With only four days before we celebrate Thanksgiving, I wanted to give thanks for the community that I am blessed to be a part of. I could never have imagined in December of 2008 that the little town of Smyrna, GA, where I frankly just happened upon, would come to be the place in which my family would make connections that have grown and will continue to grow for many years to come. It was the kind of accident I can be grateful for. As a little twist on this week's blog, please enjoy this article highlighting our most recent Community Connects event, Smyrna Unites, and share in the gratitude of having the privilege to live in a town worthy of praise, due to the wonderfully diverse and connected community members who call Smyrna home.
"The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love."- Coretta Scott King
"There is a beauty to the diversity that is Smyrna", affirms Pastor Derek Porter. "There is something in our diversity that we can teach, and we can share with the rest of the world how to do that." Pastor Porter, of Smyrna First United Methodist Church, spoke to a crowd of invited city leaders and community members, masked and socially distanced, but seated in the shape of a heart. The group converged days before the presidential election to share stories of healing and to celebrate Smyrna's numerous programs, policies, and massive outreach efforts.
"We wanted to do something ahead of the election to send a message loud and clear that regardless of who our next President is, it will always be up to us as individuals to listen, connect, and respect one another", says Rachel Hart, Co-Founder of ReConnectEd to Life. We get to choose everyday to create how we will experience our community, based on our commitment to do these three things. She tells the crowd, "By the way, our ability to listen, connect, and respect one another is directly related to how well we continue to listen to, connect with, and respect ourselves."
ReConnectEd to Life is a local business dedicated to educating about self-care through individual and group coaching, community events, retreats, and corporate workshops. Rachel Hart and Kinda Blomberg, both longtime Smyrna residents, co-founded ReConnectEd to Life in 2018 and was a recent recipient of the Cobb Chamber Small Business Relief Grant. Smyrna Unites was part of their "Community Connects" series, a quarterly offering that aims to drive home the idea that practicing consistent self-care enables us to accomplish our goals easier, foster more meaningful relationships, and better connect with our community. Put simply, Hart says, "When we feel better, we do better."
"Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much."- Helen Keller
The event began as Tricia Grantham from Windy Hill Athletic Club led the crowd in a moment of getting, "Self-Centered", a phrase Blomberg and Hart have re-defined to promote a more balanced sense of self through consistent practice of what they call The Four Seeds of Self-Care- consistently eating well, sleeping well, meditation/prayer, and exercise. This was followed by two poems about community, read by Campbell High School student and recent Black Lives Matter rally organizer Brooklyn Hatcher. Other guest speakers included Mayor Pro Tem and Smyrna's Ward 6 Council Person Tim Gould, Deputy Police Chief Robert Harvey, and recently re-elected House District 40 Representative Erick Allen. Gould spoke proudly of setting new standards for other cities to follow with Smyrna's recent implementation of a Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Chief Harvey shared about the outreach the police department is regularly involved in and extended invitations to visit the department anytime saying, "I don't hold a title other than your servant. I have to decrease so you can increase. It's your department. Come in and have a cup with me and we'll show you what we're about. I have to decrease and I want you guys to increase. I want to be humble enough to be able to hear you and see what you need and find out what you need and react to that." Representative Allen called for all to "Seek first to understand", to be mindful of the fact that "We are all recovering from something", and that "There is more than your way and the right way. There are other people's way. And we have to be open to it."
The afternoon was also filled with stories told by Smyrna residents of hardship, healing and humor, and how their community played a major role in their healing. A basketball coach relayed his renewed faith in the police through the department's community building efforts. A local middle school math teacher shared her journey to reclaim her sense of self-acceptance after being rejected by her family and her faith for coming out as gay. A Jewish father presented light-hearted comic relief, recounting his efforts to bring the education of Jewish holidays and traditions to his neighborhood and children's classrooms.
A poignant moment came when Brennan Hart remembered Max Raymond, a childhood friend and Campbell High School IB Program classmate, who was lost to suicide in October. "Max was one of the kindest kids I've ever met. I'm not just saying that because tragedy happened. He really was. I look back on times and realize how stress-free they were and how much fun we had. I miss them now." The program was dedicated to the teen's memory and the event's yard signs, T-shirts and face masks are still being sold to create a teen intervention program in Max's name, raising awareness and conversation around the increasingly concerning subject of stress and teenage mental health.
Kinda Blomberg closed the afternoon, drawing attention to the empty chairs that were placed within the heart-shaped seating chart, and encouraging the crowd to, "Leave space in your heart. Leave space in your heart to invite somebody in who you don't know or that is different from you, because that is how you can really respect and connect with one another- is when you leave that space to connect with somebody that's different from us." Before the event began, every attendee was given a piece of colorful fabric to represent Smyrna's diverse community. "Smyrna Unites on three!", Blomberg yelled. RTL likes to end their workshops and events with team spirit, and this finale was true to form. The crowd counted down and as they roared, "Smyrna Unites", they waved their piece of fabric and a drone camera captured the moment from above. It was a thought-provoking perspective to a symbolic day, and a snapshot of what is possible when we set aside our differences and come together as a community.
If you would like to donate to the teen intervention program in Max Raymond's memory by purchasing a yard sign, please send $15 by PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With love and gratitude,
Kinda and Rachel