The Herald Bulletin

January 7, 2014

Primus Mootry: Looking to the future and focusing on the people

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Wow. Last year sure zoomed by. There is no telling how long it will take for us to begin writing “2014” on whatever correspondence we send. Anyway, I think Herald Bulletin reporters did an excellent job providing snapshots of many of the top 2013 events that affect us here in Anderson.

As you may recall, the paper’s Dec. 29 publication summed up major happenings such as the reservoir proposal; local annexation issues; problems that, as far as I know, have been imposed on the medical and staff leadership of the Madison County Community Health Clinic; encouraging news regarding economic growth in the city; as well as other news, good and bad.

It seems to me the bottom line is that Anderson is well along the road toward re-inventing itself. Time will tell. One thing, however, is certain: the city must change or die. This is true of municipalities throughout the country and, in fact, the country as a whole.

Unfortunately, one thing that seems to be holding us back is the necessary tension between moving into an uncertain future and holding on to a comfortable past. I mean “comfortable” in the sense that human beings, I believe, are much more comfortable with the known than the unknown.

This is true even though the “known” may be full of heartache of every description. Did you know, for example, there are people with chronic illnesses who would rather remain ill than get well? This is true even though whatever ails them might readily be cured.

It is a thing called human nature. And, again unfortunately, our basic behaviors and attitudes toward one another have not changed much since the days of the Garden of Eden. We continue to be motivated by greed, jealousy, lust and the thirst for power (disguised as knowledge).

These motivations contribute to behaviors such as arrogance, dishonesty, thievery and murder. Although these may sound like indictments, they are really just observations. Look around you. Have I said anything that is untrue?

As a practical matter, I have observed cities large and small struggling to re-invent themselves just as we are here. Indianapolis is a good example. So are Chattanooga and Chicago. There are many others, and they seem to be doing quite well.

In the re-invention process, common denominators appear to be annexation, access (as in building near Interstate 69), tax incentives that attract businesses and other economic or quasi-economic actions. As I mentioned earlier, there are many places where such strategies, or variations, are working.

What I have heard very little about, however, is cities that seek to re-invent themselves through investments in people — schools, libraries, cultural centers, job training programs and so forth. What usually happens is that people who are least able to fend for themselves are displaced.

This displacement has a very nice sounding name called “gentrification.” What it means is that poorer folk are uprooted and replaced by wealthier ones. It’s not necessarily a racial thing. It’s a money thing.

I once asked then University of Chicago sociology professor, William Julius Wilson, where do the poor folk go? He looked at me.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe to suburban areas or even warmer states. The truth is, nobody is really keeping track.”

What his answer meant to me is that no one really cares. It is a simple fact of life. As it is said in that Billie Holiday song, “Them that’s got, shall have. Them that’s not, shall lose. . . . God bless the child whose got his own.”

The great Billie Holiday’s soulful sentiment aside, I suggest that it is not until we learn how to enrich the lives of the have-nots in our society that we will truly re-invent our cities and our nation. Some may think this idea is unrealistic. I, however, believe it to be totally realistic and practical.

There is not one of us who ever achieved anything without the help of someone else. And, I believe, just as we have been helped, most of us have reached out to help others. In doing so, even on the smallest scale, we made this world a better place. Reach back. Leap forward.

In closing, I will never forget a newspaper cartoon I saw some years ago. It showed a group of city planners gathered around 2050 map of their city. The caption? “Now, where are we going to put the ghetto.”

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.