by: Luke Pruitt
A recent presentation by Fort Smith’s 64/6 Downtown organization updated the group on progress, including the Marshall’s Museum and the 64/6 revitalization program. Public school board member Talicia Richardson answered questions about the future of both, and she challenged everyone to look beyond the tasks at hand.
She is passionate that individuals leave no stone unturned in promoting and bettering Fort Smith. She believes that it is the individual’s responsibility to put to use all available resources in this continuing undertaking. It’s a wide net–our financial resources, our talents, our extended network of friends and business partners. And, of course, our time, bodies and ideas.
It’s You and Me
This call for taking individual ownership of our community’s well-being has become a mantra for Fort Smith over the past few years. Two examples come to mind.
We’ve seen ProPak CEO Steve Clark revitalize a long abandoned building on Garrison Avenue, and turn it into a state of the art facility for his company’s headquarters. We’ve seen him spearhead The Unexpected arts festival that is unparalleled in “flyover America” and has earned our city international attention. As an individual, Clark has created a contagious energy.
This energy has brought us Future School founder Trish Flanagan, whose individual efforts have brought new life to the Belle Grove district. She has challenged all of our preconceived notions about what an education is, and what it can be going forward.
This energy has brought us 64/6 Downtown and Propel Fort Smith, the efforts of John McIntosh, Talicia Richardson, and many others who are largely volunteering their time because they believe in a long term vision of success for our city. This energy has inspired so many people to donate their time, money, and other resources.
My grandmother often tells a story about the first time she came to Fort Smith in the 1940s. She says the second she drove over the Garrison bridge and saw the shining avenue lights and streets busy with life, she knew she never wanted to leave. Until the last couple of years, I could never relate to that sentiment.
For so long, Fort Smith has expanded south and east under the guise of economic advancement while so many beautiful buildings and homes deteriorated in the heart of the city. For every “good neighborhood” developed on the far ends of town, at least one neighborhood has been left behind and has become less desirable. All the while, it becomes more convenient to avoid the areas of town we wish to ignore.
Self-ownership breaks this cycle. Self-ownership demands that we acknowledge each neighborhood as our own, and each individual as our neighbor. Self-ownership demands we bring restoration to that which is run down–before we add to the footprint. Self-ownership demands that we leave no one behind as we propel our city forward. Self-ownership adopts the mentality that we are only as desirable as our most undesirable neighborhood. It is the mentality that each of us can move into any neighborhood that seems undesirable and make it a better place.
I write this on inauguration day, 2017. It is the beginning of a new age in America. And as we enter this new time, we are all–including our new Commander in Chief–stepping into the unknown. Proponents of this new change are excited about the implications of a billionaire businessman in the driver’s seat of economic policy, while those who oppose our new President wonder who the losers will be in a seemingly endless game of the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
It is easy to feel swallowed up in the tide of a system of such magnitude. It is natural to feel powerless and adopt an attitude of cynicism. In so many ways, cynicism has become a hallmark of our national attitude toward our political system, and so often this cynicism manifests in ways that blind us to what is beyond the system: People.
Our voice is small when shouting at politicians in Washington, but our voice is great if we aim it down our street, and throughout our city. Self-ownership gives us all the power to make changes in our community. This year is the year for each of us work to restore that which has been neglected, revitalize that which is lifeless, and propel Fort Smith forward.
Luke Pruitt is a Fort Smith native, songwriter, Joker understudy, social justice warrior, and your future mayor.