Monday, Mar. 2, 2015      Sign In/Register         

Will demographics challenge our neighborliness?

Bonnie Willis's picture

When we first moved to Fayette County and particularly our subdivision, we fell in love with the open space, large lot sizes, mature trees, and the uniqueness of every home.

But over the years I’m finding that the best thing about our neighborhood is our neighbors.

This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to go out to lunch with a group of ladies from my subdivision. To my embarrassment, despite having lived there for over five years, I only knew a couple of them.

However, over the course of our meal I got a chance to learn from, and about, these fascinating ladies, and heard the news going on in our neighborhood.

As I went to pay for my meal, the hostess made a small joke about me being the “baby” of the group, and I guess if an outsider looking in were to look at our group, I would be the odd one, because with the exception of one other woman, I was about 20 years younger than the other women at the table, and I was the only African American.

However, despite these obvious differences, I had a truly enjoyable time with these women and look forward to our next fellowship.

As I reflect on that day, I realize that the contrast between me and these lovely ladies is representative of the changing demography of our county.

We have a significant “baby boom” population who know the history of this county and can vividly recall, for example, when Ga. Highway 54 was a two-lane street.

At the same time, diverse groups of people are being drawn to Fayette County, probably in part because of why my husband and I wanted to live here: we liked the school system, appreciated the leisure lifestyle, and wanted something that was in proximity to the metro-Atlanta area.

In light of this changing demography of Fayette County, I have some very real concerns.

For example, I am concerned about how some may perceive Fayette’s emerging demography, and how their perceptions could fuel racial and generational tensions in the county.

Further, I am concerned that many citizens of Fayette will correlate — and blame — the economic challenges facing our county on the changing demographics.

I fear that they may perceive neighborhoods that are becoming diverse as declining in value and quality — even if the homes/neighborhoods are not deteriorating and student performances in public schools are not negatively affected.

I also fear that those who are newer citizens of this county will fail to take the time to learn and appreciate Fayette’s quality lifestyle, take advantage of the community parks and recreation services, or participate in community events like Christmas tree lighting ceremonies and parades.

I also fear that because certain government offices have not elected or appointed any persons of color in the county’s 181-year history, neighbors will harbor resentment towards other neighbors, and will not attempt to understand the perspectives of those who are ethnically, and perhaps ideologically different from them.

Depending on one’s perspective, one can point to a variety of evidences that racial and generational tensions are mounting in our county.

Whether one reads an article about the NAACP’s lawsuit against the county, or declining property values and foreclosure rates, there is ample ammunition to justify one’s own biases.

However, I think the key in us working through this change can be found in the lunch that I had with the women of my subdivision.

For me, I had an opportunity to learn a little about the history and heritage of Fayette and my neighborhood. I also had a chance to receive some tips on how to maintain a beautiful lawn.

I hope they, in turn, had an opportunity to see how our family wants to be helpful neighbors who hope to add to the quality of lifestyle that has drawn us here.

After all, our differences as a people should never be reasons for us to not get along with each other. Rather, than causing conflict, our differences can work as complements enriching our individual lives and our community.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]

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