Regionalism depends on team effort

Published 12:12 am Sunday, April 18, 2010

Not quite a year ago a dozen or so community and business leaders met to talk about things we’d learned in kindergarten, but had somehow forgotten.

The first meeting of the Miss-Lou Regionalism Steering committee was interesting.

The premise was simple: Our community can accomplish more by working together than working separately.

That’s easier said than done, though, especially when the “habit” hasn’t been to seek mutual understanding and common interests.

Yet the group decided to throw a few elected officials in the room with some media members and get everyone to agree that we had to leave our feelings and egos at the door.

What was going to be said?

Are they going to blame me?

What’s their agenda?

Who’s going to attack me?

Such questions weren’t verbalized, but they could certainly be felt, just below the surface in the eyes — and the body language — of all of those in the room (including yours truly).

Everyone at the table was probably a little nervous since most of us had rarely ever sat down across the table from one another informally, let alone to talk about the real issues facing our community.

But what’s happened over the months that followed that first meeting is pretty interesting, and not unlike that first day of kindergarten.

The surroundings and the faces that at first seemed a little foreign and maybe a bit scary now seem commonplace and friendly.

In effect, the group is no longer just a collection of diverse names and faces, but has become much more jelled into a team with some shared common goals.

Months after the first get together, the mood of the meetings are much less defensive and much more positive, forward-looking.

But regionalism isn’t about the people who are part of the steering committee. The reality is that a group of a dozen people is somewhat limited in what it can accomplish.

But if the lessons that group has learned about one another can be applied to the next step in the process, nothing can stop the improvements in our community.

So what is the next step?

We need more people involved in the effort.

After three public community forums on the topic, the regionalism group has gathered lists of community members interested in volunteering to work on improving different segments of our community.

In the coming weeks, those volunteers will be contacted and committee meetings will be set up.

This process will be among the most important steps in the process of bringing our diverse community together.

The success of the regionalism effort will depend on the committees getting off the ground well and starting to address issues, hand-in-hand, walking together toward a common goal.

If our community can ultimately expand the number of citizens who get to know their neighbors and learn how much in common they have with one another, just imagine how much the community could accomplish.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.