The October session of Leadership Chattanooga addressed opportunities for meaningful leadership in the community, including within local government. Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, started by presenting a largely overlooked story from 9/11: after the attacks on the World Trade Center, as bridges, tunnels, and train tracks were closed, the only way off of Manhattan was by boat. This was the largest maritime evacuation in history. Who was responsible for such a herculean effort? The captains and crew of hundreds of tug boats, fishing charters, sight-seeing tours, and ferries. None of them had ever planned or trained for such an event, but they still found the courage to lead over half a million people to safety in less than nine hours.
“We have a moral and ethical duty to make a positive change in our community,” said Charles Mitchell, assistant principal of Brainerd High School. To Mitchell, this means that everyone is responsible for finding a place where they can display leadership and make a difference. For some people, this means getting involved in local government.
After a walk to the City Council Building, the day continued. The class heard from Councilman Ken Smith, Councilman Larry Grohn, Councilwoman Carol Berz, and Mayor Andy Berke. A shared value from each person’s backstory was the belief that a single person can have a meaningful impact. That theme continued as we met with Mike Dunne, communications manager for Mayor Jim Coppinger, County Commissioners Jim Fields and Joe Graham, and Blythe Bailey, administrator for the City of Chattanooga Department of Transportation. We talked about great successes in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, but also about how we can make our community even better.
“If you say everything is perfect, you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you aren’t telling the truth,” said Mario Duarte, Volkswagen Group of America. The promise of Leadership Chattanooga is that, every year, 40 Chattanooga-area residents are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to go out, identify opportunities, and lead the effort to enact positive change. Perhaps no city can ever be perfect, but there is great virtue in reaching out, and striving to make Chattanooga a little bit better, every day.
Next month: economic development.
Charlie McDaniel is director of operations for Legal Aid of East Tennessee