Snacking on Harmony

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Macon Mogul.

There. I said it. This contest and event coordinated by Gateway Macon has brought up the same amount of huff and spit that possibly re-electing C. Jack mayor of macon elicited. There were people on both sides and definitely those with a lot of spite raising “a lot of fuss” as my grandmother would say, but I felt that the conversation during the election, while wild at time, was managed overall by a sense of understanding and the knowledge of the speakers and writers about the subject at hand. The last few weeks have proven that we are not on the same page.

After Gateway Macon announced that the winner of the Macon Mogul business competition was TailsSpin, an organic, healthy pet supply store that originated in Savannah, Georgia, the literal fit hit the shan and Macon exploded with outrage; outrage that a Macon entity would name a Savannah company as Macon Mogul, outrage that a company that was supposed to be all about Macon, GA would not choose to elevate a Macon based business concept, outrage that Gateway Macon would be “paying” an outsider to move to Macon to open a store that “no one would go to”.

Full disclosure: I work for Gateway Macon. I am part of the social media team that works to broadcast not only the work we as Gateway Macon do, but also inform people of the work of other non-profit organizations in the area. My goal is to try to inform, engage others in conversation, understand what the people who live, work, and amuse themselves in Macon, Georgia want out of their experience in this city.

Personally, I grew up in Macon, Georgia. My most earnest desire when I was young was to get the hell out of Macon. This city had nothing to offer me. My neighborhood was beginning to be overrun by gangs, and I had to believe that the way I was treated as a black person in Macon, both by other black people and by white people, had to be an anomaly of the South. I made up in my mind to move as far north as I could go. I lived in Boston for two years before a tragedy brought me home. By then, my life was completely changed. I’d met people who did not grow up with the same concepts about race that people from home had. I gained a new confidence in myself and while I was still content to be in the shadows, I was also able to move into the spotlight. I knew that if I wanted Macon to work for me, I had to work for it. I fell in love with Downtown Macon as soon as I moved back to Macon. Even though I lived out in Bloomfield, I would catch the bus into downtown. I would go to the only open place downtown, a coffee shop owned by a quirky computer-centric proprietor. This was before Liz Reed’s re-opened and brought more people downtown. I inherited a studio in the Contemporary Arts Exchange and worked hard to help make that space a place people wanted to go to see the art and writing of the artists there, so that people would enjoy seeing the working environment of continuously creating artists. Despite how much was happening as downtown Macon began encouraging more late night businesses, I was still dissatisfied with Macon. I decided to move as far west as possible and moved to Los Angeles. I was there for 8 months before I moved back. I have to admit, as I’ve traveled, that I’ve been tempted to move to other places. When I was in Austin, TX for 5 days, I felt the places I frequented often in that short time accepted me as one of their own. It reminded me so much of Macon. When I lived near Lake Tobesofkee and in North Macon, I was less than satisfied with Macon, but when I moved downtown 5 years ago (even though I spent most of my time downtown, I had not lived down here), this was when I fell in love with Macon. From porch parties and cocktail hours to the most supportive neighbors and friends I’ve ever come across, I fell in love.

I have been called Polly Anna, I’ve been called naive, I’ve been called delusional, but when it comes to making Macon better, not only do I believe it’s possible, but I believe we are close – as long as we all understand close to be something that we work on and we see the first sweet breath of overall change in the next 10 years. I know we have a lot of work to do, but when I say “we”, I don’t just mean someone else in the city like our elected officials, our mayor, the people volunteering for the events or running venues downtown. When I say “we” I mean everyone that has an opinion about Macon and want it to be better.

I love words. I like how they fall off the tongue, appear on the page, the white space between paragraphs, the pregnant pauses in stories, that little pause before the punchline. I love words in all of its forms, but I hate seeing words destroy the germs of ideas and progress before they can even get started. I blame passion for this, but I am passionate as well.

Before I continue, I’m not calling for a moratorium on free speech. I think that if we see an issue it is our responsibility to say something or do something about it. But when we do, we have to be informed. Recently, we dealt with the smoking issue. This was a case where I jumped into a situation without being informed. Frustrated with how smoky the Hummingbird could get, but finding myself always there because that’s where my smoking friends wanted to hang out, I quickly jumped into Smoke Free Macon. I recorded a PSA with Community Health Works, I posted stuff on Facebook, I talked to all my friends, but I didn’t talk to bar owners to find out the negative consequences. I didn’t try to find out where the Smoke Free push was coming from. I give the Hummingbird credit. They decided to try out a smoke free night and did it for the American Cancer Society. It gave ALL the people who said they would go to the Bird if it was non-smoking a chance  to show their support. I fully believe if the Bird made more money on the Smoke Free night, those of us who wished it less smoky would have gotten our wish. Even though I don’t normally go to the Bird on a Friday night, I made it a point to show up, buy a couple of drinks and let them know they had my support. Not only did the non-smoking people not show up, the smoking crowd turned around when they learned it was smoke free. The Bird lost a lot of money that night and I was able to talk to the bartenders and owners about what a smoking ban would actually mean to this bar that I loved, smoky though it may be. I realized that I had not done the research and had been very vocal in a way that could have hurt the community. Once I changed my stance, I was not as vocal as I’d been before and the act of smoking a cigar at the bar got me called a hypocrite, but I accept it because I learned from it. I was so wrong about the right to smoke in a bar that I was joining their cause by smoking my occasional cigar in the bar. We all make mistakes and run our mouths about things we don’t know. I will just try my best to not let it happen again.

Educated dissent is alright by me.

We all know there is a way to say something that gets the point across without raising the mob mentality and I think that, many times, some do not try to reduce that mentality.

On speaking individually to Anthony Harris and Jason Moss, the discourse is usually civil, but the snowball effect of that same conversation on Facebook was so negative that those who supported TailsSpin became angry at the very vocal anti-reception from “Macon”. There were many who tried to be supportive, but their voices were drowned out by the angry ill-informed. Usually, when I see this kind of discourse, I just shake my head at just how much they are wrong. In this case, however, I was actually ashamed.

I was talking to someone from the Chamber who said that businesses thinking to locate to Macon because of it’s central location, water supply, and the work ready job force actions the state is taking, would send a representative to a restaurant or a bar and ask someone randomly what they thought of Macon. More than half of the time the person was negative, sometimes brutally so. The chance of a large company offering to employ 200 or 2000 people in the city dwindles every time someone puts Macon down. I mean, if you can’t stand living here, why would someone who is happy with their location or have their choice of locations choose Macon.

We all talk about wanting things to change in Macon, but we won’t even change our attitude about the city we live in. Why can’t we think of the positive things that make it great to live in Macon; low cost of living, very active arts culture, diverse and growing downtown, excellent places to eat, fun places for entertainment, exciting and amazing bands…. and that’s just on the social level. It doesn’t discount the problems. We’re not stupid, we know they exist, but those problems can not preclude us from loving being here.

The judges for the Macon Mogul competition are business owners. They have owned businesses in other cities or states, but also in downtown Macon. They are business professors with business experience. They are people taxed with helping other businesses come to Macon. They are all people who want to see this community succeed. Picking TailsSpin did not mean they were putting down the “homegrown Macon based up and coming businesses.” It means they are putting one business in downtown Macon, at least one new resident and tax payer in Macon/Bibb County, as well as 6 new jobs AND they also have a group of great business ideas that, with a few fixes or addition, are prepared to receive any help they can be given, concepts that might not have been developed without the Macon Mogul contest.

In the end, we want people to feel welcomed here. Jason Moss, after being confronted by someone who worked for TailsSpin about how awful they felt Macon’s reception was right after the announcement, did his best to show a form of welcome to the company. I think we sometimes fail to realize that every citizen of a city is either the welcome mat or the slammed door for new people and businesses coming in.

We all have the right to air grievances in a public forum, but it isn’t what we say but HOW we say it. We realize that some of our public officials have let us down. We all suffer because of that. But WE are the ones wo are going to help things change and it has to start with an attitude change. Find one thing to fall in love with about Macon. Be the spokesperson for it. You love music? Be the spokesperson. You love to eat? Be the spokesperson for great food. If you don’t live to eat, don’t be the spokesperson for food. If you are not doing your best to help businesses downtown – i.e. you aren’t volunteering with Main Street Macon or other organizations that help, like Facade Squad – don’t be the spokesperson for business because then you’ll be the anti-spokesperson and become the main force against something you claim to way; a thriving downtown.

ilovemacon.org is right. I made a pledge years ago that I would not continue the “Macon mentality” that I grew up with, hating Macon and making sure everyone knew it. I pledged I would find the things I like, like downtown, and work to make it better. ilovemacon wants us all to basically take that pledge that we, as people living in Macon, speak positively about our city. We become the things that we love about this city. We welcome the visitor and make them want to live here. I live in Macon because I want to. I go out in Macon because I have fun. I work in Macon because I want it to change for the better. I can’t sit back and wait for someone else to change it. If I do, it either doesn’t change or changes in a way I wouldn’t wish. I have to play a part for my sake.

I heart the ilovemacon.org pledge. It states:

I pledge to love Macon and be an advocate for our community. I honestly believe Macon is a wonderful, vibrant, and unique place to live, work and be involved. While acknowledging that our community faces problems common to many cities, I believe it is my responsibility to remind others of our good fortune and to focus on the positive. I pledge to respond to negativity about our community by speaking positively about where I live and insisting others do the same. I will recruit fie other people who love our community to sign this pledge and join me in celebrating Macon.

I encourage you all to consider accepting this pledge. We have to be different now. The definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. Time to be different, radical, and for some of you, positive. Not everyone will or can do this, but at least change the tone of how you present your ideas or grievances for the sake of our future growth.

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