Terri Bailey’s office, located in the Blount Center, is one of a working woman. On her desk lie stacks of papers and folders, small sculptures, books and an affirmation jar. On the wall hangs a painting by Turbado Marabou, her husband who’s a local muralist.
Gainesville proclaimed March 16 Bailey Learning and Arts Collective Day last week. The Bailey Learning and Arts Collective, Inc. was created by Bailey, 56, and focuses on grassroots organizing and community building through art and education.
Bailey was born and raised in Gainesville and has worked hard to give back to her community. Now, her hard work gains city recognition.
“It felt really, really great,” she said. “I'm a Gainesville native — but I also had a reputation growing up as a bad kid, so to get a day named after my organization and my name feels really good.”
Bailey grew up in Pleasant Street, the city’s oldest Black neighborhood. In Pleasant Street, all the neighbors knew each other: The adults watched over the kids, and the kids took care of each other. When money was tight, the moms would cook together to make sure everyone could eat.
“It wasn't always like some TV show where everything was always good,” she said. “There was a lot of poverty in our neighborhood, some drug use in our neighborhood, but there were also a lot of well-to-do people.”
Bailey looked up to doctors, educators, shoemakers, electricians and dentists in her neighborhood. Those who grew up in Pleasant Street were always surrounded by possibility.
As a child, Bailey was a P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School lifer, which means she attended the school since kindergarten. In 11th grade, she was expelled.
Despite this setback, her education didn’t stop. She went on to graduate magna cum laude from Bethune-Cookman University and to receive master’s degrees from Southern New Hampshire University and UF, where she studied English and creative writing, as well as women, gender and sexuality studies, respectively.
Sometimes, people ask Bailey why she continues to classify herself as a high school dropout. Her response is clear. She does it to show others, especially women, that their past doesn’t have to define them, she said.
“I hope that it's an inspiration for women — young women in particular — who find themselves with a bad attitude, a bad life situation and a bad reputation,” Bailey said. “You can absolutely turn that around.”
Bailey learned about the importance of grassroots organizing and having dreams from Gainesville activists and organizers such as Rosa B. Williams and Byllye Avery, whom she grew up around. Williams worked on civil rights issues, and Avery started the modern Black womens’ health and wellness movement.
Bailey saw Williams work on organizing through voter registration and getting people out to the polls. The work of these women has stayed with Bailey throughout her life.
“All of that, right now, resonates, and it touches everything that I do,” Bailey said.
Rayaan Ali, a 21-year-old UF psychology senior, has worked with Bailey several times. In her time as the president of the Living Poets Society, which is a UF club dedicated to poetry in the community, Ali has come to deeply respect Bailey.
“She’s somebody you can really learn from when it comes to community building,” Ali said.
Bailey always makes an effort to pay artists and poets who work with her, which is important for incentivizing the community to gather for art and poetry, she said.
That effort turns social capital into financial capital, Ali said, which is an important aspect of supporting artists here. Bailey uses her work to collaborate with other organizations, also teaching her interns about organizing.
“There’s a dynamic between the bonding of having somebody intern for you but then also giving you the resources you need to be successful in whatever you are trying to do with the community,” Ali said.
During Bailey’s time studying gender at UF last year, she learned about the Divine Feminine, which is the feminine energy that connects people to Earth through things like love, compassion, healing and acceptance. Here, she developed her ideas of the laws of SHE: self-care, healing and empowerment.
“We have to start asserting ourselves and taking that time unapologetically because so much of women's life is devoted for caring for others,” she said.
When you take care of yourself, Bailey said, you begin to process what you need to heal from. Once you know what you need to heal, you can start to do so, which empowers you to live an authentic life, she said.
Although Bailey spends a lot of time teaching these principles to other women, because of her dedication to the community, it can be hard for her to practice this for herself.
Taking time for yourself is especially challenging when many efforts taken to empower women are being challenged.
Gainesville has seen an increase of Black women in the City Commission and School Board, she said, which is a step in the right direction. However, there are still many difficulties in uplifting women at both the state and local levels.
“While there's great female leadership in Gainesville, it is also a big struggle trying to get our voices heard and trying to get our goals accomplished,” Bailey said. “Not only for us individually, but for us as a collective.”
Despite the hardships, Bailey continues to dedicate her work to the community she loves so deeply. The Bailey Learning Arts Collective is hosting Black Women Write, a two-day writing workshop, at the Santa Fe College Center for Innovation and Economic Development April 7-8. There is a sliding scale cost of $50 to $200, with scholarships available.
The event starts on Bailey’s 57th birthday, a day she wasn’t sure she would see back when she was expelled from high school, she said. Now, it will be an opportunity for her to continue to educate and build community with women in Gainesville.
Contact Lauren at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenWhid.
Lauren Whiddon is a UF journalism senior and the multimedia editor. When she's not writing she is updating her Letterboxd account or reading classic literature.