Momentum: Builder of Places

I’ve been thinking a lot about momentum. In recent experiences, I’ve seen momentum build on a community’s sense of place, and I’ve seen momentum begin to tear it apart.

(n.d.). WordNet® 2.0.

n 1: an impelling force or strength; “the car’s momentum carried it off the road” [syn: impulse] 2: the product of a body’s mass and its velocity; “the momentum of the particles was deduced from meteoritic velocities”

“An impelling force” sounds impressive, but somehow I don’t think momentum can be tied in any way to “brute strength.” Momentum is physics. Boulders fall from cliffs. Definitely random and destructive momentum. Initiating positive momentum requires sophistication, coordination, and a unified objective. Initiating positive momentum is largely about creating efficiencies within components of a machine. Momentum is the total force of every component of the object in movement. Momentum catapults F-16s off runway ramps, F-18 Tomcats off aircraft carriers, and NASA shuttles into outer space.

Protests gather steam because of momentum. Civil rights movements created a series of storms across the South — and across the nation — that led to unprescedented Civil Rights legislation — shepherded and signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Yet the momentum gathering in my town isn’t a protest against anything. It’s a series of letter-writing campaigns, photo submissions, in-kind corporate conributions, and gatherings — large and small — laced with impassioned speeches from young professionals, students, teachers, business executives, retired physicians, pilots, homemakers, and songwriters.

Bring It Home Lines

A standing-room-only house at the Holiday Inn City Center — approximately 1,200 supporters — gathered in mid-November to tell some folks representing Washington, D.C. what they thought. The U.S. Marshals Service Site Selection Committee heard the unified, thunderous voice loud and clear.

Bring it home! Bring it home! Bring it home!

I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about that day, and the events leading up to it. I’m past the point of asking how the heck we pulled that off — 1,200 people of all ages and from all walks of life jammed into a ballroom at noon on a rainy, chilly day. Several men arrived early together and camped out at a table mid-way back. I had a chance to talk with them for a few minutes. They’d driven all the way from Oklahoma City, without really understanding why. All they knew was that it would be an opportunity to pay their respects to their great, great grandfather, who rode for Judge Parker’s court.

When these men were called on during the open mic segment, we looked like brilliant manipulators, managing every detail of the luncheon. The truth is, we have no idea how these gentlemen knew to drive to Fort Smith. We had no idea how we’d introduce them to members of the U.S. Marshals Service Site Selection Committee.

So how’d little miracles like this happen over and over again? Momentum.

Momentum affects place, either purposely or haphazardly. Usually, the momentum is a rising tide against something. In the quest for the U.S. Marshals Museum, velocity, energy, and mass are a result of collective passion for something special. It’s a passion for and a pride in who we are.

For many, many years, a core group of Fort Smith residents have worked tirelessly to preserve our past. Still another group has passed on family history, through oral stories, keepsakes, photographs, documents, badges, firearms, and other pieces of their past.

During the past 4 years or so, as we’ve worked to recruit the national museum, we’ve found that our residents are passionate about who they are, where they came from and — wonder upon wonder — they’re even more passionate about the collective family histories that create the patchwork quilt that is our community.

At the recent Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce banquet, former White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty talked about creating a vibrant enconomic engine that is immune to globalization or, better yet, takes advantage of the flattening world we live in. He also said something that hit me like a bolt of lightning. McLarty, a native of Hope, Arkansas, reminded us that Fort Smith is unique and always has been. He encouraged us to retain and embrace those unique qualities that make us, well, that make us who we are.

McLarty encouraged us to change and adapt to the world around us, but also to embrace who we are. We should, encouraged McLarty, retain and capitalize on our spirit, our distinction, and our uniqueness.

Momentum. An impelling force or strength. The product of a body’s mass and velocity. Comprised of individual families with long, legendary histories. Backed by non-profit organizations like the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Belle Grove Historic District — where people live our past every day — the Fort Smith Public Library, the Old Fort Museum of History, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Historic Society, the Westerners, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, Miss Laura’s Visitor Center, Young Emerging Leaders (YEL) and on and on…

Momentum. Backed by for-profit enterprises like Bedford Camera & Video, Custom Frames & Signs, 5 Star Productions, Westend Studio, Rockfish Interactive, C&J Forms, Kirkham Systems and Fireball Media, Big Jake’s Restaurant in Van Buren…and the list goes on…

Momentum affects place, either purposely or haphazardly. Usually, the momentum is a rising tide against something. In the quest for the U.S. Marshals Museum, velocity, energy, and mass are a result of collective passion for something special. It’s a passion for and a pride in who we are.

I believe it’s a passion for and a demand — a mandate, if you will — to build a community identity and a component of our economic engine around who we are. We’re a city — a region, in fact — no longer in search of “quality of place.” We’ve found it. It’s been right under our noses.

Now let’s just keep this wicked fast hotrod between the ditches. Momentum is a beautiful function of physics as long as we continue to manage the physics properly, keep the parts in good working order, and continue to travel in a common direction in pursuit of a common purpose.

Momentum can indeed be a builder of places.

3 thoughts on “Momentum: Builder of Places

  1. What an insightful post. It really is amazing how much community there is in the community. We really do live in a unique town that can be great.

    Thanks for being an instrumental part of bringing this community together for the common good.

    May these efforts not only bring the US Marshal Museum here, but also the other undiscovered things that could happen with just a little more energy.

  2. It’s attitude. We have been held down and back for so long by the “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism”. Some time it is good to get an outside opinion. Recently some friends from OKC visited and were so impressed with all that is going on here. There is no subsitute for excellence. That is what we can be.

  3. Amen, brother. N3 kinda gets wearisome, don’t it? But we all do it at one time or another. You’re right. It takes the eyes of outsiders sometimes to help us appreciate what we have. And to help us see what we can become.

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