BY John L. Horton
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In the past several weeks, there has been much conversation and editorializing about how to bring Norfolk and her Sister Cities into mutual collaboration, partnership and cohesiveness to substantively benefit the entire “Hampton Roads” area. Many believe that by doing this, Norfolk-Hampton Roads could become one of the nation’s primary “metropolitan geographical regions.” Many believe that if “we” fail to accomplish this feat, things (economical-social-political) will continue to stagnate and deteriorate to “our” disadvantage when it comes to competing with those communities/cities that succeed in doing this for their citizenry.
Talk about “good timing”: The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and Reinvent Hampton Roads is sponsoring an initiative to identify ways and means to collectively unify the Sister Cities into an effective and productive entity to more fully promote its economic, cultural and social resources.
Additionally, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and Hampton Roads Workforce Council has just completed a six months study to find and retain adequately talented and skilled employees for a diversified workforce for Hampton Roads residents. Hopefully, this will eliminate the region’s workforce shortage and talent drain, empowering future workers to remain in the area and become competitive with the nation’s other major metropolitan geographical regions.
Moreover, it has been discussed by some of our “leaders” what it would take for Norfolk-Hampton Roads to be able to compete with such regional economic entities as Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, Charleston, Jacksonville, and the like.
For example, as recently as 1965, Charlotte trailed Norfolk-Hampton Roads by large margins in population, bank deposits and personal incomes before it became an airline mega hub, international bank headquarters and professional sports center.
In that regard and context, I would like to further delineate from a lay perspective and grassroots outlook what I perceive to be some of the shortcomings, obstacles and challenges that buffet us, before Norfolk-Hampton Roads can become competitive with the aforementioned economic regions.
Since Norfolk is considered by most to be the “economic centerpiece and social engine” of our Hampton Roads/Metropolitan Area, I shall focus my comments and observations, specifically, on its ability and capacity to turn things around and become the “leader” that it needs to be in these matters.
Recently there has been a scarcity of articles/stories in the media about local and regional topics of real interest. And, this leads me to wonder why? In the “real world,” there is so much of importance that needs to be “talked about.” Or, maybe it’s just I?
To put it bluntly and concisely, we need “leaders and followers” who not only talk the talk…but walk the walk. We need to create an atmosphere and environment where most of us can achieve and be successful via hard work and equitable opportunity. In my opinion, there are enough “goodies” for everyone to get their fair share. We must avoid becoming a population of “I’ve gotten mine…good luck with getting yours, too.” Selfishness and greed must not be allowed to rule the day. Otherwise, we will create an apathy and attitude of “hate, anger, selfishness, and fear,” which will eventually divide and destroy us as a “united” citizenry.
It is time that we give to our country and empower our peoples to be able to be all that they can be. Together, we can do this. Together, we can do almost anything. I firmly believe in the overall goodness of most of our citizens. Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to making our community and region the very best that it can be. Admittedly, it will not be easy. Then, it never is easy when it comes to achieving successes like these. All we need to do is put our hearts, minds and backs into it. Working together, “we” can make this happen.
Now is the time for our leaders and influential others to do what is best for all of our citizens. If we work at it, Norfolk-Hampton Roads can become a united and dynamic ”regional/cosmopolitan area.” We can get the job done to improve opportunity and to promote responsibility for all of us. We should never allow our partisanship and pettiness to debilitate and/or hinder us when it comes to this objective. Let us think about what must be done — and what needs to be done in the best interests of our community and region.
For beginners, there could be “discussion” and “action” about:
· Continued loss of creative and productive citizens via voluntary/involuntary relocation.
· Lack of economic diversification and growth.
· Insufficient corporate infrastructure.
· Inadequate regional cooperation.
· Inadequate public transportation.
· Inadequate roadway, interstate and tunnel construction.
· Public education – teachers’ pay/competency, parental involvement, students’ achievement/test scores/graduation gaps, etc.
· Public housing – affordable housing, especially for the “working poor,” low/no-income populations, etc.
· Inadequate elder/senior care services for providing quality-of-life necessities and amenities.
· Homeless problems and solutions for dealing with them.
· Attracting “better-paying” jobs and careers to the Norfolk-Hampton Roads community.
· “Segregation” of inner-city communities/populations by housing, education, employment, income levels, etc.
· Escalating real estate and other taxes, especially for “fixed” and “low-income” residents, etc.
· Disproportionate criminal involvement for minority juveniles and adults, especially for African-American males.
· Inadequate “at-large” elections for the mayor’s office, school board, planning commission, housing authority, etc.
· Inadequate “minority-rule” on city councils, school boards, planning commissions, housing authorities, etc.
· Inadequate programs for reinserting the so-called “missing fathers,” back into the families, especially for African Americans and other at-risk populations, etc.
· Inadequate jobs and skills programs to improve/uplift those most at-risk and/or disadvantaged, as well as the “working poor,” etc.
· Inadequate programs, networks and relations between those who “wield and yield the power” and the “community at large,” especially among the business-corporate-captains of industry and the general population.
· Inadequate social services and mental health services for those who truly need these, vice dealing with them via the criminal/judicial systems, etc.
· Inadequate means and resources to improve areas of race relations, poverty, voter participation, etc.
· Inadequate parenting programs for those who need it the most, which would go far towards alleviating/resolving many of our “socioeconomic, educational, political and criminal” problems, etc.
There does not seem to be a willingness to “talk about/deal with” these kinds of issues in the local community and surrounding regions. I believe this is in part due to “not blaming the victims; political correctness; don’t rock the boat; don’t worry, be happy; everything will work itself out; that’s not my problem; and/or not in my backyard/neighborhood” mentality, etc.
I have written about some of these issues over the years. For over thirty years, I have been actively involved in the local community dealing with these and similar topics on mostly a gratuitous basis, volunteering to give motivational talks, empowerment lectures, rites of passage training, parenting classes, professional workshops for my peers, teachers, and others, on a regular basis. And from where I am situated, not much is getting better…especially for those most at-risk, disadvantaged, and who need “help” the most.
These are serious problems of monumental significance that affect us all. And, we need to do something about it. It is “reality-check” time, for the “cancer” is becoming worse with each passing day. In order for things to get better, we need to initiate the “conversations” and promote the “actions” that will be required to ameliorate all this. As has been said by others: “ Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you will miss them.” What do you think?