Marked Tree, Arkansas

Marked Tree is an impoverished little town of three thousand people in a marshy rice-farming area in Arkansas, USA. The black people work in the one factory in town and a factory in nearby Jonesboro. Most of them seem to work seven days a week, with only two days off each year for holidays. The work day can be anywhere from eight to twelve hours long. There is a lot of alcohol and drug use.

The workshop was held in the old gymnasium that used to be part of the old black school (which has now been torn down). This gym is the center of the community. A sign out front says it is maintained by the city's parks and tourism department, but it is very shabby. Inside the tile floor has been patched, and the patches have been patched, and there are places that still need to be patched. Some of the men worked hard to clean the floor before we came.

One could easily see that the community cherishes this building and it gets lots of use. (When Marian, who was videotaping the workshop, went outside to take a picture of the "parks and tourism" sign, the young men sitting on the curb across the street were alarmed. They asked her if she was there to close their gym.)

People came and went from the workshop, working around their work schedules. One woman had gone to work at 6:00 AM in the hope that she could get off by 2:00 and come to the workshop. She didn't make it. These were working-class people, very much in touch with the realities of oppression. Even though they had to come and go, and couldn't get a full picture of RC, they seemed to immediately tune in to wherever I was in the lecture and they needed no explanation about oppression.

I think everyone who came had either been in prison or had a family member currently in prison. They were very "matter-of-fact" about people being in the pen.1 One of the men had been out of prison for only three months after being incarcerated for fifteen years. He and his girlfriend came from Little Rock and stayed only a short time. It was obviously a scary experience for him.

I spent the morning on the fundamentals of RC and did a couple of demonstrations. In the first one I was a client, with Marilyn counseling me. People's attention was excellent. (One of the women took several pictures of me crying!) Questions were good and to the point.

At lunch we had fried catfish dinners sent over from a local church that was selling them to raise money. They were delicious! (These people work and go to church. There are about three black churches in this little community.)

During the afternoon I focused on oppression. I did a demonstration with a woman who had come from Dumas and fell in love with her right away. She had the most powerful session I have seen in a long time on sexism and child abuse. I also did a demonstration with a man on men's oppression.

Of the people from Marked Tree, only Martha Jean, a local first-grade teacher, and her child were able to stay for the whole workshop. Martha Jean agreed to be the reference point for those who had to come and go. Whenever people showed up, we just did introductions and referred them to her to get all the information they had missed.

My support people were excellent. Marilyn reminded me to stop and introduce each new person who entered the workshop at an odd time. Marion videotaped everything but the Co-Counseling sessions. Paula drove us there and beamed at me throughout the whole experience. Jeffrey spent a lot of time with the men and hung out2 with the young people. (There were about ten children who came, listened some, did a lot of art work on the gym floor, and played basketball.)

Marilyn was a VISTA3 worker in Marked Tree about thirty years ago, and she brought with her some photos from that time. People who were children then are now balding gray-haired older people. It was clearly a "family reunion." Their relationships were precious and a joy to watch. The people so openly loved her, and she them.

I had no time to be scared. Things moved fast and furiously, and I just moved with them. The workshop worked so well because Marilyn had built excellent relationships with the people and they trusted her completely. She put them into my hands gently, and they accepted me, because Marilyn did.

I promised to come back whenever they are ready. I am hoping they will begin to do sessions and that some of the seeds we planted will grow.

Dorothy Marcy
Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA


1 The pen means the penitentiary
2 Hung out means spent relaxed time with.
3 VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, a United States-sponsored program through which volunteers work to improve the self-sufficiency of low-income communities in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.

 


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07