My Turn, Alissa Redmond: With no forum, thoughts on Faith parade, symbols

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2022

By Alissa Redmond

The town of Faith canceled the public forum for last Thursday evening, where I’d planned to deliver the following remarks on Confederate paraphernalia in public gatherings. As I won’t have the opportunity to say this to anyone in person, I’ll share my words here:

My name is Alissa Redmond, and I own South Main Book Company in downtown Salisbury. This is my third time in Faith.  I was also here for the board of alderman meeting in October.  And my first visit was over the summer, when I took my seven-year-old daughter to a therapeutic house camp, which she loved and is desperate to revisit.  But I am not certain either of us will return again soon.

I adopted my girls, who are Asian, while serving overseas.  We were evacuated from political violence in Bolivia in 2019, and I decided to return to North Carolina—  where I was born and raised as a preacher’s daughter — to provide them with sidewalks and safety.  I thought I’d take them to parades, teach them about American culture.

Then, within six months of moving to Rowan County and opening my first ever small business, it was targeted for a boycott because someone on the internet said I was in favor of moving a Confederate statue located near my store.  At the time, I was barely keeping my head above water as a new resident and business owner; I did not have strong opinions about “Fame,” until my livelihood — and my children’s — was placed in jeopardy.  Thus, I became vocal with my opinions about racism in our community, which is strikingly similar to the racism I witnessed in the many small towns of North Carolina that raised me.

So, I can’t bring my girls to our county’s parade for the 4th of July.  I remember what it felt like as a child to see Confederate flags in the corner of my eye.  I knew such symbols meant those waving or wearing them wanted to return to the values of a time when women and girls had few rights, and minorities had none.  I never saw marches of Confederate reenactors through a city’s main street.  But I understand the KKK marched in front of my storefront’s location in Salisbury within my lifetime.

None of this is new.

I will not expose my girls to events that promote their devaluation in society.  And I will not be silenced over my concern this event — as it unfolded last year — underperforms as an economic driver for our community.

The history of racism in Faith is well preserved in books and documentaries, which highlight the revitalization of North Carolina’s KKK in the 1960s from this town.  Were your town to acknowledge this past – which is not an uncommon history from most of our state’s small towns – and publicly vow to attempt to create a more welcoming locale for all to enjoy national holidays and American pastimes, I believe you would find thousands of new visitors attending your 4th of July parade, shopping in your shops, and dining in your restaurants.

I realize this concept of community change could meet significant resistance from many in this room tonight.  They may feel compelled to make the argument that their right to free speech is being infringed.  Any threat of a lawsuit brought towards Faith would likely be as fruitless as the boycotts launched against my store, which always bring me new customers and incredible community support.  According to an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals June 2020 ruling, “governments are not obliged under the 1st or 14th Amendments to permit the presence of a rebellious army’s battle flag in the pro-Veterans parades they fund and organize.”  I will leave a copy of this decision for your lawyer to review.

Societies are constantly reshaped by technology, innovation, and increased tolerance and understanding of those who are “other.”  The task always before us is to build a better world for all the children of our community.  For speech to be meaningfully free, it must be heard and engaged with in communal spaces outside of the internet.  Thus, I am grateful to Mayor Barger and the town of Faith for providing this forum tonight.

However your parade plans unfold, I hope you and all those in attendance find that space to be one that, as Paul said to the Ephesians in 2:14, promotes peace, unites groups, and destroys the barriers and dividing walls of hostility.

We are a country of contradictions — founded by white patriots promoting (male) equality while holding slaves.  My heart has been blessed, and my impatience dismissed, as political polarization creates barriers for us to unite — but I am certain we will all move forward together.  There is more to our collective story than the ugliness of America’s racist past, which should never be forgotten, but is surmountable with the strength of our dreams for a prosperous future for all of us.