West Alabama Trek Reflections

There is a hum that can be heard in every small town. It’s usually the sound of everyone going on about their business: the faint sound of bells chiming on small business doors, the blinking traffic light, and old neighbors greeting each other. But after spending a few days in Marion, Alabama I heard a slightly different sound… RUMBLING!

At every other intersection there are new beautiful murals, interesting art instillations, and even cute little  sitting areas in between old buildings. An awakening is happening in Marion, Alabama! I was eager to see it all unfold right before my eyes. Unfortunately, our team was only there for 3 short, but meaningful days. Rome was not built in a day and the revitalization of a historic gem like Marion will more than likely require more time than Rome. There is a strong sense of pride and privacy that one can only deem as honorable, but like any great art, sometimes a different eye is what is needed to bring the final masterpiece to life. While the purpose of this post is not to critique or convince others of change in Marion, it is a strong yearning for the Marion community to band together to reach its full potential and thrive yet again.

If I am being brutally honest with myself, I was coming to Marion, Alabama waiting to see people worn-out and dejected. Instead, what I noticed were lynchpins — strong pivotal leaders and an abundance of supportive characters. The school I visited, for example, brought back a sense of nostalgia for me. While I did not attend the high school in Marion, the characteristics were all too familiar: generations of youth going through the same system, budget cuts impacting creativity and nearby institutions making small donations to bring “life” to the environment, and of course the key ingredient, a strong leader. We had the pleasure of meeting this leader in Dr. Trimble, principal of Francis Marion School. Principal Trimble is a mother figure and a force to be reckoned with, standing no taller than 5’5”. While you stare in awe of her authority in her small frame, you also can’t help but wonder, if she is doing so much to push these children to greatness, who is there to help push her? There are so many “foot soldiers” throughout Marion, who know that things can be better, and while they don’t always see change, they keep the bar extremely high. I just kept wondering, who helps the “foot soldiers” who carry the load on their shoulders?

There was a raw honesty that can only be bred in a town like Marion. What was most strongly expressed to me was the desire for well-deserved recognition of the many histories of economic booms and civil rights that should not be forgotten. The best part is that these desires are actionable. Small businesses are popping up in the town square, like the cute ice cream parlor adjacent to the Main Street Marion office. Organizations outside of Marion are taking note of the historic hotbed and purchasing landmarks to make them museums, like the old jailhouse on Marion’s town square. The idea is to preserve Marion, not necessarily to transform it, and that is going to be the difference moving forward. Community members, while they may have been accustomed to the state of things, are far from passive. Not only are Marion youth growing up and obtaining prestigious graduate degrees, but they are bringing their talents and leadership back to the community, a not so common theme across black communities.

Since starting business school, it is apparent that I may have lost touch with my own roots, my own community. I have lived in so many different places and while I believe that I have left my mark, it is also very apparent that I may not have taken the time to get to know the community and the depth of its roots. Those roots can only be uncovered by talking to the residents, and visiting Marion was a reminder to do that. I want to get to know more about Nashville while I’m here, outside of Vanderbilt and learn more about its roots. One doesn’t need to travel 5 hours to have an impactful interaction with a change agent, but it sure is inspiring to do every once in a while. My time in Marion, Alabama was an experience I will never forget.