Thirty four years ago, Mayor Max Heller led me, as a shy 16 year old journalism student at Greenville High, on a tour of the yet-to-be revitalized Downtown Greenville. As we walked down Main Street, he shared his vision and his dreams for what is now one of the best downtowns in the country. On that day, I found a new great friend, an new mentor, and a new hero. On that day, I was honored to start a friendship with one of the Southeast’s greatest statesmen and gentleman.
Today, Greenville lost one of her greatest heros.
He had a deep, deep love for the Greenville that embraced him. He loved his family and grandchildren. He loved Trude. He loved all people regardless of what they looked like, or where they lived, or where they worshipped. He believed in Greenville and was able to help Greenville believe in herself. Most of all, Max was a man of honor, high principles, and integrity.
Max, we love you. There is a big hole in our hearts today. You will be greatly missed, but never, never forgotten.
A few months ago Greenville High held a poetry competition for the best poem about “being the change.” Here is the winning poem and it was also read at the Black History Month Program.
Be the change,
whether boy or girl.
Be the change you’d like to see in the world.
Be the change you’d be proud to be.
Be the change you’d like everyone to see.
Being the change doesn’t cost you a dime, all you need is to change your mind and make time for time to get yourself in line.
Be the change by being your best.
Be the change by not being like the rest.
Be the change that you desire, that will make you a better person and take you higher.
All you need and all that’s required is a little fire to push you toward your dream because it isn’t as far as it may seem.
Be the change, dance to your own tune, because after awhile people will notice your change soon.
Be the change you’ve always thought,
but never sought.
Be the change by putting your pride aside.
Sit back for the ride as you transform into a
person that isn’t of the norm because you
became the change.
Last week, I spent a couple of days with the current Leadership Greenville class at their last retreat. The purpose of the retreat is to pull together learnings from the last nine months and create personal and corporate priorities to improve the community. During one of the exercises, we gave each class member five sticky notes with an assignment: “Thinking over your year with Leadership Greenville, write down the five biggest issues facing Greenville today.”
Although the results are not scientific, it’s interesting to explore their responses.
- The single most worrisome issue to the class is the public education system, and especially the inability of the state to fund education and to make it a priority. Much of the blame for the woes of the class focuses on the legislature, and its perceived lack of vision in funding schools. The class also see challenges with early childhood and school readiness, the involvement of parents and mentors, the poor graduation rate, and the impact teen pregnancy is having on the graduation rate.
- Classmates are concerned with public transportation in Greenville County, uncontrolled growth, and the cost of flying out of Greenville/Spartanburg Airport. Some concerns are also raised and questioned on the lack of a singular, targeted voice of economic development entities in the Upstate.
Posting Greenville's Priorities
- Another interesting point relates to our local government. Special purpose districts and single member districts for County Council concern the class and several classmates mentioned this as a hindrance to Greenville’s growth and progress.
- Related to human services, the class is most concerned about homelessness, health care for the poor, poverty, and hunger. Especially with the economic downturn, care for those in need is a growing priority.
As we continue striving as a world class community, we must attack our issues directly, courageously, and boldly. The current Leadership Greenville class graduates in a few weeks. I challenge them to channel their passions to make a difference in Greenville. I challenge you to get involved, and be the difference. That’s what leadership is all about.
Click here to download the compilation of the findings.
Since the Vision was announced, it is remarkable to see what has already been accomplished in five years. The most amazing part is how well community leaders, nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and citizens have worked together to accomplish the goals. For example, some of the accomplishments in the last five years include:
- A Learning Community. Seventy Greenville County schools have been rebuilt or renovated under the $1 billion school construction plan. The University Center houses seven state universities in one place. The Greenville Library System Amazing Read program promotes community reading.
- A Greener Greenville. Falls Park and the Liberty Bridge, set along the Reedy River, have become the epicenter of activity in Downtown Greenville. The TRAC (Tourism Recreation Athletic Coalition) Plan is providing a 2% hospitality tax to fund parks and tourism. The Conestee Wildlife Preserve, once a county eyesore and environmental liability, has been transformed into a natural asset with 400 acres of land with hiking trails and access to the river via canoe and kayak.
- A Healthy Greenville. The GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail opened in May and provides continuous pedestrian trails and greenways from Travelers Rest to Lake Conestee. Greenville Forward conducted the third phase of the Health Assessment Study and interviewed over 4,200 Greenvillians to accurately track the medically underserved, and Activate Greenville and other organizations are working to reduce obesity.
- A Creative Community. Greenville is one of the top ten “Small Arts Towns in America,” and the arts are thriving. Heritage Green is experiencing a renaissance as Greenville’s cultural center with the opening of the Bob Jones Museum and Gallery, the Children’s Museum, and the Upcountry History Museum.
- A Connected Community. The corridor along I-385 leading into Downtown Greenville is more scenic, as have Travelers Rest, Mauldin, Greer, Simpsonville, and Fountain Inn. The Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research is quickly becoming the economic engine of the Upstate. The Greenville Drive continues to thrive in the new baseball stadium in the West End.
- An Inclusive Greenville. Greenville County joined other communities in the United States to celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday. The Greenville Chamber created PULSE, an organization for young professionals which has grown to 500 members. Additionally, Greenville Forward is now surveying 1,500 college students about what we need to do to make Greenville a place they would like to live after graduation.
So, Kate wrote a blog a few weeks back about an excursion we took to The Happy Cow Creamery. We were so impressed that we decided to take a photo of the sign. But, Kate had to be in it.
She’s like the Vanna White of organic farming…
One of the First Electric Buses in the Country
On Tuesday, Furman University hosted many of Greenville’s leaders and visionaries to listen to a presentation on the vision for Proterra’s highly anticipated arrival. Greenville Forward was part of this group and we were excited to learn more about what is in store for the automotive research industry. In case you are unfamiliar with Proterra, you can see for yourself here, but I will give you the Reader’s Digest version that I hope will offer a good summary of why this is so exciting and what it means for Greenville County to welcome this company to our community.
Proterra is a clean energy research and manufacturing company that has developed one of the first alternative fuel transit buses. They have created a prototype bus that has been traveling across the country to share its technology and capabilities with other researchers/scientists who needed to “see it to believe it.” While this in itself is fantastic information, Greenville is particularly excited about this company because they have decided to locate themselves in Greenville, South Carolina to build more of these buses and potentially create a simulated light rail transit system in our community.
Proterra will join the CU-ICAR campus and create job opportunities and further establish Greenville as an important automotive research hub. On Tuesday, Greenville Forward got the chance to meet the people behind Proterra and to take a ride in the bus around Furman’s campus.
Amid all of this exciting information and sharing a room with some of the Greenville’s leaders, we were flattered and honored to receive acclamation from David Shi at the beginning of the presentation. Dr. Shi began his welcome of Proterra with a reminder of how Vision 2025 laid the groundwork for bringing this kind of development to fruition. He read portions of the Vision document that planned for something akin to the Swamp Rabbit Trail before it came into existence, sections that hinted towards a hope for Greenville to become an automotive research hub, and a final section that planned for vast improvements in our mass transit structure in Greenville. He showed the audience that two of these three goals were well on their way to attainment and recognized Greenville Forward and Russell Stall as being the keepers of this vision.
Dr. Shi even said, “Russell Stall is the hub of the wheel of the vision” and thanked him publicly for his dedication to Greenville and Vision 2025. What great affirmation for Greenville Forward!
Proterra’s arrival in Greenville marks another step toward achieving Vision 2025 goals and reminds us again of why our work is so important. Maybe soon we will be able to say that the third vision goal that Dr. Shi mentioned has also been achieved. Welcome, Proterra!
Over Easter weekend, my family went to our beach condo in North Carolina as part of our usual holiday tradition. The warm temperatures were extremely welcome and we enjoyed walking on the beach, reading and soaking up the sun. However, a normal afternoon quickly turned into an emergency situation that proved to be a great opportunity for a life lesson.
Though the water was far too cold for any of my family to venture in, there were a couple of folks that took advantage of the warm temperatures outside and decided to brave it. The ocean seemed to be calm but my dad pointed out to me that he thought he was beginning to see a rip tide current form as the tide was going out and the sandbars were shifting. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with what a rip tide is, it is a strong current that often forms between sandbars that pulls the water rapidly straight out without undulating back to shore. (see diagram)
As a swimmer, it is incredibly frightening to be trapped in one and the helpless feeling often leads to panic and exhaustion/drowning. General protocol will tell you to swim parallel to shore instead of trying to swim against the current until you feel you have returned to normal waters.
The two swimmers were sucked into the rip tide and their cries of delight and excitement quickly turned to fear and a call for help. While I watched in disbelief, my cousin took off his hat and glasses and sprinted towards the water without a moment’s hesitation. He did not think about the risks, the fact that there were two swimmers and that they were both bigger than him. He just saw people in distress and felt a call to action. Once we realized he was going to help, I called 911, my brother gathered some lifesaving rings and the rescue was in full swing.
Both swimmers were brought to shore with minimal bodily harm and everyone involved with the rescue was also okay. But, I think the thing that I will carry with me from that experience was the way my cousin responded to a call for action. Rarely in life do we respond to situations with such enthusiasm and without hesitation. We have reservations, we have to weigh both sides. But, perhaps this week you can challenge yourself to answer a call to action without hesitation–whether it be supporting a local charity, trying a new experience, or helping someone who is clearly in need.
My cousin’s response made him a hero and he helped save two lives. He says it is something he will carry with him forever and I noticed he walked just a little bit taller after it was all over.