The first special guest on Terrance Ruth’s new podcast was a Civil Rights activist who died 37 years ago.

Ella Baker, a Black woman born in 1903 and raised in North Carolina who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, was the founder of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most influential groups, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at Raleigh HBCU Shaw University.

Of course, this unsung hero didn’t really speak on Ruth’s podcast. But archivists from Shaw University passed on Baker’s message: that all important changes—from Civil Rights negotiations in the ‘50s to today’s fight for affordable housing—start locally.

“I want to launch a podcast that brings clarity and makes logical what was once illogical [in] local government,” Ruth said. “I want to start with Ella Baker—I wanted her to be that key piece.”

Ruth’s debut podcast, Illogical by TRUTH, launched on Juneteenth on his website. It will span 12 episodes, discussing the strategies behind local governance and bringing in experts and leaders to provide context on topics like the history of housing or the importance of diversifying local contracting in Raleigh.

Ruth is a former Raleigh mayoral candidate, but before that, he was also an educator in alternative classroom settings such as juvenile detention centers and wilderness camps. The students he’s worked with have faced complex upbringings, often due to issues that include neighborhood safety, engagement with law enforcement, hunger, and housing access. Through all of this, Ruth has realized that while much cultural emphasis is placed on the power of the federal government, people tend to overlook the influence that local government has on our daily lives.

With Illogical by TRUTH, he hopes to change that. 

“The goal of the podcast is to unleash an audience that feels empowered to engage locally,” Ruth says. “We believe by doing that, if you are educating an audience, then you are showing opportunities where they can directly engage local power and exercise their own collective power to increase their living conditions and quality of life.”

That’s why he opened the first episode with Ella Baker. Baker founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at Shaw, her alma mater, to support the rise of sit-ins protesting segregation in Southern college towns. It’s because of her engagement with local activists and students that the organization went on to play such a central role in the Civil Rights Movement.

For the first two episodes of Ruth’s podcast, Shaw archivists talk about Baker’s emphasis on understanding local leadership, local ownership, and local government during such a large-scale movement, Ruth says.

“Civil Rights was a negotiation—not with the president—but with the mayor, with the city council, with the school board,” Ruth says. “We can see a very rich history of engaging locally and winning and changing America.”

After the first two episodes about Ella Baker, episodes will be released twice a month, featuring a number of guest speakers: city council members, architects, designers, and experts—everyone who has a hand in local issues. Ruth says most listeners didn’t realize how much they didn’t know, and are excited to fill the gaps in their knowledge as local, federal and presidential elections approach.

But at the end of the day, it’s the local matters that Ruth wants to emphasize. As Baker taught him, some of the biggest fights start small.

“We need to revisit our history and engage in local government today,” Ruth says. “If we don’t visit history, we will think that local organizing is nuanced, that it’s this new craft that we’re doing. But when you start to read strategies that Ella Baker was putting on paper or was saying against the narrative of some of the dominant figures at the time—we’re not saying anything new.”

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