Let’s Talk Azle
AZLE — “Blessed are the peacemakers” Dr. Wesley Shotwell, pastor at Ash Creek Baptist Church said. “Being a peacemaker means you take action in order to make peace in the world.”
During the Sept. 12 meeting of the Azle Area Ministerial Alliance (AAMA), local leaders from all walks gathered to learn about a new community resilience initiative dubbed “Let’s Talk Azle.”
More than a year ago, John Thielepape, former director of missions for the Parker Baptist Association and now director of projects at GlocalNet, an affiliate of Northwood Church in Keller, met with Dr. Shotwell and others to discuss the beginnings of such a project. Over time, a steering committee composed of Todd Smith, Azle ISD superintendent; Kristie Cooper, director of the Community Caring Center; Azle Mayor Pro Tem Randa Goode; Alton Davis, president of the AAMA and pastor at Community Bible Fellowship; David Shaffer, director of Son Shine Ministries; Jose Villalobos, youth pastor at Primera Iglesia Bautista de Azle; Jamie Westbrook, social worker at Azle ISD; and Shotwell was formed to spearhead discussion about what our community can do to reduce division in increasingly hostile times.
The individuals gathered to discuss and plan out Let’s Talk Azle represent a variety of backgrounds and sectors within the community. The initiative is endorsed by the City of Azle, the Azle Independent School District, the Azle Area Chamber of Commerce and the Azle Area Ministerial Alliance.
“We began to talk about what it would take to create a culture of community resilience in which we would have an opportunity to help people think through things and talk about things and still have a community where we’re able to love one another and find resilience in a society that’s pulling apart,” Shotwell said. “I believe Azle is the perfect place to do that.”
By communicating its message through churches, schools, workplaces and public spaces, Let’s Talk Azle hopes to bring the community together and stop violence before it has the chance to start.
“It is a great initiative,” Smith said. “After learning more about the focus of the program, I knew it was a much-needed initiative, especially when some of the anger or extreme behavior this program hopes to head off often affects our schools. Our involvement is not only to support the concept behind the program, it includes a commitment of sharing the strategies for improving communication skills with both students and staff. We look forward to this program supporting the great things we have going on in the Azle community. The Azle community has a stellar reputation for helping others in times of need. The key components we as a committee identified as focus areas will only help improve this.”
Similar efforts are being taken to create groups in Keller and South Fort Worth, but Let’s Talk Azle is leading the charge, Shotwell said. For many people, the problems Shotwell described are not difficult to see.
“I’ve become aware of many families who can’t even talk to each other anymore,” Shotwell said. “It seems like over the last 10 years or so, we might have disagreed on things before, now disagreement has not just become disagreement; it’s become violent almost. In fact, every now and then violence breaks out. Every now and then, we see someone who has taken things so far that they walk into a school with a gun or into a Walmart or whatever or other kinds of violence breaks out.”
A booth for Let’s Talk Azle was present on Sept. 9 for the annual Sting Fling celebration and Shotwell said the overwhelming response from residents who were curious about the project was positive. To start off, the organization has produced sample packets describing what people can do to foster more positive interactions in their spaces. The packet covers such subjects as how to talk about tough topics, being good neighbors, peacefully talking with one another, social media, conspiracy theories, hate and news consumption, describing common practices, offering helpful habits, conversation starters and exercises.
As Azle continues to grow and diversify, Shotwell sees the need for the initiative to grow as well.
“We’re having lots and lots of new people coming to town,” Shotwell said. “The upshot of that is we are no longer going to be an upper middle class white conservative community. People are coming to our town. Can’t we be good neighbors and remind ourselves to love our neighbor like Jesus said.”
Let’s Talk Azle and Vamos Hablar Azle signs have been placed all over town by participating organizations. Shotwell also hopes to spread the message on the road and cancel out the increasing number of negative car decals with Let’s Talk Azle window clings.
Shotwell hopes the campaign can guarantee we remain a community where people can be friends with one another, regardless of any disagreements politically, religiously or otherwise.
If you’d like a Let’s Talk Azle window cling for your vehicle or business, more information, or just to keep up with the progress of the initiative, go to https://www.facebook.com/LetsTalkAzle and click the “Like” button. A steering committee member will be happy to respond. You may also contact steering committee members directly.