“What are you doing here in Decatur?”
That’s usually the first question that greets our CBS group whenever we meet someone new in Decatur. It’s then quickly followed by: “But really, why Decatur?”
In those moments we usually turn to our professor Bruce Usher, one of the brains behind this radical experiment, to answer. His response typically touches on Decatur’s size (its population is a little over 50,000 and growing), it’s unique location along the Tennessee River, and the influx of new business (and new people) to the area.
That’s usually enough to satisfy the question-asker and keep the conversation moving forward. However, if we’re being honest, all of us in the CBS group are here to answer the same question: Why Decatur?
Well, it might be because of the well-respected companies in the area. During our first full day Decatur, we visited Nucor, one of the largest and most profitable steel companies in the world. Yet, it’s also a corporation that very few people have heard of. During their presentation, the “team” talked about their work with pride; describing technological innovations, their high environmental protection standards, and their deep respect for every teammate in the company. The Decatur Nucor leadership team was also quite frank about some of the challenges including finding and/or developing strong technical talent and dealing with the consequences of changes in trade policy.
Or maybe it’s because of the increasingly diverse school district. Decatur schools have seen an influx of Latinx students. This is caused by the increased number of immigrants coming from Mexico and other Central American countries like Guatemala who are willing to work in difficult, low-wage jobs such as poultry processing. As these immigrants settle in the city with their families, it means changes to not only the demographics of the city-at-large but also the school system. In a conversation with the Decatur City Schools superintendent Michael Douglas, he talked some of the recent changes to Decatur schools including new racial demographics (40% White, 30% Black, and 30% Latinx) as well as the need to reimagine how to best prepare students for the workforce of the future.
Perhaps, it could be Decatur because of its strong community, which reflects the deeply religious nature of the city and the way that churches act as additional support systems for those who need it. This looks like partnering with nonprofits such as the Neighborhood Christian Center, which provides a variety of programs including transitional housing for formerly incarcerated people. It also looks like Black and White pastors coming together to talk about racial reconciliation and the need to atone for historic wrongs done in the name Christianity.
Whatever it is, there is something special about Decatur. Just come for a visit and you’ll find out for yourself.
…Actually, I figured out why it’s Decatur – it’s the stuffed potatoes. Definitely, the stuffed potatoes.