The Spartanburg Village Network, known as The Village Network, began about two years ago with members from churches, civic groups and professions. The group started as a way for people to support and get to know each other but developed into something more over time.
Members started focusing on ways they could unite and make a difference in the community. The goal is to come up with ways to help families in areas ranging from education to finances.
After weeks of planning, the group has scheduled its first community forum at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Spartanburg Community College-Downtown Campus. The forum is titled “It Takes A Village: From the Cradle to Career An Education Conversation.”
Leon Wiles, chief diversity officer at Clemson University and a former University of South Carolina Upstate vice chancellor, will serve as moderator. Panelists include Molly Talbot-Metz, vice president of programs at the Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg Methodist College President Colleen P. Keith and Herb Johnson, Jr., vice president and chief diversity officer of Michelin North America. Other panelists include John Stockwell, executive director of Spartanburg Academic Movement and former chancellor of USC Upstate, Jil Littlejohn, president of the Urban League of the Upstate and Spartanburg District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker, who is also vice chairman of The Village Network.
If we are going to move the needle for graduation rates, then we need to focus on the African-American community,” Booker said. “This is a pretty strong and diverse panel. We wanted education to be the topic of our first forum. The event is open to everyone because it is going to take the entire community to make a difference.”
Booker said the education forum will outline programs available to help prepare children before they begin school and while they are in school. He also said the forum will help residents learn more about the importance of education.
“The idea is to share information and talk about the challenges of education,” Booker said. “This forum also will talk about the successes because that is just as important as talking about the challenges. There is so much going on that we want people to know what is happening in the community.”
Future plans are to hold discussions on health and wellness and financial planning. Organizers don’t plan to stop after offering a few forums. They hope to continue working on issues in the community and encourage other people to join them in the effort.
The Village Network organizers say their mission is “to unite a committed leadership base focused on educating, engaging and inspiring local families.” The other part of the vision is to focus attention on resources and programs that have the most potential in helping local families.
The Rev. Keith McDaniel, chairman of The Village Network and senior pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, said he is excited about the group’s first event. He said members spent time looking at ways they could help others.
“We have too many families struggling with education, housing, health and other issues,” he said. “The village concept comes from the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, and we have applied that to leadership. It takes more than one leader to lead a community.”