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History of the Alston/Bannerman
Established in 1988, the Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program was founded on the belief that the most effective approach to achieving progressive social change is by organizing low-income people at the grassroots level. Many elements contribute to a community organization's success, but none are more important than the vision, commitment, talent and hard work of its organizers and leaders. Yet few resources are available to support them and, as a result, too many experienced organizers "burn-out" and too few younger ones see organizing as a viable long-term profession. The Program's founders decided that a practical contribution to strengthening community organizing would be to give organizers an opportunity to step back from their work for a period of reflection and renewal. They created the sabbatical program, now called the Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program.
While the sabbatical programwas just an idea, Charles Banneman died of cancer at age 45. For nearly 20 years, Charles had worked with Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE), an organization founded by Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine and other local civil rights leaders. MACE was dedicated to advancing social, economic and political development in the rural Mississippi Delta. Its accomplishments included securing water and sewers for numerous communities, building hundreds of units of affordable housing and providing job training, literacy classes and an array of other services to thousands of residents. Charles was Executive Directive of MACE when he died and the newly created sabbatical program was named the Bannerman Fellowship Program in his memory.
In 2002, the Fellowship Program was renamed the Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program in honor of Dana Alston. Just 47 years old when she died in 1999, Dana had made social change activism her life's work for nearly three decades. Dana received a Bannerman Fellowship in 1992 in recognition of her leadership in the development of the environmental justice movement and of her past work with organizations as diverse as the National Black United Fund, the Southern Rural Women's Network, Rural America, TransAfrica Forum and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. She continued her commitment to strengthening grassroots organizing and advancing environmental justice as a Program Officer at the Public Welfare Foundation.
When Dana died, her family, colleagues and friends requested that contributions in her memory be made to the Bannerman Fellowship Program. In thinking about how to use these funds to honor Dana's life, we recognized that the principles which guided her work are the same principles which have always guided the Fellowship Program: a firm belief in grassroots base building and democratic participation, and an emphasis on making linkages between issues, organizations and people across boundaries of race, class, gender and place. We decided to call the sabbatical program the Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program.
2008 = 20 Years of Support for Social Change
For nearly 20 years, the Fellowship Program has fulfilled its mission of advancing progressive social change by helping to sustain long-time organizers of color. Beyond benefiting individual Fellows, the Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program has a broader impact by strengthening organizations and developing new leadership, encouraging innovation and collaboration, promoting the value of reflection and fostering a community of activists.