Plenty of roads lead to and from Macon, but many people have found reasons to stay and put down roots.
Im safe, you know, Im at peace. Im whole. I wanted a better place to raise my children, and I got that in Macon, said Takesha Shepard, who moved to the city a decade ago from the Bronx, N.Y.
People from Macon dont understand what they have. ... You go up there and see the real big city, then you will change your outlook and appreciate Macon. See, I appreciate it.
Shepard, a chef at an Alzheimers care facility, said shes glad her community sticks together.
She was one of nearly 600 people who discussed their views of the city for the Macon in the Mirror project, which examined everything from what frustrates residents about living in Macon to what they like about the city and why they choose to remain in Macon.
Plenty of residents shared the feeling of solidarity that Shepard noted.
I love everything about Macon. Its a homey place, said Vanessa Riggins, a south Bibb County resident whos lived around Macon most of her life. Friendly people, everyone speaks to you. ... Its not too big and not too small. Its a great place to live.
Riggins, who said shes best at being a mom, is raising three boys and two girls in Macon.
Kayla Mattingly, a 20-year-old college student and cashier at an Old Navy store, said Macons size is great but easily misconstrued. Shes lived in Macon most of her life, and she revels in her recollections and historical memories of downtown, where she can find almost anything to do.
Macon offers her plenty of places to hang out, she said.
I like how comfortable it is and how its not technically a huge city, but its not really country, Mattingly said. Its kind of the best of both worlds.
Mattingly suggested that Macon may just have an inferiority complex.
Anywhere else in any other state they seem to have the misconception that were country hillbillies, when really a lot of people I know are civilized humans. Theyre not hillbillies, she said. I want people to know that we do have a nice little Southern community. I just wish we were more together about it.
As a deputy sheriff, Jimmy Culver has opportunities to see some of the worst that Macon has to offer. That has not soured him on the city, though.
I kind of fell in love with Macon, said Culver, 34. Its a real diverse city. Its not too big. Its not too small.
Though Culver may meet some of Macons less friendly people, hes positive about the residents, too.
I like its people. Macon is so diverse. Youve got all kinds of nationalities, races and cultures around here in Macon, he said.
Pilar Wilder, a 16-year resident of the area, said that as a black woman, she doesnt see herself as running a black business, just a business.
Im grateful to the greater community for accepting me, supporting me in a way that the smaller community youre expecting to be a part of couldnt have done by themselves, so thats a big deal to me, said Wilder, who runs Hayiya Dance Theatre.
Wilder said therere a wealth of ways to find out whats going on in Macon, where people are constantly inundated with activities, and many of them are very wholesome, quality and very artistic and just fantastic events, (and yet) youre constantly hearing, Theres nothing to do here, or This city sucks. Im like, Really? Wilder said.
Wilder said she views Macon in much the same way that many people feel about their kinfolk.
I really do like Macon. Its like a family. You dont like everyone in your family. You love them. Everyone in your family doesnt think like you, and everyone in your family doesnt have your same interests, and yet you still love your family. And Macon is home for me now, and I really enjoy being here.
This is where God asked me to be, and this is where Im gonna be.
Sharon Reeves, a 15-year resident who lives off Bass Road, said Macon works great as the center of her professional and personal life. As a trial lawyer for an insurance company, Reeves can easily travel across the entire state for her job. She feels centered in the community, where she admires everything from the churches to the owners of small businesses.
She likes lots of things, she said. The central location geographically because it works for my career. The large faith-based community thats here, and the concentrated effort in downtown, and with things like the Cherry Blossom Festival, I think there is a very good community spirit.
Tatiana Gorts entire family pulled up stakes in Miami to come to Macon about nine years ago. She was surprised by how polite residents were -- hearing customers in a store saying Yes maam, for example. Macon is a cheaper place to live than other locales, and its better in several other ways, she said.
Its not bad to live. Jobs, people say, Oh, its hard to get a job. But Ive been without a job for like two weeks at most. If anything was to happen, I know that Im going to get on my feet. ... And the school system is good, because my son has been in honor roll for three years.
Cynthia Clance, a visually impaired paraprofessional at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, counts on the citys transportation system, which she praised.
I do like that they have a city bus because I can get on it and go almost anywhere I need to go in the city, which is nice. It gives me the independence to do it myself, she said.
Chris Wise has lived in Macon for all but a few years of his four decades. His parents grew up in Macon, and he says he has a difficult time thinking of living elsewhere.
As with anywhere you live, you want the safest and best possible environment for your family to be in. That being said, I absolutely love the neighborhood I live in, said Wise, who lives off Forest Hill Road. So calm and peaceful, and I love coming home to it every day.
Macon is always home, he said. Ive lived in Athens, Buford and Gainesville, but I knew Macon was always home. And until all the kids are grown and gone, I dont see it changing.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.