How the Humanities Strengthen Local Communities

June 13, 2017

Jamil Zainaldin, President, Georgia Humanities

This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Jamil Zainaldin
“Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens.” These stirring words, from the federal legislation that created the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1965, apply not only to our leaders but to all of us.

We at Georgia Humanities, one of 56 affiliates of the NEH, believe there is no better way to nurture democracy, seek wisdom and inspire vision than through the humanities— such disciplines as history, literature, philosophy and ethics that help us understand ourselves, others and the responsibilities we have to each other and to our society.

With support from the NEH, the Georgia General Assembly, foundations, corporations and individual donors, we invest in the humanities at the local level. To this end, we work with partners throughout the state to create and support programming that strengthens communities through discussion and reflection, and spurs the investment of local resources—time, energy, cooperation and creativity, as well as money.

With support from Georgia Humanities, University of North Georgia professor Kristin Kelly meets with a group of veterans in Buford to discuss stories, poetry and essays about war in an effort to ease the transition between military and civilian life. The literature, both modern and ancient, evokes themes the warriors know well. Kelly’s experiences as a facilitator have taught her that civilians bear a responsibility to hear the stories of their soldiers.

“Witness is powerful medicine. I encourage all citizens to participate in one of the most crucial conversations mankind must continue to have: the human costs of war,” she said.
With support from Georgia Humanities, middle schooler Nathan Wright of Walton County created a documentary about Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and the 1958 Atlanta Temple bombing for his National History Day project. Wright recently received word that his documentary, available on YouTube, helped an actor in the Alliance Theatre’s production of The Temple Bombing prepare for his role.

With support from Georgia Humanities, Antioch A.M.E. Church in Stone Mountain partnered with the University of West Georgia’s Center for Public History to host a “history harvest.” Volunteers scanned church bulletins, photographs and newspaper clippings, while experts advised attendees on best practices for preserving their own family photos, artifacts, stories and traditions. The historical church documents were uploaded to an online archive that can be added to as the work continues.

With support from Georgia Humanities, the community of Jefferson hosted “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America,” a traveling Smithsonian exhibition. Its arrival inspired an opening ceremony honoring Jefferson High School’s athletic achievements—alumni marched Olympic-style around the arena as an announcer shared their accomplishments.

The yield from these projects and others like them is significant, both tangibly and intangibly. For every dollar invested by Georgia Humanities, four dollars are invested by local partners. We have no way to measure the value of a veteran who rests more peacefully at night, a student’s acquisition of knowledge, the treasures of the past or the pride of a community.

Humanities programs build understanding and relationships, especially in times of conflict. They let us discover from the past and from each other what works and what doesn’t—economically, spiritually, emotionally, politically, morally and ethically. They prepare us to make informed, mindful decisions. Humanities remind us what we owe to one another and to our democracy. This in itself is priceless.

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