I am Decatur #16

Jon Abercrombie

Jon Abercrombie’s life work has revolved around building community. His experiences growing up in a segregated South and the turmoil of the civil rights movement deeply influenced his vocation. More importantly, it was the people from his childhood and those he met along the way that moved him to devote his efforts towards social justice.

After Jon graduated from college he worked with delinquent youth in Memphis, Tennessee. “I remember sitting on the front steps of a public housing project with an African-American mother giving her advice about how to raise her children and to recruit her support for sending them to camp. I remember this moment, I’m talking, and I’m looking at myself, and I’m looking at her, and I’m saying there’s something absurd about a white man from far away telling a black mother how to raise her children, not knowing any of the things that she faced. That was it. At that moment, the notion of building community is what settled on me. I wanted to live in a world where black mothers came together and decided how to raise their own children, had ownership of their community and the housing they lived in. That was when I came back to Atlanta and got involved with building housing to give people equity, a chance of building separate lives from government dependency. I worked with Charis Community Housing using volunteers to build homes in Atlanta and then moved to Decatur.”

“In Decatur, my life has focused heavily on engaging people and giving them a voice. In the late 1990s we started the Decatur Round Tables. These Round Tables were a way to engage people in changing their community and ensuring that people who had been left out would no longer be left out. “

Jon has also been facilitating group discussions with the refugee community in Clarkston surrounding early childhood education. “I remember the big gymnasium where we used to have the public conversations. There were over a hundred people, most of them refugees in seven different language groups, each language group with translators. To be in that space and listen to all of these conversations and deliberations was amazing. In spite of their tragic histories they practiced the best of democracy. That picture sticks with me. These are the things that have shaped me, these experiences with people and their voices.”

At 69-years-old, Jon is in the process of moving into a new phase of his life as he is learning to live with Parkinson’s. “I am thinking about how to live out my life, one that started in the racial hatred of the South, and one which continues to be plagued by a system of racial inequity, fear, and divisiveness. With time and love being most valuable to me, I will paint deep from my heart. I will paint to overcome the black and white palette of fear of those we do not know. I will paint with a multi-colored palette to capture the love of the God we do know.”

 

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