I close my eyes and picture the city I love. An iconic skyline with triangular points, illuminated by the sun setting over the Tennessee River. I think about people strolling across the walking bridge. Children cheering on the Lookouts and leaning over the wall to catch foul balls. People flooding the streets for the Bessie Smith Strut. I think of Sandy, the “flower man”, a once homeless veteran who has made a living off selling flowers, usually ones he’s picked himself. He’s survived cancer once and is battling it again, thanks to a community banding together to foot the bill for his treatment. I think about the restaurants, art scene, music festivals, and filmmakers. I think about growth- where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Coca Cola, EPB, TVA, Amazon and Volkswagen. I think about the quirkiness and success that blossoms when local visionaries, business leaders, college students, families and hipsters all come together to call Chattanooga home.
But when I open my eyes, and I’m catapulted into an unimaginable juxtaposition: thirteen shootings in eight days.
On one side of the river, people are enjoying local produce masterfully and exquisitely prepared by nationally renowned chefs. Three miles down the road, children and families are living in a food desert. We have 39 strong, prestigious private schools, yet nearly 60 percent of all 3rd graders in Hamilton County Public Schools are not reading on grade level.
We have gang members who claim to outnumber the Chattanooga Police Department in size and weaponry. It is well established that scarcity, desperation and a lack of education are the building blocks of crime. Hurt people, hurting people. But we also know love is greater than hate. And what these gang members don’t know is that from Lookout Mountain to Alton Park, our community is full of dedicated citizens from every neighborhood who refuse to watch our city sink.
Chaos and pain have paved the way for a renewed sense of community. Chattanooga is still living #NoogaStrong. After all, we are a town comprised of nonprofits, government leaders, committees and foundations- all dedicated to mending the brokenness and bridging the gap between the haves and have nots. From the Chattanooga Area Food Bank to the Public Education Foundation. From the Family Justice Center to the Children’s Advocacy Center. From Mayors Berke and Coppinger to our men and women in uniform. We are all banding together to create a community that provides opportunity for all.
From an organizational standpoint, the events of this week have given our agency, the Partnership, an opportunity to reflect on our mission and why we are so passionate about “empowering people and building communities”. It is horrific to know that thirteen people have been gunned down while living their everyday lives. Two of the victims are pregnant women. But, did you know the single most dangerous place for a woman in America is in her own home? That statistic sadly rings true for Chattanooga, where we served 1065 victims of domestic violence last year. Furthermore, children from broken, violent homes are more likely to struggle in school and succumb to the pressures of drugs, alcohol and violence. That’s why we helped 219 kids spend time with their non-custodial parent last year in a safe, monitored environment though our Supervised Visitation program. It’s also why our foster care case managers worked diligently to place 50 children in stable, supportive homes. In 2015, we helped 622 people overcome the barriers standing between them and the economic and emotional freedom they’ve desperately yearned for. Hamilton County has roughly 354,098 people. Last year, through one of our 20 programs, we served 38,000 locals.
We are undeniably passionate about the work we are doing in our community, and we are well aware we can’t do it alone. Thankfully, we don’t have to. Together, in partnership with our faithful supporters, strong community leaders and dedicated social service agencies, we will stop the violence plaguing the town we love. Working as partners, we will see broken people find empowerment. Together, we will build strong, healthy communities to sustain the future of Chattanooga.