“You can never go home again.”
Sure you can. And a lot of folks do just that during Spring Break or some time during the Place Seasons of Spring and Summer. I recently went back to my hometown in the High Point/Jamestown area for an engagement (something I don’t usually do). I decided long ago as a placemaker and speaker, I would not work where I lived to keep work work and home home. But 10 years of racking up frequent flier miles and passport stamps can wear on a girl, so I’ve relaxed my position on the whole “working in your own backyard.”
I’m all for it.
It’s interesting to return to a place of your youth. Memories flood of every street, house, place and experience of being there. Returning as a placemaker only compounds those memories. You see things as they were, as they now are, and as they could be.
If you know anything about High Point, NC you know that it’s the Furniture Capital of the World. When the local furniture industry hit hard times in the last decade, High Point hung onto that narrative despite the reality, like so many towns who weren’t sure who they were if they were no longer their industry. Today, High Point is taking a good, hard look in the mirror and while some still shrug and say “we’re fine,” others in growing numbers say “it’s time for a makeover.”
High Point has a lot of strengths at its disposal. High Point University is the best example of institutional transformation I have ever seen. Period. President Dr. Qubein has achieved what many thought to be the impossible and even unimaginable for that university, from the physical campus, to the campus culture, to the operations. My dad is a chemistry graduate from when it was High Point College and when I brought him pictures of the campus today, my scientific father uttered “wow” with tears in his eyes. It truly is amazing.
High Point also has generational residents who have deep roots in the community and love it dearly—another great strength for a place to have. These people have stayed married to High Point during its midlife crisis and bleak times. Some family names are synonymous with High Point itself and these established families have given back to High Point and support the place in big and little ways.
So here comes Katie Loflin, High Point/Jamestown’s Junior Miss in 1989 back to High Point to address the city leaders (many I knew in high school as my classmates or the parents of my classmates) about “placemaking” and her work as “The City Doctor.” What in the world. Going home can be difficult. Going home to publicly present yourself in an unfamiliar role to people “who knew you when” can be, well, weird:
“Didn’t you go with my son to the school dance?”
“Do you remember my daughter? Well, she’s a grandmother now!”
“I can never call you Dr. Loflin, you’ll always be little Katie to me!”
Never has taking command and credibility with a room before been more necessary, yet difficult. And my message, I knew, wouldn’t go well with some. Or, just as dangerous, some would respond by saying “we are already doing all of that.”
In some ways, going back to High Point was like seeing an ex. You walked away from him on purpose, wished him well and were ready to be free of him and then you run into him 20 years and he asks “how do I look.”
So I told High Point what I thought. I talked about what makes a great place and let them decide how they look using those metrics as a guide. I presented ideas to consider and potholes to avoid at this particular crossroads they face.
When I was done, there was a line of folks waiting to speak with me. Some wanted to simply go down Memory Lane, but others handed me their card and said “we need you back here to get to work.” I appreciated both. Some will always see me as Katie, but many others saw me as Dr. Loflin and a resource, despite the fact we may have attended prom together.
Going home again, placemaker or not, can be a surreal experience. But it’s important to stay connected to your “First Place” if for nothing more than to understand yourself and who you are today. Like our First Love, our First Place may have not stood the test of time, but it undoubtedly helped make us who we are today and—good or bad—influenced what we now seek in our Place Match.