Isn’t it amazing, and a little bit sad, that the only time we seem to “get it right” as a community, is when facing a crisis?! Tornadoes, Flood, Fire, human tragedy…; you name it, we’ve had it. Yazoo City shines brightest when its back is to the wall. We have a “can do” attitude when the only way up, is together. It is during and following such crisis, that we are forced to put aside our petty jealousies and trivial concerns and selfish desires, to go shoulder to shoulder with each other to do what needs to be done; to become more “self-less” and less “selfish”. While the crisis we face today is not one brought by nature, it is a crisis nonetheless; and that crisis is one of Pride – or rather lack thereof.
I will tell a story of a lesson I was taught more than once about “Pride in Ownership.” This is not “sinful pride” as depicted in the Bible; but a pride born of “owning” the care you show for your home, your car, your property, your friends and family, your community and your work. It is not about ownership of the things that you might possess; rather, it is taking responsibility, or “owning” what you say and for what you do. My Dad first taught me this lesson when I was 9 or 10 years old. He set me up in business with three to five neighborhood yards which I was to cut every week, or every other week, as determined by my customers. I was to cut it to their standards, not my own; but my Dad taught me what my standards were to be. He and I would cut our yard together at 1635 Easy St, Yazoo City; and when I “thought” I was finished, he would walk me across the street and he’d look back at the yard and ask me “What do you think?” It looked fine to me until he pointed out the spots that I missed (He would always phrase it as the spots that “We” missed). We would go back and touch up those spots, then walk back across the street, gaze back, and he’d ask again – “What do you think now?” I would hesitantly respond that I thought it looked good to me. He would agree, then he’d ask one last question: “Are you willing to ‘put your name on it’?”!
I was reminded of that lesson again when I was 18, and again when I was 22 – by two others who were honest enough to want and to expect more out of me then just “OK”! My Dad wanted me to “own” my work; to take pride in my work – to be willing to “sign” my work. It is a lesson I remember to this day, and one that does not hurt me to be reminded from time to time when I take things for granted.
In all honesty, I know Yazoo City expects more of itself than “OK”; but “just OK” is where we find ourselves these days. Doing “better” is not OK. OK is not acceptable! We have tremendous upside, if not for the simple fact that our standards and expectations have been lowered to unacceptable levels over the years. Everyone suffers from mediocrity. Who is “happy” with the status quo?! We want “better”, but are we willing to pay the price required of becoming “exceptional” again? Yazoo City was once considered the “Pearl of the Delta”. Our schools were some of the best in the country (not just the State) academically and athletically. We were one of the first and the few to have our very own, City-owned utility company. Our Fire and Police Departments enjoyed the highest ratings in the State. Our architecture, parks, business climate and quality of life amenities made us a draw for diverse business and industry. We were a “planned and platted” city with public transit in the form of Streetcars! Yes, it was a different day and time (and economy), and we may never see those days again. What we can do is a far better job with what we’ve got, then what we are doing today.
Pride in ownership, pride in our work – as individuals and as a community. We can do it one project at a time; one plan at a time. We have to be willing to do things in a different way, because what we are doing is not working!! Just look around you. There are so many areas we could improve, by just taking ownership in what we have; and that ownership has to come with a sense of pride!
What are our priorities? In education? In government? In parks and recreation? In our business climate and appearance? In civic and community involvement? Why can’t we strive to be exceptional in all of these areas?!
It is past time for making excuses; excuses have never taken anyone anywhere. We need to be result-driven; to do whatever it takes. If it is broken, fix it. If it is obsolete, replace it. If poor training is the culprit, then train for excellence. If our plan is not working, then we must change our plans. Yazoo City can do this! There is natural beauty to be found in Yazoo City – in its architecture, in its culture, in its art, in its nature, and in its people; but it is being neglected and has been taken for granted for far too long.
Today, if you were to take a “walk across the street” and take a long, hard look at Yazoo, would you be satisfied with what you see? If not, all it takes is enough pride in ownership, to do what needs to be done (when it needs to be done), to fix what is broken, to paint what needs painting, to teach what needs to be taught, and say what needs to be said. The day we are all willing to do that, is the day we can all take that short walk across the street, look back at our work and say “Yes, I’d be proud to put my name on that!” I hope that day is coming soon.
Bill McGraw is President of SouthGroup Insurance of Yazoo (Yazoo Insurance Agency, Inc.)