PROFILE: Alice Lovelace, USSF Director, also a Prolific Poet
By Barbara Joye, Special to The Atlanta Progressive News
(APN) ATLANTA — Not many poets get a chance to change the world, but Alice Lovelace has always aimed high. Widely known as a savvy organizer and administrator, as well as a “people’s poet,” she is the national lead organizer for the first US Social Forum (USSF), which will bring an estimated 20,000 grassroots social change activists to Atlanta, June 27, 2007, to July 1, 2007, with the slogan “Another world is possible!”
Lovelace sees no contradiction between her art and her activism. In fact, they were linked even before she moved to Atlanta in 1979.
After becoming a journeyman printer in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, she attended the Pan-African Writers” Center at Washington University and later went on to earn a Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution from Antioch University in Ohio.
She and her husband Jikki Riley, a song writer, band leader, and political activist, were both working on films and planned to continue their careers in Los Angeles until they happened to see a television interview in which Atlanta’s first Black Mayor, Maynard Jackson, talked about his City and the “new South.”
Two days later they moved to Atlanta. Within a year, Lovelace was a leading figure in the city’s arts and social change movements.
Mentored by the late author, Toni Cade Bambara, Lovelace helped Bambara organize the Southern Collective of African American Writers and became a writer in residence, then administrator, of Atlanta”s pioneering Neighborhood Arts Center.
With two other performers, Lovelace founded Art for the People’s Sake, which brought two arts festivals to nontraditional sites such as laundromats, union halls, and street corners. In 1980, she coordinated the historic Conference on Black South Literature at Emory University.
Before long, Lovelace and Riley were regular performers at political events in Atlanta.
“People would tell us what the issue was and we would write something that would educate and inspire the crowd and warm them up for the speakers,” Lovelace recalls. “We saw that as our job.”
She helped oppose the death penalty, war, and racism, employing a powerful voice that lends authority to her small stature. “For 25 years I performed at every rally and demonstration held here against apartheid in South Africa. The Pan-African Congress made me an honorary member.”
Organizing the USSF was an easy segue.
World Social Forums began in Brazil in 2001 as a grassroots response to the elitist World Economic Forums, where corporate, banking, and government leaders from rich nations lay plans for the future of developing countries.
The Social Forums are open to any individual or group committed to social, racial, and economic justice; peace; and a healthy environment.
Hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals have already signed up to come to Atlanta this June, including several hundred people from the Southwest and Gulf Coast regions who will arrive by bus in a “Freedom Caravan.”
The first US Social Forum will focus on themes such as the environment, the war, rebuilding the Gulf Coast, indigenous peoples” rights, the prison/industrial complex, and gender/sexual orientation.
“In addition to hundreds of workshops and networking opportunities, the USSF will be a whirlwind of exciting activities,” Lovelace says. “There will be an opening night concert; peaceful marches and demonstrations; a film festival; a soccer tournament; theater; issue tents; and crafts and book vendors.”
Atlanta was chosen as the site of the USSF because it was the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, a successful bottom-up struggle by people of color to create a better world. “The South has seen lots of repression and lots of resistance,” Lovelace said.
Most activities will take place at the Atlanta Civic Center, and the Peachtree Westin and Downtown Marriott hotels, but many other in-town venues will host related events. A registration form and other details are posted at www.ussf2007.org.
It”s no surprise the US Social Forum will be the first to plan arts events as an important part of the program. Lovelace has worked for many years to ensure the arts contribute to the community and that the community has access to the arts.
She has served as Executive Director of the Atlanta Partnership for Arts in Learning, a collaboration between artists and classroom teachers; the Southeastern performing arts organization, Alternative Roots; and the community-based Arts Exchange.
She was also Regional Director of a five-state grants program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation; co-edited “Art Changes” for the online journal In Motion Magazine; and has been Contributing Editor for High Performance Magazine.
Her writings have appeared in many journals and anthologies.
In addition to poetry collections and essays, Lovelace published The Kitchen Survival Almanac, a guide to home cooking.
Somehow she and Riley (who died in 2003) found time to raise four children, two of them poets. Her twelve grandchildren also include two poets, one of whom has already published at age 14. “Art and activism are family traditions,” she says.
Lovelace was already on the National Organizing Committee for the USSF when Project South, the Forum’s host organization, selected her to fill the first paid staff position in January 2006. She only recently acquired an assistant.
To help accomplish the many logistics, fundraising, and other organizational tasks needed to carry off such a massive event, she calls on volunteers working in communities around the country, but Atlantans provide much of the Forum’s day-to-day muscle.
“About 130 people in Atlanta are working every day to put the USSF together, and without them this couldn’t happen,” she says. “They’re the most supportive, self-sacrificing group of people I’ve ever worked with. I’m nothing, it’s the dedication and commitment of all these people doing extra work in addition to their regular jobs.”
Lovelace has received many honors over the years for her ability to bring people together through arts and community action. These include the Bronze Jubilee Awards for Literature and for Long Term Contributions to the Arts; the Sisterhood of Higher Education’s Community Service Award; the 1995 City of Atlanta Mayor’s Fellowship in the Arts for Literature; and the Fund for Southern Communities’ Torchbearers’ Award for consistent contributions to social justice.
In 2002 Project South gave her their Spirit of the Movement Award for her use of poetry to educate the public about social issues, and in 2005 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Writers’ Association.
“The greatest honor I can think of is to have a role in bringing together so many people to strengthen the movement for positive change in this country and this city,” Lovelace says.
About the author:
Barbara Joye is a long-time Atlanta writer with the (former) Great Specked Bird newspaper and Atlanta IndyMedia online, who now assists with media outreach for the USSF. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.