and host a new one. Sloan is concerned that the use of the word “Nigger” is as alive and well as it ever was.
“I think it’s important because the young people, and some older people, are using the word very frequently and fluently,” Sloan said. “I don’t think they really have the historical context of how the word was originated and how it was used in a historical context.”
The event the Black Historical Society put on ten years ago included people writing the N word down on pieces of paper, placing those papers into a coffin and literally marching ceremonially like a funeral to bury the N word.
Sloan says she isn’t sure they would do something so elaborate this time, but wants to do a ceremony of some sort along with educational programs, especially for kids.
“I want to do an evolution of the word from then until now so kids can see the whole picture of this word and how it was used and what was done,” Sloan said. “I want to have a pre and post discussion. I’m going to ask people what they think about the word and then have two educational classes about it, then see what they think when that’s done. I’m going to challenge them to see if they will still use the word. I want to see what change I can affect even though it’s just a one day program.”
Sloan wants to use educational materials provided by Dr. John Y Odom, from Madison, who wrote an informational pamphlet about reasons the N word should not be said in public. She also wants to show documentaries and images from the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement.
Sloan fully expects to get push back from some members of the community, despite the success of the prior event. There are some in the community who feel like if this generation didn’t grow up hearing the N word in the derogatory terms older people did, perhaps it’s best to let them stay innocent both in their usage of the word and understanding of its history.
“It’s gonna be tragic in a way,” Sloan says. “Because a lot of people just don’t want to tarnish or blemish a young person’s mind by telling them the real truth about this. But they need to know the truth even if it causes pain. Once they know, they can never say that they were never told. They don’t get the full picture of what the Civil Rights Movement was about in school. They aren’t always shown the strength and character of the people involved. If they don’t know the whole truth they can’t make good decisions moving forward, especially in this climate where not a lot has changed.”
Sloan says that in her community as well as at large use of the N word seemed to subside a little bit a couple of years ago. But it has come roaring back in her estimation.
“Lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence of it. Kids and old people use it as a term of endearment and still don’t realize the pain that word has caused. It seems like people have gotten comfortable with it again. I saw a group of kids who were black, white and Latino saying that to one another. It still is a derogatory term and so that’s why it’s important to do this again.”
Sloan has a number of potential keynote speakers for the event but is not able to announce them yet. She wants to have someone who is a voice of the younger generation speak about the current usage of the word and implore others of this generation to stop using it.
Wanda Sloan was able to garner a Game Changer grant from Forward Community Investments to fund this ceremony and educational experience. She plans on using the grant money to pay the keynote speaker, get some educational materials and bring in clergy and other community people.
The Game Changer especially unique is that it’s not just a one-time award; instead, one $3,000 grant winner is being announced every month throughout 2017. When people apply for the grant, all they need to do submit a video to talk about their project and one short informational form — a far cry from the burdensome paperwork that accompanies many grants, which can be prohibitive for smaller nonprofits who don’t have fundraising staff.
“As with our previous Game Changer awardees, the Beloit Historical Society’s Bury the N Word program is the perfect fit for our small grants,” said Tom Behnke of Forward Community Investments. “It is innovative, impactful and disruptive. We are extremely excited to help them fulfill their mission and can’t wait to attend the event.”
Sloan says she is still in the process of contacting people who helped do the previous event ten years ago as well as planning exactly what this year’s will be. She said that they will host the Bury the N Word event at the end of September or in early October.
In its capacity as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Forward Community Investments builds stronger and healthier communities by providing loans, advising, and grants to mission-based organizations that address the root causes of racial inequities and socioeconomic disparities. FCI supports initiatives that improve equity and make positive change possible. Its vision is an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action. For more information about FCI, go to www.forwardci.org.