This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.
Believe it or not, I like change.
I’m a preservationist and an economist, so it’s assumed that I have old factories as my lock screen images, but I actually don’t -- well, maybe sometimes.
But, the only constant is change, and in community development, that’s a good thing. And there is something we really need to change here. It’s going to be hard and uncomfortable, but it’s necessary for us to get to where we want to go as a community.
It’s our self image. It’s bad, and it’s keeping us from being great.
I’ve noticed it for a long time, but I honestly didn’t see how bad it was until I started really listening. It’s like when your car starts making a noise, and you just turn up the volume on the radio at first. Then, it gets a little louder, and all of the sudden, you realize you’ve let it go too far. That’s us, my friends, and it’s time to fix it.
I’ve spent a good part of the last month (during and after SXSW) listening to people in our community in a new way. You see, when I look around our community and our county, I feel so much pride. I was raised here, my parents and grandparents were raised here, too.
When I'm in Ontario, Shelby, Lucas, Lexington and, of course, in downtown Mansfield, I can feel and physically see buildings they helped build, the places they lived and experiences they had. And not all of them were great experiences: My German relatives were run out of town; my grandparents' home was taken through eminent domain... Oh, there are some stories!
Our community isn’t perfect, and I am not suggesting we throw on a pair of rose-colored glasses as a quick fix, but if we change the lens we see the community through, it'd be a big step in the right direction.
During SXSW, I was able to listen to mayors and leaders from all over the world. I attended dozens of sessions, but one thing was consistent, that the pride and love they had for their communities impacted the way they saw development and change. You couldn’t even be in the room with Kansas City Mayor Sly James without feeling his love for his community. It’s not perfect there either, and he speaks openly about its challenges. Communities, like people, don’t have to be perfect for us to love them.
It’s not just a Mansfield problem. I’ve seen the same self deprecating relationship with communities from Leeds to Pueblo, Colorado. I’ve also lived places like Chicago, Washington DC & Saratoga Springs that are bursting with pride. (And DC was tagged as the murder capital of the world.)
As we move forward and continue to reimagine our community, let’s challenge each other to listen to how we speak about our community and choose language that reflects pride.
The image we have of our community is important, and how we talk about our community is important.
People are listening. The next generation is listening; new residents are listening; and visitors are absolutely listening.
How we see ourselves has a big impact on our ability to attract and retain people. How we speak about our community has a direct impact on our ability to create and grow innovative entrepreneurs.
After all, if I grow up hearing that nothing good comes from my community, how can that not reflect on me?
It’s time to take back our pride and to be #mansfieldproud.
Stay tuned and continue to follow #SXSW419 and read other blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.