The Jesus and Justice Candlelight Vigil in early June drew a large crowd to the parking lot of the First Missionary Baptist Church. It was part of the efforts by groups to address equity in Williamson County, the topic for Monday's FrankTalks.

In just over an hour Monday morning, panelists at the October FrankTalks covered a number of issues that came under the topic titled "Addressing Equity in Today's World.”

While the program did include discussion on systemic racism and equity issues in general, it also focused on the stumbling blocks in Franklin and throughout Williamson County that the panelists agreed need to be addressed.

“We have some things that we have put Band-Aids on here in Franklin,” said Pastor Walter Simmons, co-founder of the Franklin Justice & Equity Coalition that was formed last spring. … “It’s great that we have things going up in our city like the marker [on the town square] for the U.S. Colored Troops soldier. It was great that they took down the rebel [mascot] from Franklin High School. It’s great the Williamson County seal [that includes an image of a Confederate flag] may be changed. 

“We have done cosmetic changes, but socialization demands cultural changes. These are the things that become problematic for us because we want to keep the norm. We cannot pretend to go back to normal, because socialization demands that we now do a few things that will make things different.”

Other panelists for Monday’s program were Brad Perry, a history teacher and one of the founders of The Public Franklin; Inetta Gaines, a board member for the African American Heritage Society; and Derrick Solomon, executive director of the Hard Bargain Association. 

A need to acknowledge history

Mindy Tate, executive director of Franklin Tomorrow, which presents the monthly FrankTalks, asked the panel to name the largest stumbling block toward creating a more equitable community in Williamson County.

“[We need to] at least acknowledge that our country was founded on principals that denigrated and enslaved African Americans, and here in Williamson County, [we need to move] forward to acknowledge the rich history that African Americans have contributed to the county,” Gaines said. “Many people don’t even want to hear about it.

“We all hear that saying that if you don’t learn from your history, you’re going to be doomed to repeat it. It’s true. And many people are just not willing to acknowledge the unfortunate history of slavery that we’ve had and the systematic racism going through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era and on through the 1960s riots and even what we’re seeing now.

“As a board member of the African American Heritage Society, I think if we can at least acknowledge the history, we’ll be able to at least begin to move forward. But you have to be intentional to do that; as an individual, you have to decide that you want to know about the rich history of African Americans, and to acknowledge and repent of the things that were done. Until we can do those things, we’re going to be at a stalemate.”

‘Franklin is a lot less diverse today’

Perry, a Franklin native whose family was the largest slaveholder in Williamson County, said his hometown is actually less equitable than when he was attending public schools here. Mary Mills, a Black woman who is a renowned public servant in the county, was Perry’s principal at Johnson Elementary School. He mentioned a number of Black teachers he also had.

“Franklin is a lot less diverse today, especially when it comes to African Americans and whites, than it was even then,” said Perry, who teaches African American history at Brentwood Academy. “When we talk about equity, unfortunately it seems like we’re going in the wrong direction as a community, so I’m really excited about all these groups coming together to have these conversations so we can be a more equitable and just community.

“If our schools want to have more people of color teaching and in administrative positions, then they need to hire more people who are of color,” Perry added. “If we want to have more black-run businesses, then we need to be recruiting more black-run businesses. At some level, we just have to decide whether it’s important or not. There are plenty of well-qualified people of color, and if we think it’s important, we need to say we’re going to do this.

“I know people get worried about quotas and affirmative action. People just say that to put blocks up from making that happen. … So the people in power — most of whom are white in our community — have to make those decisions to change.”

Change starts with the individual

Tate asked about the quote made famous by the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, “Get into good trouble,” and how that resonates. Gaines took to scripture to explain her feelings.

“One of my favorite verses is in Proverbs 31. In verse 8 it says ‘to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, for the rights of all who need an advocate.’ In verse 9, it says ‘speak up and judge righteously, defend the cause of the poor and needy.’

“I think as individuals, we can each speak up. The community can come together, but that community is only involved or organized by individuals deciding to intentionally speak up against the racial injustices and the social norms that we have, not just here in Franklin or Brentwood or Williamson County, but across the country. That’s how I believe change is going to happen. 

“One of my other favorite verses is Micah 6:8, and that says ‘to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly.' To me it doesn’t matter what religious background you have, what your ideology is, these are just normal human characteristics that I think innately we just have, and we should be able to bring that out in each other so that we can move forward this idea of equity in our society.”

Click here to view the whole program from Monday morning.