Some of us at The Telegraph have talked about putting together an essay contest. The idea is to ask people to write about what the community needs to do to reach its full potential.
Wise people and school children would be consulted.
I titled this project "The last inch," based on a metaphor a local preacher has used from time to time. His idea is that the city seems constantly an inch from reaching its potential, only to fall back.
I hope to get the essay project off the ground this year. But today (Friday) a group of community leaders is huddling in a conference room at The Telegraph, trying to come up with a list of priorities for the city. I posted the invitees' names here.
This got me thinking about my own "last inch" essay, which I wrote last year. I planned to call out what is arguably the most powerful, yet most segregated, element of this town: The churches.
It went like this:
What if 50 years from now the history books had this to say about us: The seeds of a movement that all but wiped out racism in America were planted in 2006, in Macon, Georgia.
What if Macon leaders in 2026 pointed to this moment in time as the community's turning point toward greatness? In short, what if 2006 was the year of change for Macon?
Race is an all-too-pervading factor in this town. Our schools are still over-ridden by the lingering spectre of segregation, and the outfalls of de-segregation. We cannot consolidate our governments — something seemingly everyone agrees is a good idea — largely because blacks don't trust whites and whites don't trust blacks and there's not enough leadership to bring us together.
And why is that? Is it because we have not that ilk of men and women? I doubt it. More likely people are focused on holding power.
And we're all to blame for that, because the electorate should be trustworthy in its decision making. Great leadership should be rewarded by a color-blind response. And, if you judge a person by skin color, I judge you back: You're a fool.
So where do we go from here? Well, I'm calling out the churches today.
I'm not asking people to give up their religious traditions for some homogenious blend. I grew up Methodist, and Lord knows that if we didn't get to Sizzler by 12:15 each Sunday, there was hell to pay. So I'm ulikely to spend three hours in a black church.
But what I'm suggesting is this: One month a year, every year, black and white churches unite. They partner up, big churches with big churches, small churches with small churches. They partner up and split their congregations down the middle.
And for four Sundays a year, they meet together. Half stay at their own church, the other half carpools over for a taste of another race's religion. A half-white, half black crowd at both churches. The preachers and choirs do things just like they always have.
You spend two weeks in an unfamiliar setting, and two weeks shaking hands with people who are trying to understand you. Can you still fear a person you've worshipped with, sat in a pew with, eaten Sunday dinner with?
Maybe. But I bet it's a whole lot harder. I bet even the most stubborn among us, dragged to this effort by the fear of public shame, would find a place in his heart for new brothers and sisters.
That's the essay. Now, let me add some caveats:
Though I'm a Christian, I don't go to church. Mostly because I'm lazy and I tend to drink too much on Saturday nights.
I'm not calling anyone a racist.
It's just a suggestion.
I think race relations here are usually pretty good, considering how hard that can be. At least we can discuss racial issues pretty openly.
Try as I do, some times I'm prejudiced, too.