While a city’s skeleton is formed by bricks, mortar and concrete, its heartbeat lies within its people. Residents — and their relationships with each other — will drive the direction this town takes.
History tells us of cities that have endured great hardships and sprung back better than before — Chicago and its fire, San Francisco and its earthquake.
Anniston’s history, however, is littered with one hardship after another, dating back to its inception. Samuel Noble and Gen. Daniel Tyler founded their company town in 1872 amid the figurative and real ashes of the Civil War. (Union Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau’s troops burned down a furnace just outside present-day Anniston that helped supply Confederate forces with iron.)
Over the next century and a quarter, change begat change. Textile mills came and went. An Army base sprouted on a hill on the north side of town and saw the city — and the country — through five wars before withering in the sudden warmth that followed the Cold War. Meanwhile, the city’s Industrial Age metamorphosed into a Service Age.
From this progression emerged a quiet persistence. It’s in the money and energy going into Noble Street’s revival and in the commerce at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings at Zinn Park. This persistence will help refurbish the city’s rusting core into a hub of new technological endeavors, anchored by a symbol of the town’s past, Fort McClellan.
Fighting back against violence
Classes are available to help parents learn how to deter their children from turning to drugs and violence.
A community organization, called Stop the Violence, brings together business leaders, activists and city officials to develop alternatives to crime for kids.
Truancy and delinquency are handled by well-trained social workers, not the criminal justice system.
Anniston 2030? Nope. Try Anniston 2008.
Many of the tools necessary to reduce youth crime are in their infancy in Anniston. But give them time to grow and mature and they
will make a significant dent in the city’s problems with youth crime, community leaders say.
Who will be committing crimes a decade or two from now? The answer depends on who gets to our children — even those who haven’t been born yet — first.
Positive mentors are crucial to Anniston’s future. That’s why Calhoun County is launching a juvenile day camp this summer, so youths come into contact with a case worker at a social service agency instead of a case worker in the justice system.
A court can order children into such programs, but it’s much more difficult to reach them sooner, before they get into trouble. Family Links has tried offering parents inducements to attend classes, such as taking $50 off families’ utility bills. Interest remains tepid.
The parents who are most in need of help tend to be the poorest and, therefore, least able to spare a few hours a week getting parenting tips. They also are the hardest to reach with information about such programs.
The good news, said Robin Mackey of Family Links, is that “there are pockets of people right now in Anniston who are working in the same direction.”
A Southern town comes to grips with race
At Calhoun County YMCA’s summer camp, teenage counselors instruct their charges not to identify each other by the color of their skin. Kids may not be as colorblind as adults think they are, but they learn fast, counselors say.
For their part, local high school and college students say race isn’t as big of an issue with their generation as it was for previous ones. About half of today’s Annistonians were born after May 14, 1961 — when a white mob unleashed its fury against a bus of Freedom Riders on the outskirts of town.
Two generations later, racial tensions have by no means evaporated, but the fuse no longer burns on this former powder keg. And the third generation — children just reaching school age who will soon inherit this city — may make the memory of the burning bus ever more distant.
If time heals all wounds, then the generation after the ones at the YMCA will surely be even more progressive in their attitudes toward race. As a result, the dividing line between east and west Anniston will blur. More black city council representatives will come from areas outside of west Anniston.
Annistonians must begin at the ending by respecting the past. This is followed by a “neutral zone” where people shake off the old and begin to find a new way forward. Lastly, people enter a new beginning when they enact new ways of doing things.
The nonprofit bubble bursts
In any market, supply and demand must be at least somewhat in agreement, or else you’ll end up with what economists blandly call a “correction.”
A quick explanation: With the closing of Fort McClellan, the death spiral of the textile industry and the decay of west Anniston, business has been good for Anniston’s nonprofit sector.
In the bad-means-good world of social services, depressed incomes and bleak economic conditions mean one thing: grant money. And that money has poured into Anniston in recent years to help agencies that help families during tough times.
The result: There is one nonprofit for every 926 people in Calhoun County, The Star reported a couple of years ago. But privately, some local nonprofit executives complain that newcomers are siphoning away grants that are badly needed in Anniston and spending them elsewhere in the county and the region.
As the nation spins toward recession, that source of nonprofit revenue will become less reliable. And when it does, expect to find a lot of disconnected numbers in the social services section of the phone book.
Oddly, this will be the best thing that could have happened to Anniston.
The remaining charities will go into survival mode. Finally, they will realize that they can’t afford to be proud. Officials will work together, not because they want to but because they have to.
Charities will consolidate and become more nimble, more able to assist their clients.
The lives of the community’s poorest will improve in this new world order. No longer confronted by a confusing mélange of social service providers, they simply will turn to one-size-fits all organizations that will help them at any stage of their lives with however much need they have.