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Black leaders work to pass the torch in Gainesville
Activists cultivate motivated volunteers
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Erica Glenn currently works with the state Department of Education to support homeless youth and has been training with Michelle Mintz, a minister at St. John Baptist Church who helps lead the Concerned Citizens of Gainesville-Hall County group.

Erica Glenn is no stranger to the community’s needs.

She’s been involved in social work nearly all her adult life, from her sorority days to her professional career.

And Glenn, 44, currently works with the state Department of Education to support homeless youth. 

But the lifelong Gainesville resident now sees a moment ripe for renewed activism at the local level and in the black community.

Her motivation, however, is not just about raising awareness.

“I see too many people wanting to be advocates,” she said. “They post on social media … but they’re not taking a stand, they’re not getting involved in the community.”

In the age of Black Lives Matter, Glenn wants to ensure that all the passion directed at reforming criminal justice practices does not go to waste.

And though she steps out when needed, such as helping organize a recent community-wide prayer service, she wants to work behind the scenes as much as possible.

For André Cheek-Castleberry, a former Gainesville council candidate and community activist, that’s a role many unheralded community leaders are playing.

“I understand that a true leader wants no recognition, but simply wants to support the truth,” she said. “There are many in this community who are leading in their own way, and they’re revealed based in situations and circumstances. We just simply need to pay attention.”

Glenn has been training with Michelle Mintz, a minister at St. John Baptist Church who helps lead the Concerned Citizens of Gainesville-Hall County group, and others to fill critical leadership roles in the local black community.

This means attending local government meetings, joining in community revitalization projects and participating in collective responses to social ills. 

Glenn also fits the mold that the Newtown Florist Club civil rights group is trying to guide as Baby Boomers look to retirement.

“A major part of our work today is focused on identifying and equipping new leaders for the work that lies ahead,” Rose Johnson, the club’s executive director, said. “We are committed to a process of leadership development that enhances community vitality through leadership transition.”   

Johnson said she receives calls or has individuals visit the club’s offices every week asking for advice on matters of business, government and community.

“Within this process, we have been stunned to find young leaders who are also engaged in the area of minority business enterprise in ways that we would have never before imagined,” Johnson said. “Our collective future looks bright as the batons of leadership are being passed on to young people who have a great deal to offer this community.” 

Glenn has been shadowing Angela Middleton, a Democratic candidate for the Hall County Board of Commissioners this November, learning the ins and outs of connecting with the black community in neighborhoods like Newtown and Morningside Heights on a daily basis.

“This is stuff I really need to be in tune with,” Glenn said. 

Cheek-Castleberry said community activism is as much about choosing your battles as anything else.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that all issues aren’t a fight, and in most of them, everyone involved could grow from them,” she said. “I was never taught to be a part of the silent community, so I’m hopeful I modeled it in front of my son.”

It’s also about connecting the city’s historic African-American neighborhoods with the larger, burgeoning goals of the community.

“We need to be in tune with the Hall County community as a whole,” Glenn said. “We don’t need voices. We need actual bodies.”

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