Written by Audrey Buffington (Wofford ’24), Natalie Aversano (Wofford ’23), and Bailey Hillen (Wofford ’24).
Located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Speaking Down Barriers is a nonprofit that is committed to creating more equitable and inclusive communities by breaking down barriers of all kinds in all communities. Becoming a nonprofit in 2015, the organization began as a project to explore how spoken word poetry could be used to have difficult conversations about racism and other issues that divide us. Since then, it has grown and expanded its programming to include a variety of events and activities that promote dialogue, education, and action in service of its mission statement “Equity for all”.
At the core of Speaking Down Barriers’ approach is a dialogue with a unique emphasis on storytelling. The organization believes that the only way to build understanding and empathy across different communities is to create spaces where people can have respectful and honest conversations about the issues close to our hearts. Through events such as Community Gatherings, Speaking Down Barriers provides a welcoming and brave space for people to creatively and openly share their experiences and
Dialogue is not the only component necessary, training is another key component of Speaking Down Barriers’ mission. The organization believes that in order to create lasting change, individuals and communities need to be equipped with certain knowledge and skills. Through workshops and trainings, Speaking Down Barriers helps people develop a deeper understanding of issues like inequality, bias, and discrimination, and provides them with practical tools for creating change.
Speaking Down Barriers has two strategic imperatives; end oppression and value everyone. This organization believes that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and that systemic inequalities and injustices must be addressed in order to create a more just and equitable society.
One of the organization’s key programs is its monthly community gathering, which combines poetry and conversation to create a space for creative expression and discussion. Each month, community members come together to share their poetry, art, and stories to engage in conversation and build relationships across any and all differences. Speaking Down Barriers also offers a “Reading for Transformation” program, which is a monthly reading group. It began as a way for staff, board, and facilitators to have a shared understanding and way to communicate about the ways systemic and institutional oppression are impacting us. Folx in the community wanted to be a part of these readings and discussions. Now, they meet in person and online to discuss the book of the month in order to develop a shared understanding of the issues that face our community, learn ways to embody equity, value everyone, and end oppression.
Speaking Down Barriers believes that consistent, ongoing work is necessary for its strategic imperatives. Through a combination of dialogue, training, and action, Speaking Down Barriers is working to create a more inclusive and just world for all. By providing these spaces for honest and open conversations about social issues, the organization is helping to build stronger and more connected communities. If you’re interested in learning more about Speaking Down Barriers or getting involved with the organization, you can visit their website at speakingdownbarriers.org.