The statistics are staggering. George McCanless, executive director of the United Way of Central Georgia, told a group gathered to recognize the almost finished Promise Center on Anthony Road, that the high school (Southwest) that serves the Promise Neighborhood zone had a 38 percent graduation rate last year. It gets worse. Forty-eight percent of the adults living in the Promise Neighborhood service area lack a high school diploma; 19 percent of the young men from 16-19 years old living in the zone are not in school and are not employed. Seventy-one percent of the preschoolers are not in any sort of day care. And while there are eight day care centers in the zone, five are out of license compliance. No surprise that the unemployment rate is 30 percent higher than the rest of Bibb County.
It would have been easy to throw up one’s hands and walk away from those statistics and a project that was full of controversy at its inception and was the final straw leading to Romain Dallemand’s last days as Bibb superintendent of schools. But there they sat -- Mayor Robert Reichert, who garnered his share of criticism over his support of the Promise Neighborhood concept; and Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority and a part of the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development that owns the building. Whitby was called an opportunist at best and a crook at worse.
Now they sat with Commissioner Ron Jackson, head of the Technical College System of Georgia; Shaw Blackmon, the vice chair of the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia; Ivan Allen, president of Central Georgia Technical College; and Jeff Scruggs, CGCT’s executive vice president as praise was heaped on the effort that involves several community partners, all described by McCanless as the “coalition of the willing.” That coalition includes the United Way of Central Georgia, Central Georgia Technical College, Bibb County School System, Mercer University, Wesleyan College and a couple of dozen more organizations from Boys and Girls Club to DFACS.
The programs that will be housed in the Promise Center will attempt to “embrace the families of the community.” The area includes two elementary schools, Hartley and Ingram-Pye, Ballard Hudson Middle School and Southwest High School.
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The Promise Neighborhood effort is a long-term commitment. Allen and Jackson made it clear that CGTC was in it for the long-term, a decade or more, and so are the other partners.
Now it’s time for the entire community to listen to the words first spoken by then Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1958, and quoted by McCanless, “Let us not despair but act. ... Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past -- let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”