At a Friday luncheon for community leaders, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., affirmed his commitment to the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative.
Speaking to a roomful of political, business and community representatives at The Promise Center at the historic Ballard-Hudson building, Bishop noted how many community organizations had come together to touch peoples lives every day.
I was most impressed with what I saw on paper, Bishop said, describing when local leaders first pitched the Promise Neighborhood plan to him in Washington, D.C. I saw the possibilities. ... Ive really been excited with it.
Macon Promise Neighborhood is a plan to lift the Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods by offering improved services, educational opportunities and job training. United Way of Central Georgia helps administer the program.
George McCanless, president and CEO of United Way, paraphrased Benjamin Franklin when he talked about the opportunities available to help people in those neighborhoods become healthy, wealthy and wise.
McCanless called the current situations in those neighborhoods tragic, noting that 55 percent of the children there dont receive regular or consistent medical exams; that unemployment is more than 30 percent in the area, while the poverty rate is more than 60 percent; that 70 percent of the children dont attend pre-K classes, while 55 percent of high school seniors dont graduate.
McCanless said he was told you have to understand that the residents in this neighborhood are afraid to hope.
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert got fired up when he noted Macon was selected Thursday as one of seven cities nationwide for the federal Strong City, Strong Community initiative, describing it as a good news/bad news situation.
The bad news is, you have to have chronic economic distress (to qualify), he said. Whats so good is (the city) recognizes it and is doing something about it.
The cities selected have local governments who have a clear strategy and vision to improve conditions, he said.
Reichert praised Bishops long-term service, as a representative in the state Legislature and his 22 years in Congress. Reichert noted Bishop is 53rd in seniority among members of Congress.
His heart is in the right place, Reichert said. He tries to leverage his resources for the people in his district.
Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, got emotional during his remarks Friday, noting that when Bishop first met with the Macon-Bibb County delegation about Promise Neighborhood, the city wasnt part of Bishops district. But Bishop met with local officials anyway because he wanted to help, Whitby said.
Whitby said he grew up in the same neighborhoods Promise Neighborhood serves.
Until individuals see self-improvement, how could you see it in the community? he said.
Bishop said he was delighted when Bibb County was moved back into his district. He said he saw firsthand how Columbus-Muscogee County improved as Georgias first consolidated government and that Macon-Bibb has turned over a new leaf as the states latest consolidated government.
Bishop addressed officials representing diverse aspects of the community as key ingredients to the Promise Neighborhoods chance at success.
You wont have that quality of life unless all the major players come together, he said.
After Bishops remarks, Alveno Ross, a former Macon city councilman who serves as chairman of the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development, said Bishops support in Washington will be a great help to the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative.
His commitment is to help us help ourselves, Ross said.