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Community Matters: Perspectives in the mirror are more relevant than they appear

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

My father and I recently visited Bridgeport, Alabama, a small town located in Northeast Alabama near the state’s border with Tennessee. My father recounted many memories of his time in Bridgeport in the mid-1960s, largely impacted by segregation and poverty. He noted that of the 11 members of his 6th grade class, only two eventually went to college.

I started to imagine the mindsets of the majority of the people who grew up in that environment, how they live today, as well as how they think about their future. How much do our memories and perceptions of the past affect how we can plan for a better future for our communities?

Arlington prides itself on progressive attitudes and values. We must continually ask ourselves who is at the table thinking about Arlington’s future, from the government to the civic community, and how their lived experiences and memories impact our outcomes. Also, what are we doing today which will influence the experiences and the memories of those in the future who will be leading?

When I think about a future Arlington, among other things, I want an educational system that provides a quality and equitable education to all students, an abundance of safe transportation methods including well-lit trails and sidewalks, plenty of open space, and community engagement processes which are equitable and ensure that all voices are heard. My perspective on those issues and the impact I am able to make in the future, could be a function of my  memories and my perspectives today.

In an August 2011 issue of Memory and Cognition, “a study demonstrated that it is possible to make more specific predictions for the future by imagining that future in a familiar place rather than an unfamiliar place. For example, college students asked to envision an event happening five years from now in their current dorm room were able to make much more specific predictions about that event than those asked to envision an event happening at the Egyptian pyramids.”

As we conduct our work today and rely on past memories, we can frame programs and paint a picture in a context that people find familiar. While providing analyses of the 2021 election results one might capitalize on the common perspectives that existed in the 2016 election by drawing on those feelings while creating a strategy moving forward.

Many of our organizations are doing excellent work in key areas, but no one knows about them. Our future progress as a community could be predicated on how their work is remembered. Our local government, civic and community organizations should use all available resources to amplify their work, and shape Arlingtonians’ perceptions and memories today, to achieve our desired impact tomorrow.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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