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.
Born and raised in Mansfield, Allie has done everything her 18-year-old-self opposed. She married a Mansfield guy, settled down, bought a house in town and had babies who attend her alma mater.
After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University with a double major in Journalism and Women’s Studies and a minor in Sociology she headed east. Doing the only job she could with a BS and $12 in an expensive city, she was a live-in nanny for a little boy with autism and worked as a glorified gopher in Manhattan. Her first day of work in mid-town was to be September 12, 2001. Realizing quickly the differences between the two landscapes and benefits Ohio offered she moved home to West First Street with the same $12. On her first day as a substitute teacher at her alma mater, she met her husband, Sam. One year later, they were married.
After a couple of babies and job changes, she has hit the “sweet-spot” as the mom-bloggers call it. Her kids are old enough to be self-sufficient and young enough to still think she’s awesome. Working for the Richland County Foundation since 2012, Allie handles grants in our community, she gets to see the direct impact of donors’ investments and the great things nonprofit organizations do to enhance and enrich our area. She is grateful to be part of an organization that contributes in such a significant manner to the betterment of our community.
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?!
Jennifer Kime currently serves as the CEO of Downtown Mansfield, Inc (DMI) and is a certified Main Street Manager with the National Main Street Center. Her work has centered on business development, planning, promotions, strategic investment, historic preservation and community involvement. Prior to DMI, Jennifer managed a flower shop in Chicago, Ill; a domestic violence shelter in Saratoga Springs and wrote national policy on Hate Crime. She earned her MBA from Ashland University and her BA from Antioch College in Social and Global Studies, focusing on the establishment of women-owned businesses and non-profits in Eastern Europe.
In addition to her work at DMI, she was a contributing author to “Why This Work Matters,” a featured contributor to “Resilient Downtowns” an author and editor for MidOhioLive, Mansfield News Journal and contributes to both statewide and national blogs for economic development and economic trends.
What is the courage to live a vital life? What do these words really mean? The phrase sounds good, so what do you really have to do to live a vital life? I googled the phrase, and the words, and began to write. I do not consider myself to be courageous but I do try to live a life that is, well, vital.
I am blessed in many ways; my health, my family, my job, and the people I know and love. I try my best to make people feel special and validated. Sometimes I miss the mark, but I keep trying. In general, I think I have a positive outlook on life. I want to make life the best it can be, not only for myself but also for the people who share the world with me.
In regard to the courage to live a vital life, I found a quote by Brene Brown who defined courage as follows: “The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. (Coronary). In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all in one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds.”
After researching courage, I looked up the word vital. It is defined by Dictionary.com as something that is absolutely essential or necessary to sustain life. If you connect these two definitions, we can conclude that speaking one’s mind by telling all that is in your heart (a.k.a. courage) is essential to living a vital life.
Telling all that is in your heart requires you to be yourself and express it in how you live. You must exercise courage in order to live up to your full potential and leave your mark on the world. Further, we have to have courage in order to take advantage of the opportunities that life offers.
Opportunities… how do you take advantage of them? I have found you must grab a hold of the reins of your life. Do not let someone else direct you. Go somewhere new, take a class, try to meet new people, and do new things. Do something different. Surround yourself with the best people you know.
In short, the courage to live a vital life is to explore, love, cry, and laugh with everything you have inside you.
Sally J. Gesouras is a commercial loan officer for Mechanics Bank in Mansfield, Ohio. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Toledo and a Master’s degree in Executive Management from Ashland University. Sally and her husband, Nick, live in Lexington, Ohio.
Travel Light. These words are the signature to my correspondence whether it is a blog, email or a letter. People often ask if I offer tips for how to pack luggage lightly when preparing for a trip after seeing these two words. That can definitely be one interpretation, but not my intention.
While on the road traveling for work over a five-year period, I am grateful to say that I have explored my fair share of cities. There were periods that I was in the same place for a few months, sometimes only a week and more commonly a day. With this active travel schedule and long work days, I thought I would create a blog so I could share photos and stories with friends and family while on the road. I decided on BohemianBabeTravels.com as the name of the site. Bohemian because it seemed to be the perfect fit for my unconventional lifestyle and Babe as a reminder to always find something to be in awe of in the world around me.
When I set out on the road to organize events, I had two storage units and more household type items at a friend’s place where I would stay when coming home for a quick family visit and to swap out luggage before hitting the road again. I had enough stuff to comfortably furnish a three-bedroom house at this time. While living as a road warrior, I came to appreciate and be content with the two suitcases of belongings I had. It was an adjustment but taught me how to live in a more simplistic way.
While managing an event, I met a nine-year girl who began asking me a ton of questions like curious children often do. After talking for a few minutes and attempting to understand my current lifestyle, she asked, “You mean you don’t go home every night? Where is all of your stuff? What do you miss the most?” As basic as these questions might have sounded, it stopped me in my tracks and I paused before answering. This child was referring to a material object and I couldn’t think of one thing that I actually missed. Not one. At that moment I couldn’t actually even think of one thing I owned that was back at my home base. The list I missed that popped into my head was game night with my family, holding my puppies, going out with friends, celebrating birthdays, holidays, life events together, and seeing faces, hearing laughter and sharing simple moments with those I loved. I came to realize that although I had accumulated all of this “stuff’, none of it held meaning for me nor made me happy. Creating memories with my tribe is what I missed the most, not material belongings.
Through my travels, I met a lot of different folks. I am the person that others refer to as, “that girl has never met a stranger.” I will pretty much talk to anyone. It is my babe view on the world; my lust to learn, and knowing that everyone has a story to share. Some of the most prolific moments in my life came through “random” encounters with “strangers.” I learned more in these times than any formal classroom could have ever taught me. There is much to gain in practicing presence and simply listening. I am grateful for the chance to have connected with people from all walks of life and the things I learned along the way. The stories people shared, the advice they gave, the dreams they aspired to achieve, and the hardships life presented them with were all pivotal in shaping the person I am today and essential in preparing me for the road that lay ahead.
The buzz phrase today is “being present.” This can often be hard to achieve when we go through the motions of our routines. We get comfortable in doing what we know and less willing to adventure outside of that safety zone. Even if people are unhappy, they will at times choose to stay where they are just because it is familiar. This is fine, but it can lead to getting stuck. When we aren’t moving forward, we become stagnant and cease to grow. It is easy to say “break out of the routine, hit the road, and discover yourself.” Please know while this is a dream for most, it is also not always practical and not at all what I’m saying. I would like to invite others to recognize the world – with those babe like eyes and get your bohemian on – by choosing a different approach to your routine. Break out of that comfort zone and allow yourself to view the world through a new lens. Perhaps it is something as simple as going boho by taking an alternate route to work that day, or being a babe by walking outside during your lunch break to establish a connection, whether it is within a flower, a cloud in the sky or even someone passing. Recognize the essence and beauty of its being. Traveling light doesn’t require a trip anywhere except within yourself. Let go of the stuff that doesn’t serve you. When you choose to hold onto it, it is really holding onto you. Let go and grow. Just breathe and be. This is the discovery of something awe striking when you align with your own divine light.
Christina Grozik (Bohemian Babe) has spent the past five years on the road traveling. Her journeys allowed her to meet extraordinary people, immerse herself in unique cultures and partake in amazing experiences. More importantly, she discovered lessons that would change her life forever. She has combined her roles as a Kent State University professor and media specialist with her wellness background. She is a Certified Vibrational Sound Therapist, Integrated Health Coach, Yoga Teacher, Polarity Practitioner, Energy Worker, and Reiki Specialist. With these modalities, she aims to help others find presence and balance. While she is known as a teacher, she also considers herself to be a student of life and pays gratitude to each day that allows her to be a part of it. She is currently working on a documentary about the impact of sound and believes in practicing good vibes only. GoingOmFilm.com
When I was asked to do this blog my first thought was, I don’t want to strip my label. I don’t think labels are always bad. I am a librarian, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a 29-year breast cancer survivor- all labels I am proud to have. Each one defines a part of my life. Some labels I wouldn’t mind losing, like being a procrastinator, judgmental, or stubborn. I am working on those.
It is a normal human behavior to label things and people to help us understand them. If you consider how a child learns to talk or read, the first things she learns are labels for people and things. Mama, Dada, milk, cookie…. As children have more experience they get a more complete understanding of each thing. In some ways, it’s the same for adults. When we meet someone new, we ask them for their labels. “What do you do for a living?” “Do you have any children?” “Where do you live?” We are looking for a connection or a way to know the person better. The problem comes when we think if we know the label that is all there is to know.
We need to be willing to take the time to get to know the real person we have just met. The labels we identify are just a starting point. Find out what other experiences or feelings have shaped the life of your new acquaintance. You may find you have made a lifelong friend.
Many labels are rooted in stereotypes. I am proud to be “The Library Lady”. My license plate even says, “SHHH”. As a librarian, many people think they know what kind of person I am just because of the profession I have. I am thought to be a quiet person who reads all day, and who is really interested if you have overdue books. I can’t count the number of times when I mention I am a librarian that the first thing a person tells me is that they have overdue books or fines.
I can be a quiet person sometimes and I do like to read when I have time, but you might be surprised if you saw me at a party. I am usually the first one on the dance floor and often the last one to leave. I am a country music fan, which surprises some people who know me. I love cars and often go to car shows with my husband. I prefer driving a car with a manual transmission, but they are hard to find anymore.
Labels can be limiting, not only in our relationships but also in our own minds. I am happy to be a breast cancer survivor, but when I was going through treatment I decided I wasn’t going to let this change my life any more than absolutely necessary. I continued to work and care for my young children. I wore a wig cut to my regular hairstyle so it wasn’t obvious to those who didn’t know me well that I was undergoing cancer treatments. I did as much of my regular routine as I could, with a lot of help from my husband. I didn’t want cancer to define me to others or myself.
Labels do help others get to know us, but we have to get beyond the stereotypes to really get to know one another. To make a true connection we have to have real conversations that explore our values, our feelings and how we see ourselves and each other. We need to be willing to let others see us as we are.
It is difficult to be open with others, especially those who are new to us. We feel vulnerable when we don’t know how someone will react to what we reveal of ourselves. But we have to be brave enough to be vulnerable if we are to live authentically. We also need to examine our own values and live in accordance with them. Do we act differently because we worry about what a certain person or group will think of us? If we try to live consciously, working toward the person we want to become, we can be open to others and let them see our real selves. It isn’t easy and it takes time and work, just like any worthwhile endeavor.
It was a cold December day, 20 years ago. The plane had landed on the tarmac of JFK airport an hour ago and now I stood nervously, clutching my passport tightly, waiting to be signaled by the immigration officer to his window.
When it was my turn at the window, the officer sternly asked me why I was in the United States? I am sure I gave him a half-intelligent answer because he stamped my passport and waved me in. But thinking back to that moment, I realize that the right answer would have been to “pave new roads for myself.”
Because that was what I had set out to do. To leave the comfort of my home country and to come to a foreign land, to build a life for myself among strangers. And the journey that began that day, brought me to Mansfield three years later, where I have chosen to stay and raise my family, nurture friendships, educate my children and find my tribe.
I am sure all of you can look back and remember some moment where you decided to pave your own road. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
Deborah L. Dubois is the Outreach Coordinator at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library where she has worked for 34 years. Deborah enjoys taking the Library out into the community and sharing what a wonderful resource we have in Richland County. She loves to dance, travel, take photos, and of course, read. She is married to Deacon Tom Dubois and has two daughters, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren.
“Do not go where the path may lead, but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
The same can be said for a city. Often longtime residents who have been witness to the glory days, are bitter and disillusioned by the present version of their city. I bet you have heard someone say “There’s nothing in Mansfield anymore.” And, I find myself confounded by this attitude. Why do we feel that we are not worthy? That Mansfield has nothing to offer: not to its residents or to outsiders. That the glory days that made Mansfield a shining star are behind us.
But then I am comforted by the dozens of examples I witness around me of residents who have chosen instead to go down a new path: of entrepreneurs willing to take a risk and invest in our community… their dreams, their hard earned money, their blood, sweat, and tears, of community leaders and nonprofit organizations who seek to move the needle, with out of the box solutions like the SXSW419 project. We are fortunate that we are home to news organizations that believe in solutions journalism and not just on the gloom and doom stories about our City.
To reflect on the progress we’ve made and to continue to shift away from the mindsets that can limit us in terms of what we can accomplish in creating the “City we want to live in”, I want to share three mindful actions we can support to accelerate this rebirth.
Advocate for your City and feel the pride
Too often we assume others should just know what we want and provide the solutions to our problems or issues. But relying on outside sources can lead to resentment and frustration. We know our worth, we know what we can be as a city and a community.
Let us take pride and be brave and deliberate in our actions. Community-based investment, in fact, has the greatest chance for success because ownership translates to pride. Let us proclaim loudly and often that we are #MansfieldProud and #RichlandRocks .
Commit to a plan but write in pencil
If you don’t know where you want to go, you can find yourself “cruising around.” The fact is unless we have a vision for what we want our City to be, it’s easy to find ourselves falling down the path of least resistance.
That said, as important as a well laid out plan can be, it’s important to be flexible in applying it. Margie Warrell in Stop Playing Safe says to, “Write your plan, but use a pencil.” Conditions and economies are constantly changing – with opportunities presenting themselves out of left field when least expected and obstacles tripping us when we are near the finish line.
The future is unknowable but we can shape it if we can set direction and know where we are headed…and we need to be ready to make the needed detours from the linear path to reach our destination.
Risk failing more often
Many factors—whether a large employer leaving town, disinvestment, or simply not managing resources can have devastating results on a city—the most important thing is to not let it define us. Failure is not fatal; it’s how we process it that can be dream killer. It is important to heal and repair but then to take risks. When the Carousel idea was proposed for downtown, it was ridiculed. It took committed believers to sustain the belief and take a risk. It is said if you’re never failing, you’re playing too safe. We discount the cost of inaction in the long run.
Our City is on the mend… the tide has begun to turn… people are sharing the same narrative… thanks in no small part to the increasing number of passionate citizens driving change by paving new roads…
And, for me personally, that is an inspiration and I hope it will be for you too. It is inspiring to meet people every day in this community whose focus is on shaping our City’s collective future and I am committed to being part of it.
Jotika Shetty moved from India to pursue a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at the Ohio State University with a brief layover in New York City. This journey has happily culminated for her, here in Mansfield, a community she has loved to call home for the past eighteen years. She has been at her current position as the Executive Director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission for the past four years. She is committed to the vision of a robust and resilient Richland County with a thriving metropolitan Mansfield.