Focusing, Re-branding, and Including

Focusing, Re-branding, and Including

In March 2018, I was one of 15 people from Mansfield who went to the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. The original intent of the trip, which was funded by a grant from the Richland County Foundation, was to come back with ideas on how to continue the revitalization of the central business district in Mansfield. What evolved from that trip was the Mansfield Rising Plan which the Foundation now uses to prioritize its investments in downtown

Prior to our departure, Richland Source President Jay Allred, who has attended many SXSW conferences, described SXSW to our group as drinking from a firehose of information. He said we would feel like our hair was on fire.

That was an understatement. 

The amount of information was unimaginable, the quality of the information was mind-blowing. 

Mind Body Align Founder Annamarie Fernyak speaks about being mindful and present. Being among 30,000 people in a six-block radius does not lend itself to being mindful and present but you find yourself quickly becoming just that. You cannot possibly think about which session you will attend later or tomorrow or three days from now. You must focus on where you are and who is speaking to you in that moment. The hustle and bustle outside your conference room door or down on the street is not for you. 

I would love to tell you I heard one speaker at SXSW who changed everything for me but that is not true. I heard many speakers whom I gleaned tidbits of information from to bring back to Mansfield. 

One of my favorite speakers was Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer with Uber at the time. She spoke about rebranding while unapologetically wearing a sequin jumpsuit in the middle of the day. 

Listening to her speak about the importance of branding and sometimes re-branding, I started to think about the things that come out of our mouths when someone tilts their head to the side and says, “Mansfield?  Where’s that?” We all say the same thing. We say, “About an hour between Cleveland and Columbus.  Have you seen Shawshank Redemption?” Bozoma made me think… What if we re-branded Mansfield?  What if we mentioned Cleveland, Columbus, and Shawshank after telling people about how amazing Mansfield is to live, work, and gather?

Bozoma also spoke about the need for racial and gender diversity. I think we can do better with both. She said people like to say, “there’s a pipeline problem” with equity in diversity in the workforce. Bozoma says, “That’s bullshit.” She talked about the need for white men to look around in their office and say, “there’s a lot of white men here. Let’s change that.” Why does she, the one black woman, have to change it? She believes it’s a comfortability issue, not a pipeline issue. The question becomes, are we reflecting the population we’re trying to serve and are we willing to make the changes necessary to do so?

Back to her sequin jumpsuit. She said, “I’m a woman who wears sequins in the daytime. I’m not afraid of a lot. There’s a lot happening around women and diversity empowerment. I intend to step right in there with my sequins and bust it right open.” 

Let’s all be more like Bozoma. Let’s invite more people of color to the table. Let’s open more doors for women. Let’s include those who haven’t been included before. Let’s reach back and lift up someone younger. Because let’s be honest, we can all think of a time when we didn’t feel included because of our gender, age, race, otherness. Let’s do what we can to be more like Bozoma, although I’ll do it in a plain black dress and pearls instead of sequins.  

 

Looking at the Big Picture

Looking at the Big Picture

In the year-plus since our journey to Austin, I’ve been asked numerous times about the experience.  The questions drive at both the experience itself, as well as the post-Austin endeavor to write the Mansfield Rising plan and the post plan experience related to implementation.  Looking back, I easily point to three main takeaways I’ve had from this experience that have stayed with me and will continue to impact the work I do in downtown development.

Keep the big picture mindset in focus.

In my day to day work at DMI, we balance long term plans with short term needs on a regular basis. We are always thinking long term about goal projects, midterm about milestone marks and short term tasks to get there.  However, the reality is that with a small staff and budget, short term is where we live day to day. Events, marketing, and new business projects have immediate needs that can’t wait. As a result, the short term problems demand more of my attention than is ideal.  

In Austin, with those short term demands miles away, I was able to learn a great deal from big-picture thinkers who work and live globally all the time!  SXSW is packed full of big-picture people who are working globally on intelligent solutions to complex problems. Networking with people with that global mindset was one of the most impactful opportunities.  When we talk about complex issues like housing, equity, and diversity, Austin gave me a great opportunity to see the bigger picture and discuss projects and problems from a global point of view. Rahm Emanuel said, “if you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger.”  This resonated with me. While problems can live in the short term, real opportunity exists in a bigger picture perspective. In the real world here in Mansfield, there is always trash that needs to be picked up, but balancing that with creating solutions for the bigger picture has changed my mindset and reminded me not to miss out on opportunities to find global solutions to local needs. 

Creating and maintaining relationships drive progress.

The team that went to Austin had one thing in common, our love for our community and desire to make it better.  We are a mixed bag of community members with scattered experiences, goals, and perspectives. Many of us had worked together over the years on a variety of projects, but we hadn’t worked together this close and on such a broad spectrum of projects.  It seems like a side note to the actual plan and implementation, but a critical part of the work we did was to build trust and common experiences to cultivate a stronger sense of community within our team. Learning and exploring concepts and ideas together helps us understand the depth of the projects we’re working on, and writing and vetting them through the planning process allows us to listen to each other and understand the variety of perspectives that make the ideas stronger. As we move forward with the project, our collective buy-in helps us accomplish goals that might not have ordinarily had as much broad-based support.  This relationship-building among community members is a critical part of our community revitalization story as we move forward. We don’t all agree; we won’t ever all agree, but what is most important is listening and building better projects because of the diversity of perspectives that we bring to the table. 

It’s going to take as long as it takes; you might as well enjoy it.  

The pace of community development can be excruciatingly slow.  The project development process can often feel like a rush compared to the time-stands-still process of full implementation.  I get it, we all want these ideas that seem the easiest and most logical to happen right away. I do too. When dealing with community and economic development, though, that just isn’t always the case.  There are so many factors involved, not to mention personalities, that time can feel like it’s standing still, meanwhile, we are just wanting it to be completed! I feel that way all the time, especially with complex problems with little to no funding, but money doesn’t solve the problems, either. 

When I was in Austin, I was able to meet people from all over the world who were looking at the same exact issues we are looking at in Mansfield.  These aren’t Mansfield problems or Ohio problems or rust belt problems — these are community problems, and that’s ok. In fact, looking at our community from that global standpoint, our problems, while unique, weren’t as trying as they seem to be close up.  In one of my favorite sessions, we learned about how a community used interpretive dance to sell an important funding issue to their city council. I could feel my blood pressure spike just thinking about it. Who has time to learn an interpretive dance?! I mean, it sounds insane, but it worked! In the rush to get things accomplished, drawing the quickest and shortest line between the two points seems the most efficient, but in reality, when dealing with people, it just doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes looking at an opportunity and finding your way through it with other humans while tossing in some joy and celebration can have the most impact.  

I don’t know if these are the top three things I was supposed to learn during the SXSW process, but they are for sure the most impactful to me in my daily life and at Downtown Mansfield, Inc.  SO… Who is up for some interpretive dance at City Council?! 

 

Paving New Roads

Paving New Roads

What? …in Mansfield!?

Just this time last year, I found myself asking this exact question. I was searching for my first “big kid job” and never would have thought I would find myself working and living in Mansfield, Ohio. Being a native Clevelander, I’ve witnessed first-hand the trials and tribulations of the Northeastern area. However, the City of Cleveland has miraculously found a way to pull itself up by the bootstraps and make changes for the better. All of the passion, hard work, determination, and faith of local leaders, as well as that of area residents, have invested into the revitalization of the 216 have turned CLE into one of America’s hottest cities. I see many of the same characteristics and patterns happening here in Mansfield/Richland County and sincerely believe that this piece of North Central Ohio is a true gem. It also has the potential to gain national recognition… for all the right reasons.

Change can be difficult

To reinvent one’s self is a tremendous struggle. Think about all the times you’ve tried to drastically change your diet, your exercise routine, etc. From a health behavior and psychological perspective, humans are very good at setting goals but have difficulty achieving them. While we may experience small successes, these are usually short-run bursts that sputter out before real change happens. Long-term, sustained change is tremendously difficult to attain, however, this well-researched area of human behavior has identified eight primary reasons why we cannot grasp and hold on to our goals:
  1. We are motivated by negative emotions.
  2. We get trapped by thinking/believing fallacies.
  3. We try to “eat the entire elephant” at one time.
  4. We neglect the tools/resources available to us.
  5. We try to change too much.
  6. We underestimate the process of change.
  7. We forget that failure is usually a given.
  8. We don’t make a commitment to change.

We can all achieve change

The key to success is making the new behaviors rewarding. Two approaches to this strategy are increasing reward with personal sources of value (i.e., linking the new behavior with core values and beliefs that are central to an individual’s identity) and increasing reward with social value (i.e., leveraging social norms and interpersonal relationships to increase the importance of the goal). Both of these methods have an advantage over tangible forms of value, such as money, because they can be far more enduring and universal. Money has the ability to run out and does not have the same meaning for all people, but we all have a set of core values and care deeply about our social ties. These characteristics are what make the City of Mansfield/Richland County community so special, unique, and meaningful.

Vision, leadership and commitment

The residents of this community are incredibly generous and have a grand sense of pride for the area that they live in. I constantly hear the locals expressing to me that they think the City of Mansfield/Richland County is a great place to live, yet, there is always a “but…” that follows. The theme of the “but…” seems to be that the area is a great place to be, BUT we’re at the precipice of being excellent, we’re just not “there yet.” The “want” and the “drive” to see the Renaissance of the community is there, however, we need to do more as a cohesive collaborative effort to make this dream come to fruition. This is going to take vision, leadership, and commitment from all sectors of the local community. And although these positive changes will take an incredible amount of time and effort, there’s no better time than the present to get involved in the regeneration of our community.

The Road Ahead

During the 12-months I’ve lived and worked here in Mansfield/Richland County, I’ve had the pleasure to observe and be a part of our area’s transformation. I am incredibly impressed with the activities, resources, programs, and local organizations/businesses this area has to offer. There is never a day or a night of the week where I can’t find anything to do in the City of Mansfield/Richland County. Yet, there is still work to do to ensure the continued success of our community. Paving these new roads is simultaneously exciting and exhausting labor. However, keep in mind that change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end. If the City of Cleveland can go from “The Mistake on the Lake” to “Believeland,” I have no doubt in my mind that the City of Mansfield can change its perception as “Danger City” to “Dreamfield” in the not too distant future.
Honoring your story

Honoring your story

Growing up, I was very sheltered. At eighteen, I decided that my life was to include going to college then graduate school, have a career, a husband, a house, and kids. I found myself feeling fairly prepared for my upcoming life that included being a United States Senator by the time I was 35. From there, I assumed that everything else would just fall into place. That was going to be my story.

But it didn’t happen that way. Not at all.

I was told I could achieve anything I set my mind to. However, I faced a very different reality. I’ll spare you the sordid details, but suffice it to say that the plot took unexpected twists and turns, and at the age of twenty-seven, I was facing a divorce with no back-up plan. To make matters worse, my grandmother passed away, leaving me without her wisdom and support during the time I needed her most. I felt ill-equipped for the task at hand.

I began to honor their story.

At that point, I viewed my story as a series of terrible events that were happening to me. I felt helpless, lost, and unstable. As I looked in the faces of my three sons and daughter who were 4, 5, 6 and 7 years old, I fully understood the gravity of every decision that I would make for years to come. If I couldn’t fix my own story, what about theirs?

Almost swallowed up whole by what I was missing, I decided to focus on what I had and a new story line immediately started to emerge. I could hear my mother’s voice, “Deanna, this too shall pass.” My father’s reminders came to mind: “Don’t reach a destination only to realized that you’ve missed the journey.” My grandmother’s voice resonated from inside of me, “Don’t wait for anyone to do it for you, fulfill yourself.” My grandfather, until his death in 2010 on Christmas Day, was always my champion and stayed close enough to remind me constantly that I was the latest in a long line of very strong women. “You come from some tough women, you can handle anything, Gal, it’s all inside.”

I was the main character in my own story.

I realized then, that I was never an insignificant character just existing among 7 billion others. This set of circumstances was all mine. No one had ever, or would ever experience this story again. So, I stepped into my role as the powerful main character, and changed every chapter from then on.

I began to make things happen. I embraced my role and responsibility as mother and making certain that my own children knew their own gifts and talents were tools to navigate through life’s uncertain challenges. We spent time daily, naming their gifts and uncovering my missteps so they wouldn’t repeat them. With intention, I taught them that they were main characters in their own stories. Now at 23, 24, 25 and 27 years old, they’ve all made it safely to adulthood, no worse for the wear.

I never became a Senator, but I did serve in public office. At the age of thirty, I served on City Council on a local level, even with four children in tow. I’ve had a very fulfilling career that has afforded the privilege of supporting many other women in similar situations. My career has been a more significant part of my story than I ever would have imagined. If given the chance, I wouldn’t re-write a single line.

By observing my own life from some distance, I am better positioned to receive the lessons for me in every single experience in the course of a day. I embrace my complimentary roles as both the main character, and the author of my own story.   I honor it by consciously using and sharing the lessons I’ve learned and the words of wisdom I’ve collected along my journey. I realize that with each day, and with each better decision I make, I am writing a new, and even better chapter.

 

New Year, New Perspective

New Year, New Perspective

“I want to be a secretary like my mom.” As a child, that was my response every time someone had asked what I wanted my future career to be. Like many children, I aspired for my life to reflect those around me… after all, that was what I knew.

Whether I lacked creativity, bravery or just knowledge, I never imagined a career outside of the walls I had grown up with.

Even in high school, after a tragedy struck my family, I was surrounded by local advocates and I still had imagined myself growing up to be just like them.

Fast forward to today

Mom Betsy (L) and Dad Jim (R) with Traci Willis

I graduated from The University of Findlay in April of 2016. While enrolled I quickly changed my major to social work, I aligned myself with a diverse community of students and I learned to question the status quo.

At 21, Steve Jobs started Apple. What was once entirely Microsoft-driven was being questioned and replaced with newer, personalized machines. Jobs had realized that he was equally as smart as those before him and, over the span of about 40 years, he had led Apple to becoming 2016’s third-ranked Fortune 500 company.

A wise, innovative man once said,

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is…

Your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That is a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.

But you can change it.

You can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

—Steve Jobs

My Intention: ACTION!

My adventure began simply with a phone call to State Representative Mark Romanchuk and an invitation to get coffee. While there, I told him that I could see potential for our city and I wanted to get further involved. He provided me with a list of about 20 local advocates and I began making phone calls that week.

By about my third phone call, I had already received a guided tour of downtown Mansfield (Jenni Paramore), an invitation to Mind Body Align Coffee Talks (Donna Payne), and a possible opportunity with Downtown Mansfield Inc. (Jamie Thompson).

My Intention: show up and lead

Since then, I led the movement to create an event in the Brickyard for International Overdose Awareness Day. I began participating in a variety of meetings and networking opportunities, and I accepted an AmeriCorps position serving with Downtown Mansfield Inc.

In addition, I was offered the opportunity to serve as a chair member of the Richland Young Professionals and was invited to participate on the board of the Starfish Project of Richland County.

Similar to when I was a child, I had taken everything I experienced as truth. A few years ago, I had never questioned a career outside of what I believed, as a woman, my life could be.

And last year, I began to question why Mansfield was never a consideration for where I could live after college. I had always been instructed to leave Mansfield and, unfortunately, the majority of my high school friends have moved or are intending to move away. But, since I have done the opposite, I am often confronted with the question:

Why are you still here?

So here is my answer: I am in Mansfield again because up until now, I knew nothing positive of my hometown.

I had once believed that Mansfield was a black hole and, once I settled, I could never leave. I had the perspective that I could never amount to anything here and I would have to move away to find opportunities or a successful career.

However, the sole reason I believed that is because I had grown up with it. I had heard someone say each of the statements above and, unfortunately, I took that to be true.

Mansfield is “The Field” of opportunity!

Until about seven months ago, when out of pure curiosity, I made a phone call and scheduled a coffee date. Since then, what I’ve realized is that Mansfield is great. It is full of opportunities, it is full of hard workers, and it is a community that, I believe, I could not find elsewhere. After three phone calls, I would have never been offered a personally guided tour of the city, nor would I have found the opportunities that Mind Body Align offers. And most importantly, I would not have had the opportunity to participate, hands-on, in the revitalization effort of my hometown.

While transitioning to where I am now, I kept saying that, eventually, if I remained active in the community, I would become a part of the circle of advocates. However, what I’ve learned, is that it isn’t a circle, or a clique or even a neighborhood. Rather, there is a community within Mansfield determined to maximize the city to its ultimate potential and they are always looking for more supporters to challenge, with them, the status quo.

Similar to the article posted two weeks ago by Jodie Perry, President of the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce and Guest Columnist for the News Journal. Jodie expressed that her hometown of Rochester, NY, experienced a similar period of struggle. However, with time and a change of perspective, they have revitalized. When she confronted her hometown for advice to help Mansfield, they responded with a “simple, yet groundbreaking response – they worked together, stopped accepting the status quo and took a few risks”.

A beginners mind

Great things are possible and, with a beginner’s mind, there are many solutions. Please don’t encourage the youth to leave our city, rather offer to take them on a tour.

Show them the history and the resiliency of those who reside here, as well as the determination of those who are investing and looking to recreate.

Talk about the opportunities that Mansfield has, the cheap living options and the convenient location between Cleveland and Columbus. And lastly, show them a community that has been hiding in plain sight for years.

As a New Year’s resolution, find someone who has been entrenched in the negativity of Mansfield and, please, invite them to participate in something meaningful. Prove to them that, despite negative reputation, Mansfield is somewhere worth considering.

I am here because I believe in our city’s potential, why are you?

I am Human

I am Human

I happen to be a female. I had a 50% chance of being born that way and the majority of the time that’s my only thought about the fact that I am a female.  That might sound odd, but I was raised by parents who told me I could do anything that I decided to do, and the fact that I am a female never entered into the conversation.  Using my talents and doing good were the ideas we focused on.  So, it stands to reason that I spend little time factoring my gender into any equation.  There is nothing to prove because I am a woman.  I am a human.

The assertive womanreally?

The circumstances that have allowed me to NOT consider my gender are significant though. Born to my parents, in this country and in the time I live, I have been blessed with great, and good fortune.  I’ve been afforded opportunities by women who HAD to take their gender into consideration every day to get through their daily lives; women who fought for every single right I enjoy today that I don’t even think about in passinguntil I’m asked to reflect on being a woman in a man’s world.

I’m standing on their shoulders for sure.  However, there is certainly more work to do, as somehow, by virtue of biology, a woman’s work contribution is valued less than a man’s. The glass ceiling exists! An assertive woman is called a (not nice name), but a man is considered powerful for the same trait… and there are more. Every single one of these things drives me crazy! I hear my mother say, “Leave a situation better than what you found it.” So, the work continues.

A world view of women

Globally, we know that women suffer mightily at the hands of men.  The stories we hear are shocking, sickening and saddening.  What can we possibly do to change the circumstances for those half a world away?

I believe we can be role models and citizens of the world. We must continue to pursue our equal rights and gender equality here in our home town, our lives, and our world.  I believe that we each have a sphere of influence and that we must use it for good. It doesn’t matter the size of the sphere, it matters what we do with it.

Perhaps, although maybe not in our lifetime, the efforts we put forth today will allow many to stand on our shoulders for many tomorrows.  One day, we may all be just humans in a human world.

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