A little self-evaluation is a good thing

Published 10:26 pm Sunday, March 12, 2023

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Joe Fratesi and Chance McDavid were in town last week as the dynamic duo working with Leadership Natchez. Both work for Mississippi State University in the Stennis Institute. Joe has been with Stennis for years; Chance ran community development with the Mississippi Development Authority. I’ve worked with both in towns across this state and they’re real pros.

Leadership Natchez is an ongoing program of the Chamber and each year there is a new class. There are 13 people in this class and the group looks like a fair representation of who lives in Natchez.

In this community development field, something we always talk about are books. Things that we’re reading or have read that speak to the work we’re doing. One of the key books in community development that many think highly of is Ray Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place.” Published in 1989, the book lays out how social interaction in public spaces via key businesses are the indicator of community strength. The subtitle is “cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of a community.” The ideas in that book drive my work, especially in how to reimagine spaces that can make money and bring life back downtown.

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A book that came up is Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law.” If one is in the business of community building, then equal access to property is an essential component. Most economic prosperity in America comes from home ownership. The subtitle is “a forgotten history of how our government segregated America.” It is a powerful book documenting how the laws across these United States did that. It talks very little about the South, but the country as a whole. Home ownership is the generational key to building wealth and how laws on the books have, until way more recently than you’d think, restricted who can own property.

Joe had a book suggestion for the Leadership Natchez group. His recommendation was “13 Ways to Kill Your Community.” The premise is supposing your ambition is to kill your community and the desire is to drive away people, eliminate jobs, undermine business, and you won’t quit until the whole place is in ruins. Here’s your how to book. Of course, the author Doug Griffiths is being snarky, but he is on to something, as even small daily decisions have a cumulative and negative effect. The inner teacher in me wants to assign this book to everyone and especially those downtown, but I know that’s a big ask.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the book via the chapter titles. Just ask yourself how Natchez ranks with these; forget the water, don’t attract business, don’t engage youth, deceive yourself, shop elsewhere, don’t paint, don’t cooperate, live in the past, shut out your seniors, reject everything new, ignore outsiders, grow complacent, and don’t take responsibility.

Well, ask yourself, are we hitting solid on all 13?

I think what is good about all these books is they change the way one looks at situations and they are a call to action going forward.

I think that’s the aspirational goal for Joe and Chance and Leadership Natchez.

Mickey Howley is executive director of the Downtown Natchez Alliance.