The Herald Bulletin

September 18, 2013

Primus Mootry: Re-inventing Anderson -- the pathway to hope

The Herald Bulletin

---- — “It will not be enough for people, groups, and organizations to promote their own actions — as if they alone will constitute the new path. It is only when individual actions become connected to a larger, unfolding narrative, when they serve as proof points in a larger story, they gain meaning and create a renewed sense of possibility.” — Richard C. Harwood, The Work of Hope, 2012

Last week I shared some opinions about a section of Anderson’s west side based on something a friend calls “the eye test.” This simple test is nothing more than looking around you. If what you see reflects what you want, fine. If it doesn’t, change it.

I am grateful to various readers who contacted me to share their eye-test opinions about problems in a predominantly African-American section of the west side of Anderson. They also shared opinions about what might be done to solve these problems. And, as is to be expected, not all of their opinions were positive, hopeful, or even helpful to the task.

One reader, who lives in the area, contacted me with the idea of pulling together a town hall type meeting to discuss starting a Neighborhood Watch program or other community-based actions.

I told her if I could help, I would be happy to do so. A big part of the pathway to hope is simply starting the conversation with others.

Another person who lives in the area told me the community’s adults have failed to put together and maintain tried and true programs for youth, like Little League baseball teams, Boy and Girl Scout troops, soap box derbys, and the like. “We don’t need to invent nothing,” he said. “Most of what we need is right here. It’s us.” I say amen to that.

At another level, I ran into a city official who told me the Smith administration has made an effort to focus all too scarce city resources on some of the area’s infrastructure problems, e.g., road repairs, curb and sidewalk work, demolishing eye-sore properties, and even mowing lawns. He also told me that, whenever possible, he had been directed to hire people from the area to do the work. Terrific.

A golfing acquaintance, not of the community, told me that, in effect, if the people of the west side want to solve their problems, they will have to help themselves. He went on to point out that problems like high crime, “babies having babies,” kids who won’t go to school, and people who do not want to work, can’t be solved.

I listened carefully. In general, I agreed with his idea that the community must, first and foremost, help itself. I did, however, question some of the specifics of what he said. Crime, for example, is not more prevalent on the west side than it is in many other Anderson communities. With all the problems, I suggested to him that the common denominator was poverty more than anything else.

Anyway, for whatever reasons, there are always naysayers of every description. They have lost hope. They do not see possibilities. In general, because their voices may be louder, it doesn’t mean their numbers are greater. It’s probably the opposite by far. People care.

The city of Anderson cares. Great corporate citizens like St. Vincent and Community hospitals care. United Way and other local funders care. Neighborhood organizations, citizen groups, and neighborhood individuals care. As I suggested last week, caring is not enough. Act.

If three frogs are sitting on a log, and one decides to jump, how many frogs are left on the log? Don’t trouble yourself. The answer is three. Because we decide, or because we care, means nothing until we act. As it is written, “Faith without works is dead.”

In my opinion, the problem is not the lack of caring, it is the lack of focused action. I believe we need to raise the quality of public discourse from “God-ain’t-it-awful” to small- and large-scale acts that make us leap to common cause. That discourse, that conversation, begins not with answers, but with questions.

President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and say, why not?” “Why not” starts a new conversation. It is the first step along the pathway to real hope for our communities, and the re-invention of our city.

Have a nice day.

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