Remarks at Lowell Plan Breakfast (Sep 26, 2013)

History as It Happens: Citizen Bloggers in Lowell, Mass. (2017) captures the best writing from the first ten years of this blog, an unsettled time for the economy, politics, technology, and culture. The book, featuring many writers, documents the local story and offers commentary on national and global matters that touched our lives. This week, we will post highlights from the book, which is available for purchase from Loom Press or on amazon.com. This holiday season, if you are looking for a special gift for a family member or friend with a deep interest in Lowell, present and/or past, then please consider this collection of fine writing and photographs.

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Remarks at Lowell Plan Breakfast

By Francey Slater and Colleen Brady on September 26, 2013

The final speakers at this morning’s Lowell Plan Breakfast were Francey Slater and Colleen Brady, two participants in the 2013 Public Matters leadership development program, co-sponsored by the Lowell Plan and Lowell National Historical Park. Neither Slater nor Brady was born in Lowell; they both came to the city by separate paths and they have both chosen to stay. Throughout this morning’s program, a recurring theme of the earlier speakers was that the key to success for cities like Lowell in early 21st century post-Industrial America is to attract and keep the age cohort called the Millennials (i.e., those born from 1980 to 2000). Slater and Brady are emblematic of how Lowell is succeeding in this effort. They kindly consented to allow me to post the remarks they jointly gave this morning.  —RPH

So you might ask, “What is our intention in sharing our Lowell story with all of you?”

We are both recent graduates of the Public Matters program, and Colleen and I share a common sense of stewardship and civic responsibility towards the city of Lowell. This place is our home, even though we were not born here nor do we have deep family roots here. This place is our home because we have chosen it to be the place we build our careers, families, relationships, networks, and life experiences.

We hope that in sharing our stories with everyone here, that in some way we can deepen our resolve to better our city and build upon the greatness that has come before us.

[Colleen’s Background]: I moved to Lowell from United Kingdom as a sophomore in high school. I disliked Lowell in the same way teenagers dislike everything—it wasn’t specific—but within a year, I began to love Lowell, making the social adjustment to my new home. I chose to stay here because I had a base here; I set my life up with a community that I felt I belonged to. I love the people of this city; they are truly themselves without necessarily feeling the need to put on airs and graces.

[Francey’s Background]: I moved to Lowell in 2009 out of geographic convenience—it was the mid-point between my job in Cambridge and my husband’s job in New Hampshire. For the next two years, I basically came to Lowell to sleep; but even in the small pockets of time I had to explore and get to know the neighborhoods, I was seduced by the city and we decided it was home. We bought a house in the Highlands, with space for a garden and a rental unit to help us cover the mortgage. Two years later, I am firmly rooted here, having launched Mill City Grows—an urban food justice initiative aiming to transform communities through growing food and growing relationships

Lowell is a city of stories, a city with a true sense of place, grounded in the people who have built this city and continued by those who now call it home.

I never tire of hearing stories of the remarkable Irish immigrants who settled the Acre, and how St. Patrick Church made the Acre home. I feel a deep sense of recognition when someone references Jack Kerouac growing up in Pawtucketville, which, as a brand new immigrant from England was my first home, and I knew as “Potatoville.”

The stories of fellow Lowellians who have survived the unspeakable acts of the Khmer Rouge, never fail to remind me of the character, the grit, the tenacity, and the fighting spirit of the residents of this city.

From these stories we can elicit an unbreakable strength to propel us through many of the challenges that we face as a mid-sized, post-industrial city.

The Lowell that started the Industrial Revolution, which changed the American way of life, is still a city of innovators, leaders, and collaborative creators. The great projects underway in our city, from the transformation of the Hamilton Canal District, to the growth of the institutions of higher education, to the reinvestment in our neighborhoods by local businesses, are proof that these innovators and do-ers still call Lowell home.

Every time I pass the new Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union buildings on Merrimack Street, I see a company that is truly investing in Lowell and putting their money where their mouth is.

But our work is not done. We still face challenges that will require us all to act. The call to action for the residents of this city is to be responsible.

We must take responsibility for the way we speak about Lowell—how we portray this community is how we come to see it ourselves, and how others will perceive it. Many problems we face here are not intrinsic to our city in particular, but are universal challenges faced in urban centers across the country. As residents and representatives, leaders and initiators, it is our responsibility to be ever conscientious in the words we choose when talking about the city.

We must take responsibility for the civic process, not only participating in order that our interests be heard, but also speaking up when we witness inequality. Are we advocating for the disenfranchised? Are we working towards creating an inclusive process of decision-making where all members of our community have a voice and a platform?

We must take responsibility as creative problem-solvers, pulling together to work towards solutions, and resisting the pitfalls of infighting and blame.

We must take responsibility for the safety of our streets and address the devastating presence of substance abuse and addiction in our community. From fights in downtown bars, to drug-related gun violence in some neighborhoods, to domestic abuse in others, crime impacts all households. We have to find solutions that engage all residents in creating a safe and healthy community.

How do we move towards a Lowell where all residents feel safe and comfortable, feel they have options and opportunities to advance, whether they are professionals, students, families, artists, new immigrants—whatever their path, we need to create opportunities for positive momentum to advance and grow. It is incumbent upon all of us to be our brothers’ keepers.

The problems we face are not easy to solve, nor are they problems we can continue to live with if we hope to grow and prosper as a city-renewed.

Lowell’s story of this moment is filled with challenge, hope, and choice, and the next chapter will depend upon us all.

What is your vision for this city? What specific effort are you committed to in order to make your vision a reality?

Life’s greatest challenges offer the greatest opportunities for growth, and therefore we must relish the chance to address any challenge presented to us, as the outcome will benefit us all.

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