Comebacktown published by David Sher & Phyllis Neill to begin a discussion on better government for our region.
Today’s guest blogger is Maury Shevin, a Birmingham native.
Remember, “One for all! All for one!! Every man for himself!!!” I do and if you are of a certain age, then you do too. It is a line made famous by the infamous Three Stooges. And, boy, doesn’t it now relate to our community?
I have lived the trials and tribulations of the greater Birmingham Metropolitan area for a lot of years now. I was here and of age in the dark days of the 1960’s. I was here and enjoyed the enlightenment of the 1980’s. And, I am here now, in what can only be described as the age of uncertainty—uncertain whether we who love Birmingham and its surrounding neighborhoods, cities and counties, are going to find a way out of a maze of difficult problems to a straighter path where promise and opportunity abound. Poetic, and true.
You know, the cartoon character Pogo, is noted for saying, “We have met the enemy; and, he is us!” So too, that is our region’s simple truth.
I will not gush like a Pollyanna about the virtues of our region—though they truly are many—the climate, the geography, the natural resources, the human resources. These natural advantages that we have should allow us to leave Nashville and Memphis, Louisville and Lexington, and Jacksonville and Charlotte—eating our dust.
But, I do have to say this to those who are so myopic that they cannot see beyond the four corners of the room they sit in: We have exceptional opportunities for all ages and interests, right here in our varied neighborhoods. One only need read the daily email announcements, to find something really exciting that is ongoing in our community every single day of the week. So, if you are thirsty, but you don’t pick up the glass, who really is to blame?
Nor will I get into a match of wits with those who can only be described as Birmingham haters—because one must never get into a mud wrestling contest with a pig…you get dirty, and the pig likes it.
The thought that I wish to share with you is that “we” have to reach a common understanding of what we want our community to be. And, my definition of “we” is inclusive of everyone who is a person of good will and who takes seriously the injunctive that our role on earth – what the good Lord requires of us– is the work of “tikkun olam”—literally, “repairing the world” by performing deeds of loving kindness.
So, can’t we agree that we want our community to be a place where our children can grow and prosper? A safe place, where jobs and opportunities are plentiful? Where the chances of success for happiness and a fulfilling life will be high? Is that asking too much?
I really don’t think that is asking too much. And, I think that is exactly what the good citizens of Nashville and Memphis, Louisville and Lexington, and Jacksonville and Charlotte asked for themselves.
Our leadership is not focused on the big picture, but rather on their individual power bases from where they come—which is perfectly understandable. After all, if you are in the profession of politics or the business of running big corporations, you will not soon be employed, if you take your eyes off of the needs and desires of those who brought you to the dance.
But, just because that is understandable does not mean that it is prohibitive of seeing the bigger picture. That is, it is in the best interest of each of our separate constituencies that we not be myopic, but that we be farsighted to engage with one another to get us out of the maze. Our elected leaders and our “big mules” have got to take to heart the wisdom in Old Ben Franklin’s observation: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
So, here’s to asking that we reinvigorate metropolitan planning using a clean slate. Let’s identify all of the areas where regional cooperation might make sense—policing, firefighting, emergency rescue services, water & sewer services, streets & sanitation, traffic, job recruiting, arts & entertainment, the airport, museums—and pick the easiest. Stay away from the hard topics for a while—as did Louisville. Let’s see if we can come to a consensus on what areas of cooperation are achievable. Then, let’s go do it. Let’s cooperate. Let’s achieve success, because nothing begets success, like success.
The wonderful organization, Outward Bound, has a mission to take those kids mired in the improbable, and bring them to see the possible. They succeed in their mission because by taking achievable steps, OB gives their participants the opportunity to see what success looks like. We need to see what regional cooperation looks like. If we can only be made to see how good we are, that is a vision that we will not soon forget.
Which brings me to my conclusion, and my sharing the wisdom of a special friend of mine who says, “If you don’t like the way you see the world, move your chair.”
My friends in the Birmingham Region, it is time for us to stand up together and move our chairs.
Maury Shevin—passionate about the City of Birmingham–lives, works, thinks and plays on Birmingham’s Southside.
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David Sher is a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Receivables Management. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (ONB), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).