Throughout our trip, our CBS squad spent a lot of time discussing what we found surprising about Decatur and the people we met there. Given that most of the group had little experience with the South (let alone Alabama), there were a lot of preconceived notions about what the city would be like. We wondered:
- Would locals be willing to talk to us?
- Would we be welcomed in Decatur?
- Would there be stoplights on the roads?? (yes, that was a real concern for some students)
Yet, over the course of a few short (but very packed) days, all of questions – and more – were answered.
Yes, the locals talked to us. And when they did, they spoke with pride about the ways that Decatur is growing. This was especially true when attending a dinner hosted by the Morgan Country Economic Development Association, a group that has been working hard to bring new businesses into Decatur, like a new Mazda-Toyota site. Yet, we also heard frustration with the rate of growth as some found it too slow, at least when it came to building new residential housing, while others were worried its quick pace would leave some locals behind. The nuanced conversations about economic development was eye-opening because it wasn’t as black-or-white as we initially thought. Hearing from people currently going through the difficult and ambiguous process of managing early stages of growth helped us better understand why individual sentiment on new industry coming to town could vary so widely.
And yes, we were welcomed by the people we met in Decatur. From factories, to farms, and to churches, we were warmly greeted wherever we went. Although they also questioned why were in Decatur, they always seemed happy to have us visit. And asked to come back. The invitation to return caught us by surprise at first since it came after we spent hours asking tough questions on array of topics about their work, their values, and their thoughts on the future of Decatur. With all of the questions, would come new viewpoints for us as students to absorb and forced our hosts to discuss topics that are somewhat taboo.
And yes, Decatur has stoplights. It also has a beautiful waterfront, a growing downtown (with live music), and a history that gives the town its color. Decatur had so much more than we ever could have imagined giving it a particular warmth and charm. Of course, Decatur isn’t perfect and like many other cities, it’s struggling to find its place in the world as things continue to rapidly evolve and change. But it’s doing so with tenacity, creativity, and a lot of hard work, which means anything is possible for this city.
We’ll just have to come back for a visit to see for ourselves what Decatur can do.