City, county get a chance to change some minds

We believe between now and Aug. 9 that a lot of preconceived and phony notions about Lumberton and Robeson County will be swatted aside, figuratively at least, by the crack of a baseball bat.

The county seat and the county get a swing at changing their public profile as 700-plus young baseball players, with their families in tow, drop in for the Dixie Youth World Series that is being sponsored by LYBA and the city of Lumberton.

Many of the 1,500 or so folks who are expected to spend a few days in Lumberton will arrive with luggage packed with what they believe about Lumberton and Robeson County, some of which will be accurate, some bloated, but mostly gleaned from what they have heard from the media — that the city and county are populated with poor people who are under-educated, backward in their thinking, and that violence is beyond control.

It will be up to us to change minds, and that can only be done one at a time. We get a single chance to make a good first impression.

It matters that we do.

LYBA officials, in fighting the tide and bringing the event here, were looking to showcase the city and county. There will be an economic effect that can be measured roundly as visitors spend their dollars here, on lodging, food, shopping, entertainment and the things that get us through a day. These are dollars that are precious in a community as poor as ours, and they will bring some comfort to lives that are routinely difficult.

The potential economic benefits were a primary force behind the construction of Northeast Park, but proponents’ big-bang approach was rejected by voters during a referendum. City officials kept their eye on the ball, however, plowed ahead, and construction has been done in phases.

The facility that sits beside Meadow Road in the northern part of the city is an amenity that major metropolitan areas would be proud to showcase, worth the expense because of the quality-of-life benefits, but recapturing some of those dollars is a bonus.

Harder to measure than the economic benefits will be the impressions that are instilled in those who visit. Among those youths will be future teachers, doctors, business people, who someday might be faced with a choice of starting a career here or elsewhere. Perhaps there will be a future CEO who in 20 years will be deciding where to build a plant and take jobs, and his or her memories of Lumberton and Robeson County will be fond; perhaps a future teacher or doctor will store a memory and decide one day to return here to work and raise a family.

As with the economic effect, there is a multiplier here as well. The young people and their families will return to their communities in 11 states across the Southeastern United States — North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee — with stories to share with their families, friends and neighbors, and it’s important the stories they recount are redeeming.

Beginning now we have a chance to change a lot of minds about Lumberton, this county and our people. The best part is we don’t have to do anything special.

This city and county are rich with a lot of good people who know how to provide some good old Southern hospitality. Just being ourselves will work.

Let’s hit it out of the park.