One of my friends was talking about getting over an ex-boyfriend when she said something profound.
She said, hate is not the opposite of love because love and hate are both passionate, powerful things. They show that you still care about something.
Instead, the actual opposite of love is apathy because that shows that you don’t care enough to get upset about it.
It struck me as the type of obvious breakthrough that we all sort of know deep down, but never really think about. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how it applies to our region, as much as any romance.
When we talk about talent retention, or more specifically, convincing high school and college students to come back to Northeast Indiana after graduation, we tend to get disappointed when we hear them say they “hate” their hometown or complain that there’s nothing to do here.
I was a writer for the Journal Gazette for awhile, and a local high school teacher asked me to speak to his class about the city and downtown development.
One topic that kept coming up was how much these students couldn’t wait to move, and there was a real vengeance there.
They said it was boring here. They didn’t know much about downtown developments. And they thought most of the city’s attractions were for people 21 and older, or children much younger than them.
It’s a valid point of view. There’s always the notion that your hometown isn’t cool, and there’s something better out there. Somewhere. Anywhere else.
A whole slew of reasons students choose to leave Northeast Indiana are listed in last Sunday’s Journal Gazette.
But even though cities in this region are small and “essentially nonexistent to outsiders,” maybe the hate—or more accurately frustration—some students (and residents) feel about where they live isn’t a doomsday sign for retaining talent in the region. Maybe it’s reason to believe that people care enough to get upset about it, and we can channel all of that negative energy into something positive.
Groups like the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Millennial 2020 are already starting to do it.
Sonya Snellenberger, YLNI member and Millennial 2020 specialist, said the Regional Partnership isn’t telling students they should never leave town.
“We quit fighting that mentality, and started to redefine what retaining talent looks like for this age group,” she said.
Their strategy involves telling students it’s OK to leave home because that’s what helps you grow and enrich your experiences. But when you’re ready to build something or start a new venture, Northeast Indiana is ready to help.
One of the benefits to living in a smaller city like Fort Wayne as opposed to New York, Chicago, or LA is that everything isn’t already decided for you.
There are gaps here that you can fill with more opportunities to make an impact, and if you have a good idea, then what you start will break the barrier of “nonexistence” anyway.
We can talk about the Midwest brain drain and the lack of opportunities here all we want. Or we can rise up and do something about it, and when you rise up in a small town, you make a mark.
The trick is getting people who are discontent with the region to see it that way.
As a junior at Snider High School, Kaleb McCague thinks a little “pushing” is what it takes.
McCague said most of his classmates had negative opinions of Fort Wayne until he started actively encouraging them learn about the community and get involved.
“I see potential here, and I want to help it and put my effort and input into it,” McCague said.
And he’s not alone. Actually, he’s one of 20 members of the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council (MYEC) in Fort Wayne—which is one of three similar youth councils in the region.
The MYEC is a group of high school students selected every school year to develop personal leadership skills, learn about their city, and boost community engagement among their peers.
They also spend time with Snellenberger’s Millennial Leaders Alliance to get involved with community development, so they see ways they can make a difference here and experience what it’s like firsthand.
For the past three years, the MYEC has put on the Riverpalooza Festival in Headwaters Park, and this year, the event is back with the 2nd Annual Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races, food trucks, vendors, live music and more on June 25.
It’s one way you can see what a few kids, a big idea and community support can do in this region, and it’s already starting to help students see their hometown in a new light.
Hope Steele, a senior at Canterbury High School and a 2nd-year member of the MYEC, said she knew last year’s festival was a success when more than 2,500 people showed up, and she saw her friends who never come downtown posting about it on social media.
MYEC leader Karen Richards also sees success in the number of graduates want to come back and help.
“That tells me the interest is really there,” Richards said.
If you think about it, interest of any kind shows that people care, and projects like riverfront development could help students see our region as a place where things happen—a place where they can personally make a difference.
Where there’s hate, there’s hope.
An all-ages festival featuring the 2nd Annual Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races, starting at 8 a.m. at Headwaters Park. Colorful, 21-person Chinese dragon boats will race a 300-meter course on the St. Marys River. Team registration to race is open until June 13. Visit RiverpaloozaFW.org for more information.
HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas. HereSay@ylni.org