Camille Bennett was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but has called the Shoals her home since she was thirteen. Since then, she has worked toward providing hope through dialogue and education on issues of systematic racism. Her work is situated on healing, nonviolent communication and direct action against racism and poverty.
Bennett is the Pastor/Chief Minister at Living Spirit Church in Florence, Alabama, and she is the founder of Project Say Something, a volunteer-based organization whose mission is “to unify, educate, heal and empower communities in the mid-south to realize nonviolent communication and direct action against racism, poverty and related forms of oppression.”
Project Say Something started in 2014, at the time of the Ferguson riots in Missouri.
“One of our church members said, “I want to talk about race and racism,’” Bennett said. “I had been doing personal research and educating myself on the history of black people, and it came at a good time. I was nervous because I’ve never seen anyone publicly address racism. We opened the church up and were shocked at the number of people who came. People wanted to stay for hours.”
From there, Bennett explained, she and her husband “bought a preschool in a predominantly black community, opening another one that changed the course of our lives.”
It became evident that there was a need for open dialogue about deep and important issues. While at first Bennett and her husband wanted to include social injustices of all kinds, they crafted a mission to focus on racism because it is such a pervasive issue.
“In Project Say Something, we have done well by being educators,” she said. “Especially in small rural community like the Shoals, people don’t understand the nuances of racism or how privilege effects and shapes their life.”
Bennett is involved in educational work such as panel discussions, workshops, hosting guest speakers and projects throughout the community, as well as running preschools to bring popular education into the classes through the form of yoga, art and multicultural education.
One of Project Say Something’s projects includes History Harvest, which documents African American history in the Shoals. A current initiative is focused on raising educational awareness surrounding Confederate monuments in the area. People of all backgrounds and ages can volunteer with Project Say Something. In fact, many University of North Alabama students partner with projects such as History Harvest, helping create a website of materials; Queen Day, a time of empowering young girls of color; and voter registration.
Bennett serves as an example of excellence and recognizing a problem and combating it, step-by-step, project-by-project. Not only is she active on the board of Project Say Something while serving as the Pastor/Chief Minister of Living Spirit Church, but she is plugged in to other community organizations such as United Way, the WC Handy Festival, Shoals Reader Riot, Shoals Pridefest, Safer Birth in Bama and Court Appointed Special Advocates. Her passion for advocating for the inclusion of all people by opening avenues of communication and education is evident.
Bennett’s advice for young people looking to get plugged in to Project Say Something or other social justice work is simple: Start.
“You don’t have to have a huge following on Instagram, be famous or have written a book or dissertation,” she said. “It’s all about the work you put in and help with the cause.”
You can find out more about Project Say Something by joining their group on Facebook, which is the best way to get plugged in, Bennett said, because everything they do is posted in that group. The Facebook group consists of 2,000 members, with active conversations about racial issues and posts seeking volunteers. You can also visit their website.