Dean Barber

When Bad Things Happen to a Community

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on July 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm

I live in Dallas, truly an incredible city, one which I like very much, but which finds itself again bathed in blood and grief.

It was here on Nov. 22, 1963, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza. Two days later, the Dallas Times Herald put an apologetic editorial on its front page:

“What happened here could have happened in any city. But first there had to be the seeds of hate — and we must pray that Dallas can never supply the atmosphere for tragedy to grow again.”

Dallas was maligned as “the city of hate” and “the city that killed Kennedy.”

A Place of New Beginnings

Laboring under a shadow of guilt, Dallas nevertheless was able to transform itself into an economic juggernaut in the decades afterward. Today, downtown Dallas is brimming with people, restaurants, and businesses. It is a diverse city, Democratic, and pioneering in community policing.

Dallas is the nucleus of a huge metropolitan area, known as the Metroplex — 9,000 square miles harboring 7.1 million people spread over 13 counties and six area codes. This is a vibrant place of opportunities and possibilities, with 20 local companies on the 2016 Fortune 500 list, and an additional 19 cracking the top 1000 largest U.S. companies based on revenue.

And now another front-page editorial, this from The Dallas Morning News, which ran this past Saturday, in the aftermath of the ambush slaying of five police officers, and the wounding of seven other officers and two civilians.

“Dallas is a proud city. Although it is not a new city, it still feels unfinished, like a young adult still holding out for a late growth spurt.

“That sense of continuous change makes sense to us because we live in a place of new beginnings, of immigrants, and of job seekers. A place of friendly greetings and big ambitions, where the next new opportunity seems just around the corner.

“But there is another truth about Dallas. We live together, but we do not often understand one another. This is because of class, sometimes geography and often race.

“We are not unique in this. Americans are living beside one another without understanding one another all over the country.”

Fostering Tribes, Nursing Grudges

In my last blog, “In Celebration of Us,” I tried to focus on the good about America, knowing full well that we have deep-seated divisions based on race, class, religion and even the political views we hold.

And is some respects, digital technology only reinforces our prejudices and civility takes a back seat. As David Von Drehle, wrote in a Time Magazine article, “The Bright Side in America Today,” “it has never been easier to amplify strife.”

“We build communities of our choosing no matter where we actually live, and if we wish, these virtual town squares can endlessly reinforce our existing opinions while redoubling our antagonisms. There are fortunes to be made and careers to be built on fostering tribes and nursing grudges.”

After the recent mayhem in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, I happened upon a story, purported to be Native American in origin, in which a grandfather is talking to his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves,” the grandfather said. “One is bad – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The boy thought about it and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man replied, “The one you feed.”

The Fire-Eaters

I’m convinced that certain people in high places can actually feed the beast if we let them. And in doing so, they make their communities, our communities, less inviting to others.

Just as there were fire-eaters in the antebellum South on the eve of the Civil War, urging division, there are the fire-eaters among us today and really throughout our history.

Many cities and towns, indeed entire states, institutionalized racism to the degree that people could not even vote. In that environment, many companies refrained from capital investment in those places. For decades, the Deep South remained an economic backwater and you could argue that still exists today in certain places.

In my role as a site selection consultant to industry, I’ve actually a heard a public official make a totally off the wall racist remark in front of a client and me. How that person could possibly think that might go unnoticed is beyond me. Leave it to say, that was one community tour that ended abruptly.

Today, companies have become far more conscious and outspoken on matters of civil rights, because they want to protect and attract their workforce from a bad wolf that some remain intent on feeding.

Leadership Matters

When bad things happen in a community, whatever the cause, it is how a community responds that is most telling.

While time does heal most wounds, this is where leadership really comes to the forefront.  We were waiting for leaders to step forward in Ferguson, Mo., and make a difference and calm nerves, and I’m not sure we ever really saw them.

But Charleston, S.C., was a place to behold. There, it was family members of those slain in a predominantly black church who showed us all grace and bringing a stunned community together through faith and forgiveness. I was dumbfounded.

There is an old saying about a walking a mile in another man’s shoes, before you choose to criticize him. I think we need to do a lot more of that if we are going to build trust and inclusive communities where there are equal opportunities for all who choose to pursue them.

That is the Promised Land that Dr. King spoke. It’s not just for black folks, or Muslims, or gay people. It’s for all of us. We’re in this boat together.

Words Matter

Now I am confident that a grieving Dallas will heal and continue to grow and remain a vibrant city because of the leadership demonstrated by Mayor Mike Rawlings and Police Chief David Brown.

Unlike Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick who called the peaceful protesters in downtown Dallas “hypocrites” for running away from bullets and expecting police protection during the sniper attack, Rawlings and Brown truly proved to be the adults in the room.

They chose not to use inflammatory language or blame anyone other than the madman who created so much pain and sorrow.

Said Brown, who has made the Dallas Police Department a model in community policing, “All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.”

“We as a city, we as country, must come together, lock arms, and heal the wounds that we all feel from time to time,” Mayor Rawlings told reporters the morning after the carnage. “Words matter, leadership matters at this time. I’m proud of our chief.”

The Family of Man

I’m not a black, and will never be able to fully comprehend walking in his or her shoes. However, I believe that empathy – doing my best to understand someone on their own terms – is something that I can aspire to. After all, we are all members of the Family of Man.

I may or may not have some advantages by virtue of the fact that within my immediate and extended family are African Americans and Hispanics, whom I consider family, regardless of our differing gene pools.

We talk about all sorts of things – I learned about DWB – driving while black. And while we may not agree on everything, we love and respect each other. I feel blessed to have them near.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for it is they who will heal a community when bad things do happen.

I’ll see you down the road.

Postscript: I will be on a long road trip east of the Mississippi in late July and early August and will be available to visit certain communities. See “Clifftop or Bust!”  for more details.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. He can be reached at or at 972-890-3733.  Mr. Barber is available as a keynote speaker.

  1. Thanks, Dean. Prayers for Dallas and for America.

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