Plenty of roads lead to and from Macon, but many people have found reasons to stay and put down roots.
“I’m safe, you know, I’m at peace. I’m 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 don’t 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 Alzheimer’s care facility, said she’s 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. It’s a homey place,” said Vanessa Riggins, a south Bibb County resident who’s lived around Macon most of her life. “Friendly people, everyone speaks to you. ... It’s not too big and not too small. It’s a great place to live.”
Riggins, who said she’s 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 Macon’s size is great but easily misconstrued. She’s 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 it’s not technically a huge city, but it’s not really country,” Mattingly said. “It’s 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 we’re country hillbillies, when really a lot of people I know are civilized humans. They’re 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. “It’s a real diverse city. It’s not too big. It’s not too small.”
Though Culver may meet some of Macon’s less friendly people, he’s positive about the residents, too.
“I like its people. Macon is so diverse. You’ve 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 doesn’t see herself as running a black business, just a business.
“I’m grateful to the greater community for accepting me, supporting me in a way that the smaller community you’re expecting to be a part of couldn’t have done by themselves, so that’s a big deal to me,” said Wilder, who runs Hayiya Dance Theatre.
Wilder said there’re a wealth of ways to find out what’s 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) you’re constantly hearing, ‘There’s nothing to do here,’ or ‘This city sucks.’ I’m 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. It’s like a family. You don’t like everyone in your family. You love them. Everyone in your family doesn’t think like you, and everyone in your family doesn’t 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 I’m 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 that’s 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 Gort’s 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 ma’am,” for example. Macon is a cheaper place to live than other locales, and it’s better in several other ways, she said.
“It’s not bad to live. Jobs, people say, ‘Oh, it’s hard to get a job.’ But I’ve been without a job for like two weeks at most. If anything was to happen, I know that I’m 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 city’s 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. “I’ve lived in Athens, Buford and Gainesville, but I knew Macon was always home. And until all the kids are grown and gone, I don’t see it changing.”
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.