A shared vision could dislodge us from our inertia

Tacoma News TribuneJune 10, 2014 

Sometimes we need to be shamed into doing the right thing.

A recent example is the “Bring back our girls” campaign that began with concerned individuals using selfies and tweets to draw attention to the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria.

Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, among others, have mocked those citizen-generated tweets as “foolish” and “irrelevant.” They might be. But they were also effective in drawing attention to the kidnapping. Without them, the Nigerian government and the international media probably would have continued to ignore this story.

As any student of history knows, it is many times the common, little or ‘foolish’ things that end up making a big difference.

In late May I attended the annual Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) conference in Eugene, Oregon. Two workshops had particular relevance to our community.

One focused on faith communities partnering with local schools offering everything from mentoring, tutoring, and scholarships to emergency food packages for needy students. Faith communities may not always play well together, but they almost always have a shared sense of mission and giving back to their communities.

Another opportunity explored was crossing the boundaries between local colleges and universities and local community needs. As one speaker put it, “Students need projects, and neighborhoods need help with projects.”

We have a wealth of schools in our area, from Tacoma Community College, Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington Tacoma to Bates Technical College and several others. Imagine what a research team, urban studies class, mentors or tutors could contribute to our local neighborhoods and community groups.

We are rapidly approaching two of Tacoma’s largest community gatherings: the Taste of Tacoma June 27-29 and Freedom Fair on July 4. Both events started out small and with plenty of criticism.

Every flag flapping in the wind on the Fourth should remind us of the scrappy determination, sacrifice and, yes, “foolish” shared vision that earned us the freedom we continue to celebrate. This determination and shared vision still brings out the best in our nation and neighborhoods. And our neighbors.

But sometimes it seems as if we have lost our way.

The Freedom Fair will, as always, be centered on Ruston Way, but have you driven on it lately? Any other city would feature a lush green park with stunning views of the bay and the Cascade Mountains. The setting is fabulous – but the road itself is terrible.

Summer is the time when we should be proud of our unique and spectacular natural setting, not ashamed of our failed-state infrastructure. What happened there?

On the other hand, could you picture a neighborhood project, something you’d like to see built, removed or repaired with the sign “Your tax dollars not at work; this is the work of your neighbors”?

Wouldn’t you love to help reclaim the singular character, identity and reputation of Tacoma?

Everyone in and around Tacoma knows the term “aroma of Tacoma,” but how many of us know that the dictionary meaning of “aroma” is “a pleasant or pleasing smell”?

What if we renamed “The Taste of Tacoma” to “The Aroma of Tacoma”?

Think we could replace the collective bitter wood-pulp olfactory memory with the smell of salt water, flowers and BBQ?

A newly established Tacoma summer event is the City of Neighborhoods gathering June 28 (cityofneighborhoods2014.com) at the University of Puget Sound.

If you are ready to declare or celebrate your own independence – or at least neighborhood autonomy – check it out. It’s a good place to hear neighbor-inspired strategies, challenges and stories.

You just might see, hear or even smell, an “aroma” you never expected. And we just might be encouraged to do the right, the courageous or even the “foolish” thing.

Our problems are not immense, though sometimes our inertia is.

M. (Morf) Morford of Tacoma is a former reader columnist. Email him at mmorf@mail.com.

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