By: Rev. Bill Stanfield
The fourth Thursday in November is just ahead. Let us be reminded of how important gratitude is to a full and complete life. I find that gratitude can be likened to the oil in an engine that helps everything else go smoothly. When I am grateful, I tend to maintain the perspective that allows me to keep moving forward. When I get stuck, I am almost always feeling ungrateful for something. The work of Metanoia (which is sometimes difficult) has taught me the importance of finding gratitude in all things.
During the final weeks of our summer Freedom School, I was standing in the back of a school cafeteria filled with parents, supporters and 100 freedom school scholars. Students were leading the way in a march against violence that would soon start in our community. Such moments are a bundle of both inspiration and sadness for me. It is inspiring to see students, parents and neighborhood citizens (around 200 people total) taking a stand against violence in their neighborhood. Simultaneously, it is sobering that students and parents need to take such stands. Many of us grew up in neighborhoods where marches against violence were not necessary or even given thought as needed.
But, violence is close to home for many of our young leaders. All week long their planning for this event awoke traumas in their lives that came as the result of gun violence in our community. Virtually everyone in that room was somehow affected by gun violence.
Standing at the back of the room listening to speakers address students, my cell phone rang. It was an important call, so I stepped out in the hallway to answer. On the other line was the executive director of Origin SC. As many of you may know, we have been working to renovate the former Chicora Graded School. Origin SC has been supremely helpful with this project in agreeing to become our anchor tenant in the school project from the earliest stages. It was their commitment that helped us think that there may be a possibility of renovation. They would pay rent which helped the tax credit investment community take our project seriously.
By the time this call came, we had raised $4.2 million dollars (still needing to raise significantly more), aligned investors, and nearly completed planning for the old campus. However, this was not a call I wanted to receive nor a call that my friend on the other end of the line wanted to deliver. To state it briefly, Origin SC had an issue with their current landlord. They needed to move out of their current location earlier than expected, and this meant they would not be moving into Old Chicora in early 2021 around the project completion.
It was no one in particular’s fault, but it put the entire project in jeopardy. For a day or two, the space between my two ears was not a good place to be. I’m sure we all have these kinds of moments when difficult news throws us sideways and drags us down.
And yet, if I have learned anything in the sometimes difficult work that Metanoia does within our community, it is to keep showing up and trying even when things don’t look promising. While it is tempting to throw up our hands, there is something to be learned in the midst of trouble. Sometimes what looks like trouble can even turn out to be a blessing.
We took stock.
In the process of discussing our plans for Old Chicora, we had conversations with other people having an interest in the campus, but for whom we did not have enough space with Origin SC in the picture. One of these entities was the Allegro Charter School of Music. Nearly 50% of Allegro’s students are low income and many are from the communities we serve. Their model is innovative by teaching every student an instrument, but students do not have to audition to enter the school. Music is taught through all of the curricula. Allegro knows that even if not every student becomes a professional musician, important lessons can be learned and brain pathways can be developed through music.
After a series of meetings, we determined that space we still had available within Old Chicora would fit Allegro’s space needs nicely. Even more, the artists’ space and performing arts center to be housed on the campus would be a compliment to their school culture. Metanoia will host our own early childhood learning center on the campus as well – ensuring the entire campus will be dedicated to the arts and education in a very dynamic, enriching environment. Allegro is also coming to the table with benefactors who are able to help us wrap up our capital campaign for the school.
We believe we have all the ingredients to close on the full financing package for the renovation of Old Chicora in January 2020. Construction will continue throughout next year, and we anticipate opening the renovated campus in early 2021. And, thankfully, Origin SC has found space for their own offices that works for them.
Now, back to that phone call…
On the day it was received, I would have told you that it was the worst possible news for the future of the project. Looking back now, it might well have been some of the best possible news. It is important to always, in everything, give thanks.
I have learned through the years to generate gratitude for the challenges, the difficult moments, and the struggles of doing the work that we do. The moments of struggle bring something new and vibrant into being. Our resolve is strengthened and we become more deeply committed to doing what is right.
We end 2019 profoundly grateful for all the triumphs and struggles of this year. They have positioned us for a transformational 2020. And, I am certain that it will have its challenges. When those inevitably come, I hope you will find us grateful even then. In the meantime, know that I write this letter with a very deep and abiding appreciation for each of you and for what you mean to our movement. We are thankful for you!
May you have a lovely and meaningful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.