I don’t often make things personal in public, but, as I considered what I wanted my Main Street family to hear, it seemed appropriate.
In the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” Meg Ryan asks for advice from her email pal about her business. After the classic godfather reference—“Go to the mattresses”—he says, “It’s not personal it’s business.” Meg Ryan’s frustrated response: That just means it’s not personal to you.
Laurel, Mississippi is personal to me. It’s the town where I marched in my first parade as a Drum Major in 1969. It’s the town where the Laurel Retail Merchants Association supplied almost all of my outfits for a week in Washington D.C. when I won the Voice of Democracy speech writing competition. It didn’t seem to matter that I was Judi from Soso; they were proud, and I felt at home.
1977 began my teaching career at Northeast Jones High School, and I found my way back to downtown to help Clinton Harrington Piano Co. and the merchants desperately trying to survive Urban Renewal. I filmed TV commercials, co-hosted radio shows, did voiceovers, hosted street dances and battles of the bands and talent nights, and got all my choral friends to bring their choirs downtown to usher in the holidays.
Youth, ignorance, and a touch of tenacity aren’t always a successful combination. I had no clue how to do any of it, but “Fake it ‘til you make it” has served me well. And, for whatever reason, be it “Lord! We’d better stop her” or “Lord! We’d better help her,” I’ve always had help along the way.
In 1981, I brought my firstborn home to a gingerbread house on N 5th Ave. and learned the sidewalks of that area well as I strolled a colicky baby outside every evening in an effort to preserve my family’s collective sanity. I then left Laurel for the next 13 years.
In 1985, I appeared on national television representing Mississippi teachers in a strike. I coordinated with NBC throughout this time, lobbied the legislature, and spoke to districts encouraging them to walk out. I left teaching soon after.
In 1989, I returned to teaching, this time at Watkins High School, and worked in the Laurel school district until finishing my music educator career at Nora Davis Magnet School in 2002. I was offered a job directing the Whole Schools Initiative; I literally laughed in the face of the person making the offer. Well, I got the job.
Looking back, I’ve sometimes thought they wanted the program to fail, so they hired what they assumed was “country dumb.” However, we are the sum of our experiences, and the choice is always ours to make the most of ourselves; most of us just need to coach to tell us he thinks we can.
In my head, failure is not an option.
I know my connection to Laurel Main Street. My life has been several boxes of chocolates, and—because I’ve done it myself—I’m confident when I tell our local entrepreneurs and creatives to walk through the door and take the opportunity that’s in front of them. We’re here to help you figure it out and watch you ride the waves. It won’t last forever, and you’ll be glad you did it, whatever it is, for however long it lasts.
One great thing about being 62, I’ve eaten a lot of elephants: it’s always one bite at a time. That’s what I told Ben and Erin Napier when they were presented this unbelievable chance with HGTV. It’s personal; this is where we choose to live.
Honestly, I’m not sure we could have marketed ourselves into this position. We’ve done nothing to deserve this opportunity, so let’s do all we can as a community to graciously respond because “company’s comin’ y’all.”
Home Town will feature Laurel as a main character, and we are all players on this stage for a season. We’ve got a short time to prepare. Laurel Main Street is working hard to make sure we are all as ready as we can be, and some interesting changes will arrive soon. And if you want to help move our city forward, vote here to help us win the title of “America’s Main Street!”
We are a community of bootstraps and artisans; we are the town that timber built; we are Laurel, and, no matter how many times I leave, I always find my way back. It’s personal to all of us because this is our town, soon to be America’s hometown, and forever my hometown.
Thanks for reading,