By Peter T. Mitchell
John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony said to the courageous colonists who had survived a series of devastating winters in the 1620s, “We must delight in each other. Make others conditions our own. Rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together. Always have before our eyes our community as members of the same body.”
Almost 500 years later, Georgetown — the City and the County — has experienced its own devastating challenge, the Front Street Fire. And for Georgetown to survive and ultimately flourish, we too must make others conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together as members of the same body.
The Front Street Fire will be a defining moment in the proud history of the third oldest seaport in South Carolina. Individuals and communities are always measured more by their response to adversity than their comfort with the status quo.
In ten years will Georgetown be known as a community of hope and promise or a community of despair and disappointment? Will the citizens of Georgetown be acclaimed as people who faced adversity with resilience and resolve or be criticized as people who succumbed to defeatism and divisiveness?
Let me offer seven ways to ensure we are known as a community of hope and promise and that our people are acclaimed for their resilience and resolve.
1. We pray for one another. Georgetown is a “churched” community with a rich and vibrant history of churches providing spiritual and civic leadership through the centuries. May every house of worship be heard praying every week for those affected directly and indirectly by the fire and for our leaders to exercise wise, visionary, and compassionate judgment in carrying out their responsibilities. Never underestimate the power of prayer, especially the same prayers from all denominations and all churches and the solidarity it nurtures and nourishes.
2. We care for one another. The outpouring of support in the aftermath of the devastating fire was heartwarming. The demands on our time and loyalties make sustained caring very difficult. But if we cannot sustain our caring, we cannot sustain our recovery. Praying and caring seem so simple, perhaps even naÔve. They're not. The reason the Massachusetts Bay Colony prospered was precisely because they ALWAYS had before their eyes their community as members of the same body.
3. We stop the bickering and the blaming. Petty politics, finger-pointing, pitting neighborhoods against one another or the city versus the county is not just counterproductive, after a tragedy it's disgraceful. For those promulgating negativity and spreading rumors that sow seeds of distrust, shut up and grow up.
4. We delight and rejoice in one another. We live in fragile times, fraught with anger and frustration. Don't succumb. Instead, look for the best in people, celebrate their achievements, and affirm their qualities of character. Every day try to say something thoughtful and affirming to at least five people — keep track. Your life will become more joyous, the people will respond with kindness, and the community will exude happiness.
5. We treat neighbors and tourists with genuine Southern Hospitality. Every store worker, every wait staff member, every government employee, every young person, every senior citizen — EVERYBODY engages with friends and strangers with an upbeat attitude, a sincere friendliness, and that remarkable Southern Charm that is our heritage and our competitive advantage. People are desperately seeking to connect with others, to feel their lives matter, to have a sense of purpose and meaning. Georgetown needs to be a place where people feel they belong and can be themselves, feel appreciated, and feel a sense of purpose.
6. We shop Front Street First. Before you go on-line, before you drive to the mall, before you go to the big discount store, Shop Georgetown First. Take the time; make the time. The merchants are facing the biggest retail season with uncertainty and fear. Reassure them in ways that count — visit their stores, eat in their restaurants, and attend their plays and festivals. Commit to attending the Wooden Boat Show and to spending money. Buy your Christmas presents locally and tell the recipients, with pride, that your gift came from Downtown Georgetown as your part of its recovery and revitalization.
7. We share our talents. Each of us has talents and collectively Georgetown has an abundance of talent. Share that talent, whether it be a physical, intellectual, or spiritual strength. Several creative new initiatives are emerging that will require dedicated people to implement. Please stay informed and then share your talents in making dreams into reality. We need heads and hands and hearts working together for Georgetown in general and Front Street in particular to become bigger, brighter, and better.
We have a wonderful example of a town turning a devastating tragedy into a remarkable triumph. After the Boston Marathon, the people in the Greater Boston area embraced one another, planned ways to recover and rebound, trusted and believed in one another in ways not experienced in decades, and built a solidarity around the theme of Boston Strong.
So may it be with Georgetown Strong. May we embrace one another, plan creatively, share talents eagerly, trust and believe in each other and build a solidarity that is palpable to residents and tourist alike.
Georgetown Strong — transforming a community from peril to prosperity — one person at a time, one act of kindness at a time, one friendly gesture at a time, one creative idea at a time, and “always have before our eyes our community as members of the same body.”
Peter Mitchell is a retired college president who lives on Broad Street with his wife Becky and is CEO of a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning. Dr. Mitchell has volunteered to be the facilitator of the October 15th Front Street: Bigger, Brighter, Better meeting and to help pro bono to coordinate the implementation plan that emerges from the meeting.†Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.
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