For those of you not familiar with Catalyst for Birmingham, two things to do before you continue:
1) Check out their website
2) Point of disclosure: I’m on the steering committee (like I said a while back, I have a hard time saying the word “no,” plus it’s a great organization). However, what I write on my blog is my opinion and not that of the entire committee.
Now that those things are out of the way,
Today the organization announced that they have hired a director to manage the day-to-day operations. Cherie Fields, a Birmingham native, will assume the duties of director officially tomorrow, beginning with a meeting of the organization’s steering committee. Cherie’s focus will be to help manage the goals and needs of the membership base of the organization and to assist the steering committee as it attempts to fulfill these goals. These two objectives are extremely important as the organization attempts to reinvigorate itself. She’s going to do a great job and is going to have a lot of fun doing it.
Joining the steering committee re-engaged me in a study of young professional organizations that started while in Savannah. I found the concept of the creative class interesting, though flawed, and ability to pull together young progressives for events such as the Memphis Manifesto as impressive and necessary for the future of cities as they hoped to become. The result has been following the activities of several organizations around the country and beginning to track the activities of similar organizations in our region. So far it’s been a lot of fun to learn how other groups are driven to make their communities better. It’s also made me aware of things that could be tried here to continue progress in the Magic City.
One of the issues faced by Catalyst is its perception as a downtown-focused or young professional-focused organization. I’ve been reminded recently of the one thing that drew me to Catalyst when meeting with Alan Hunter in August 2004: the idea that an organization was open to anyone that wanted to join and that it could make a difference. Young professionals may make up the leadership of the organization, but to me it’s always been a focus on allowing ideas from anyone that wants to voice them to be expressed. That is why it has never used the latest “catch phrase” to describe itself and why I hope it never will. What drives Catalyst is that its members are committed to change; it is what drives most civic organizations at their core, and hopefully for the better. Instead of calling them “hipsters,” “bobos,” “yp’s” or “progressive,” let’s call them what they really are: people who care about seeing good things for their native or adopted hometown. Let’s cheer them on rather than find new ways to meet and not share information.
A hope for the near future is to have a meeting of all of these organizations, providing an opportunity for civic and political leaders to know what’s being talked about out there, what’s really being talked about around town.