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SPARK Thomasville: An Opportunity Flows From Tragedy

Updated: May 28

Six law enforcement officers standing in the street.

It’s the fall of 2017. A white law enforcement officer shoots and kills an African American attempting to avoid an arrest warrant in our little South Georgia town of Thomasville. In a moment, our city finds itself in the crosshairs of racial controversy. What could have been tragic for our city becomes an opportunity for advancement. All over America, cities are on fire. Businesses and livelihoods are being destroyed. For a moment, it appears Thomasville is next. People are angry and Thomasville is in the spotlight. Protestors and agitators begin to arrive daily from all over. The ordinarily peaceful downtown sidewalks fill with angry protestors. A racial problem that most of us didn't know existed has been exposed. Like businesses and individuals, cities can also live on cruise control. You can be speeding down a road on cruise control without knowing where it leads. Many of us had no idea of our destination. We had been headed somewhere; now, we had arrived. How do businesses, leaders, and whole communities end up living cruise control lives on roads headed to unknown destinations? One: We are not aware. We live like ostriches with our heads stuck in the sand. Problems exist in our businesses, personal lives, and communities, but we are oblivious. These problems are often at the boiling point, yet we are ignorant and unaware. Thankfully, before the tragedy, some Thomasville community leaders are already crossing racial and economic divides to pursue relationship. Their relational investment pays off in this moment of tension. The shooting and ensuing anger open the door for many hard conversations. The group elevates the voices of those who have been aware of the problem for a long time. There is a new awareness and understanding of the problem. Two: We are not intentional. When awareness comes, there is often little intentionality to fix the problem. Pressing forward is a process, and it can be messy. Honestly, few choose to do it. Thomasville leaders follow the model for reconciliation outlined by local businessman and mentor to many, Nathanial Abrams:

  1. Be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable places.

  2. Drop your ego, and place yourself in the shoes of those affected by the problem.

  3. Come alongside those already working to solve the problem that needs to be solved.

Three: We are stuck in the rut of doing every day what was done before. At this stage, our communities become boiling caldrons of anger and destruction. When you personally, your business, or community live stuck, a few wrong decisions can bring it all tumbling down. It happens with a blip, a stumble, and then a horrible crash. When you live your life around the wrong priorities, you will live a life void of energy, purpose, and passion. You have all you can do in your business, which consumes you. You profess to have higher priorities, but you don't live by them. Eventually, you become estranged from the relationships that should give you the most purpose, energy, and passion. Legally, you are married, but practically you are single. Parenting becomes merely paying the bills instead of fostering deep and meaningful relationships with your children. The relationships that should give you energy, purpose, and passion become superficial. At this point, your life becomes a series of surface relationships. These relationships are plastic, empty, and shallow. In the eyes of the world, everything appears grand, but something is wrong. This cruise-control life produces loneliness; it is the daily grind. Thomasville leaders see the tragedy as a wake-up call. It is an opportunity to act. They agree to take on the third pillar of Robert Lupton's formula for successful community transformation: economic viability. They come alongside an organization already "building business incubators for the underestimated" in thirteen other cities called StartSpark. The result is SPARK Thomasville, a nonprofit dedicated to developing and equipping aspiring entrepreneurs who live in economically disadvantaged communities. In twelve-week cohorts, low-wealth individuals launch their businesses, having received the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn their ideas into action. SPARK Thomasville graduates create businesses that make a profit, bless their communities, and advance their purpose. Twenty-nine "underestimated" business entrepreneurs have graduated from the program in three years. I invite you to follow the same process these Thomasville leaders followed: A - Awareness I - Intentionality M - Movement Check out SPARK Thomasville and StartSpark. They are producing entrepreneurs who know how to make a profit, bless their community, and advance their purpose. Looking for a way to give back to the community? Join the Spark Thomasville team with me and empower our "underestimated" leaders. Harry T. Jones

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