TURES COLUMN: We tried something else in a small town

Published 5:15 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

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Hardly an hour goes by without someone issuing a commentary about Country Western performer Jason Aldean’s song “Try That In A Small Town.” Well cities aren’t so bad and small towns aren’t always good. But many small towns aren’t all about vigilantes and extrajudicial violence and can stand for something better. And our community tried something different in a small Southern town, and the results have made it a nicer place to live.

As a lifelong big city dweller, I admit to having a little trepidation when we chose to come to a Georgia town, the smallest place I had ever lived. Would it resemble all those stories of the South from “Mississippi Burning,” or other movies from that era? Was segregation really gone?

Well, this town tried something different, not denying the past or embracing it, but adopting a new direction. One of my favorite memories of my entire life was the seeing a lynching apology for a heinous crime that killed Austin Callaway. Activists, our politicians, our college, and our police held an unforgettable ceremony in the packed Warren Temple United Methodist Church, as the past was confronted and recognized as wrong; an overdue request for forgiveness was made, a moving event that reached the TV networks and The New York Times.

It wasn’t just a one-shot deal either. Time and time again, we tried something else in a small town, as the issue of race confronted our community. Our small town’s square was filled after George Floyd was killed; it was a racially-mixed crowd that also covered the ideological spectrum, a peaceful protest for national events, but among friends. Our police department tried that in a small town, a series of reforms adopted even before 2020, which I got to see firsthand in a ride-along within a week of Floyd’s death.

Small towns get repeatedly tested, just like the big cities. Last year, there was the terrible tragedy involving a deadly car crash of two college baseball players and a local athlete. Again, race was involved. “Please don’t go to the Square” a student begged me, unsure if our attempt at bringing the community together was a good idea. But we tried that in a small town.

The moving tribute for the promising lives lost went a long way toward healing our broken hearts. I had attended memorial services for the baseball players, and asked our leadership if I could do anything to help. “Would you be willing to attend another funeral?” was the question I received. I went to a moving celebration of life that showed how much the young man will be missed. I’m glad we tried that in a small town.

Small towns do take care of their own, as the song claims, but maybe not the way they do in the video. We tried something else in a small town, where work-release prisoners labor side-by-side with some of the most respected members of our business community, sweating or freezing in the weather, to make sure everyone who comes by has food for the week at the Warran Temple United Methodist Church once a month. And those in need can also span the racial spectrum, just like the helpers. We tried something else in a small town, with sports. I could fill several columns about teams of whites, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics, united in their love of competition, which also helps build bonds. We also tried something else in a small town: having all get the chance to go to music concerts, holiday celebrations, and restaurants, instead of denying those to some; now everyone gets a chance to have some fun. People come from miles for these events too, bringing in much needed revenue to our town.

If I could talk to Jason Aldean, I’d tell him that cities aren’t so bad, and there are some small towns where you just don’t want your car breaking down. I’d tell him that he’s not wrong about guns (there are lots of them out here), and plenty do take care of their own. But many folks across the country tried something new in small towns, just like my own, and are making their community a better place to live, showing it doesn’t have to be the way it was in the past.