Opinion Columns & Blogs

Loving where you live requires celebration, honesty and working for change

Judge gives life lessons to Consider the Consequences participants

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin brings a courtroom full of "Consider the Consequences" participants in 2016 to tears, and all she does is tell the truth.
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Bibb County Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin brings a courtroom full of "Consider the Consequences" participants in 2016 to tears, and all she does is tell the truth.

A few of us at The Telegraph have been working on a social-media initiative called Positively 478 (which you can find on Facebook and Instagram). Its tagline is “Love where you live.”

In a time of divisive partisanship and of media (social and otherwise) that too often feeds our worse instincts, most of us can use a little help in reconnecting with our love for where we live. Too often, we feel disconnected from and uninformed about our neighbors and local businesses, nonprofits, schools and other institutions.

We long to be more informed, involved and connected to the community. We want to feel pride in where we live and validation that our efforts matter. But we want that pride to be both authentic and leavened with the realization that there is more work to do.

A gathering of local leaders held on Wednesday reinforced the nuances of that love of place and reconnected me with why I love this community and chose Macon over New York seven years ago.

The Thrive Summit, hosted by Middle Georgia State University, explored ways community organizations can collaborate to enhance growth in the region and to ensure that the benefits of that prosperity are shared by all.

Various speakers highlighted progress.

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin cited data pointing to 2018 as a record year for economic development in Macon-Bibb. She contrasted the lively scene in downtown Macon that stretches well into the night with the “ghost town” that it became after the workday when she first moved to Macon nearly two decades ago.

David Biek, dean of Middle Georgia State University’s School of Education & Behavioral Sciences, pointed to a “resurgence of civic-mindedness” that’s coincided with the region’s recent economic boom. He called on participants to regularly access and celebrate what’s working, pointing to coordinated efforts such as Macon Aim, a collaboration of nonprofit and public agencies supporting families with young children, as an example of success.

However, the bulk of the summit focused on building on those successes to confront the challenges that remain.

United Way of Central Georgia President and CEO George McCanless began his talk by pointing out the lack of progress in a number of key areas. He shared data showing little change in the poverty rate, number of homeless children, unemployment rate and violent crime rate from the early 1970s.

After highlighting positive signs from its On the Table survey, Community Foundation of Central Georgia President Kathryn Dennis pointed to disparities in people’s ability to participate in recent growth. She said the community recognizes that “opportunity abounds but it is not shared equally.”

Colvin said that the record economic development came while Macon-Bibb County had the fifth highest rate of income inequality in Georgia and that residents in east Macon live 10 years less than the rest of the county. “The devastation of poverty is abundantly clear,” she said. Later, during a working session, she said that we should talk about problems because “we want to take the community to another level, not just pat ourselves on the back.”

The afternoon was dedicated to exploring solutions and finding ways to work together. A panel of college and university presidents from the region discussed their roles in building and extending prosperity. Facilitators led small groups through discussions of how to better attract and build talent, provide housing and transportation, encourage entrepreneurship and improve the quality of life for all.

Not once during that day did I hear mention of President Donald Trump or Congressional Democrats. Though I imagine ideological sympathies ranged from the tea party to Democratic socialists, they never surfaced. Those differences matter and impact many of the issues at hand. National, state and local policies may be the biggest levers to address growth and equity.

But at the end of the day — after all of the voting, lobbying and other political battles are fought — these local leaders and residents are left with the task of working with whatever policies are set and making business, government, education and the rest of civic life work for the community. At some point, we have to just roll up our sleeves and get to work, recognizing that shared prosperity is in all of our interests.

What is called for is not a kumbaya moment, but nonetheless a time for loving where you live and all of those who inhabit it with you. That love requires celebrating what’s good, but also being honest about our shortcomings and working to build on the former while addressing the latter. It’s kind of like a family. Often you need reassurance, acceptance and encouragement. Sometimes, you also need someone to suggest you cut back on the sugar or stop being a jerk.

I, for one, am thankful to have leaders and citizens like those gathered. Middle Georgia is fortunate to have foundations, nonprofits, educational institutions and a diverse group of residents who work year-round for our community. I hope that The Telegraph and Positively 478 play important roles in that work. And I hope that we can all find ways to love where we live.

Tim Regan-Porter is regional editor for McClatchy’s southern region, which includes The Telegraph and macon.com.