U.N. Positive Peace award bestowed on Macon

A peace prize?

For Macon?

On its face, word that the city is the recipient of a Positive Peace Award from a branch of the United Nations may sound like a joke.

What with Macon’s oft-bickering and, at times, toxic public officials -- not to mention a crime-stained self image -- the Flag City seems anything but an emblem of crystal-trophy-worthy harmony.

Even so, the United Nations NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations), in association with Rotary International and other charitable groups, has bestowed its 2010 small-community honor upon Macon.

The award, word of which leaked out at Wednesday’s Downtown Macon Rotary Club meeting, is one of a dozen given to cities, businesses, broadcasts, schools, teams and athletes said to “exemplify and demonstrate the word ‘positive.’ ”

Before you laugh, consider some of the big-name recipients in what is the first year of the awards: ESPN’s “Jimmy V” fight-cancer fundraiser, the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the ABC television show “Extreme Makeover.”

Judges chose Macon, nominated by NewTown Macon, from a field of more than 40 small-community nominees -- those with populations under half a million -- including ones in Mexico and Europe. Kansas City won in the big-city category.

Scott Pederson, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Celebrate Positive, the public relations and marketing agency which compiles the award nominees for judging, says plenty of places tend to sell themselves short.

He often hears worries that “I’m not sure we’re positive” from city representatives.

“Every city I talked to had the same reaction. ... Every community has its political issues and has its challenges,” Pederson said.

“Part of the reason we’re doing this is because that’s the first reaction that most communities have. ... What’s happened,” he said, “is people have started to allow, and this is not a shot at politicians and the media, but it’s just that they’ve started to allow themselves to be defined by politics and bad news. If you start stacking up the positive things that are going on in Macon versus the negative, it’s overwhelmingly positive.”

The awards were developed, he said, “to recognize peace through positivity.”

“This is not the mayor’s award. This is not a political award. This is the whole community. It’s ‘Why is this a great place to live? Why is this a great place to raise a family? Why is it a great place to come visit?’ And Macon has a lot of those tools to become a winner in something like this,” Pederson said.

“Think of all the progressive, positive things going on in Macon. We even delved into and got feedback on events like what the Chick-fil-A store there does, the Habitat for Humanity event (at Christmas).”

Pederson has contacts in Macon, including at NewTown, and those connections helped usher through the city’s nomination.

“I was very proud that a Georgia city won it,” he said.

With this the inaugural competition, Pederson said, “What we did was we picked some communities we had heard some good things about. ... In the future, there are going to be a lot more nominees for this award.”

The crystal trophy, which features a prominent globe, will make its way to Macon in the coming weeks.

Pederson said officials in Kansas City, the large-community winner, are “almost treating it like the Stanley Cup. Everybody gets to share the award and have it at their offices. ... ESPN is going to win in the entertainment category, and they’re talking about doing something throughout all their departments ... so it’ll be kind of a traveling trophy.”

As for Macon, he said, “What we want to do is honor it so it doesn’t just look like it’s a political award. The reason Macon won this award is because of the citizens of Macon and all of the great quality of life ... of how this is a positive community going in the right direction.”