Carolyn Akers tells people, “It’s not rocket science. It’s political science.”
In other words, the foundation realizes that it needs three votes from a five-member elected body to get successful policies rolling. Akers talks frequently of assembling a diverse set of community leaders to back the foundation as it seeks to influence the Mobile County school board to make wise decisions, bold ones that politicians might otherwise be hesitant to back. Those policies included providing the schools more revenue, dramatically reforming consistently poor-performing schools and aggressively working to improve the district’s dropout rate.
How’s it working out? Quite successfully.
A recent letter to The Wall Street Journal by the chief executive of the Jacksonville (Fla.) Public Education Fund credits the Mobile Area Education Foundation for helping to attract Airbus to Mobile.
The Mobile education foundation “has pioneered and successfully implemented a remarkable, sustainable reformation of its 65,000-student public schools,” writes John E. Anderson. “It worked over a long period to tap the public trust and empower the grass roots of Mobile society, involving all segments, to seize ownership, demand excellence and then sustain it.”
Meeting and talking with various community leaders across the Anniston area on The Star’s series on the state’s obesity crisis, I have recently been contemplating the work and the philosophy of the Mobile Area Education Foundation.
We’ve been consistently reminded that acting local is one of the best methods to attack our corner of the state’s weight problem. Local communities can’t influence the national agricultural policy that encourages the use of high-fructose corn syrup. They can’t prevent retailers from peddling empty calories full of fat and sugar to consumers. They are limited when it comes to reversing the trend away from factory farms located many miles away to a more grow-local/eat-local model.
However, there’s plenty for local communities to do. They can create more space for residents to exercise. Parks are good. Sidewalks, dedicated running/walking paths and bike lanes are even better. The public also needs safe and conveniently located places to exercise.
Then there’s the other side of the diet-and-exercise equation for a healthier community. Residents need easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of us could use a few tips on how to eat healthier so a kitchen demonstration space would be handy.
Oh, and if we find the right spot in downtown Anniston, this community space — a resource center for good health — could double as a welcome center for the many cyclists and others rushing to town to try their hand at our varied outdoor recreational venues.
Much of this wishlist already exists, you say. And you’d be correct.
However, it seems to lack a single organization dedicated to championing all of this. It would combine the already fantastic efforts of the local YMCA, the Calhoun County Extension Office, health-care providers, organizers of our marquee local running and cycling events and many more partners.
This nonprofit — let’s call it the Anniston Area Fitness Foundation — would keep a sharp eye on local government to make sure elected officials are working in the best interests of a healthier community. It would applaud smart decisions and call out the bad ones. It would present our area to the wider world as a healthy place that is friendly to cyclists, who will bring their mountain bikes and wallets to Coldwater. It would seek out foundational support to ensure no one is left behind in this attack on obesity. It would sponsor county wide athletic competitions for young people. It would challenge older folks to do the same.
Most importantly, when trying to influence local policies, it would remember the lesson of the Mobile Area Education Foundation’s Carolyn Akers: “It’s not rocket science. It’s political science.”
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis