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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Power to Impact a Community


 The Baltimore Sun had a fascinating article about the creative person behind the Baltimore Grand Prix race that will take place in a couple of weeks in Baltimore. What is fascinating about the story is that the person the story is about, Steven Wehner, lived in his mother’s basement, had dyslexia, had a bankrupt business and had been arrested in the past for drug possession.  Not the most promising individual to come up and sell the concept of a major sporting event in Baltimore.  What he had going for him are the things that make for a successful community organizer: 1) an idea to address a community need 2) contacts to bring the resources necessary to the effort 3) timing 4) a passion for an idea.

The community need was the image of Baltimore that had been depicted as a crime-ridden city in Homicide, Life on the Street and The Wire.  Not the image you want if you are interested in building a tourist trade.  The Inner Harbor is one of this country’s nicest downtown venues but it was not what Baltimore represented to most TV viewers. As much national attention the Preakness generated for Baltimore it took place far from the shiny Inner Harbor in one of the City’s tough neighborhoods.  No one stays around Pimilco to dine in a restaurant or stay in a hotel in the neighborhood.

Steven’s car repair shop on Cape Cod put in contact with some rich and influential people who became his early allies in getting city officials attention.  They lent credibility to an effort that he could not have received on his own.  Important rule of organizing is that you have to bring something to the table to be credible.  In Mr. Wehner’s case it was his contacts. Their credibility sold the idea to city officials that Mr. Wehner would have not been able to do.

Like almost everything timing is everything in successful organizing.  You can’t be too far ahead of time and not too late after the momentum has been lost.  Grand Prix races in Detroit and North Carolina had fallen through and the Grand Prix officials were looking for a venue along the East Coast to highlight their sport to the millions of potential fans in the DC to Boston corridor.

The final part to the effort was Mr. Wehner’s passion for his idea.  Every good idea runs into opposition and obstacles.  Only someone with passion will continue to work to bring about his or her idea when it looks like a long shot.  Thomas Edison said that invention was 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.  Successful organizing follows that same path.  Nothing defeats good ideas as much as people giving up too soon on bringing their idea to reality.

Like many other good ideas the original person with the idea has to step aside to let the other more credible people carry the idea to fruition. That happened to Steven Wehner in this case. But he has the satisfaction of knowing on Labor Day weekend that what was the biggest thing happening in Baltimore and gaining national attention would not be happening if he had not had a great idea.

P.S.
Probably won’t be quoted by any of the Republican candidates but Warren Buffet’s  Op/Ed column in the NY Times does provide another view to how approach solving some of our debt problem

P.S 2
Anyone recognize where I took this photo that has been a wall photo on the blog?

1 comment:

Anne said...

It's a good story about passion and bringing ideas to life. Unfortunately there is another side to this in the news right now. Part of the plan, as the Baltimore Sun reports, is to cut down a certain number of trees to make room for grand stands and improve lines of sight. Two articles on that below.

There's some confusion about how many, and there has been an injunction filed to stop the cutting of trees, ~70 of which have already been cut, possibly without permits, and there is a petition being circulated to ensure that the trees are replaced.

At the very least, this hubbub points to the difficulty in striking a balance between different concerns - the city's sustainability mission and the economic drivers for the race seem to be at odds with each other when it comes to the trees. The race may bring the city revenue, and give people an event to get excited about. But cutting down trees to do it doesn't seem like an investment in the future of the city, to me.

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/features/green/2011/08/trees_fall_downtown_to_make_wa.html

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/features/green/2011/08/city_grand_prix_planting_many.html

http://www.change.org/petitions/hold-baltimore-racing-development-financially-responsible-for-tree-plan