Are you disgusted? I am, and not only be the racial slurs. It’s bad when national media proclaim that a town or city is dangerous, miserable, “the asshole of the universe.”* Rockford’s crime rate, poverty and unemployment rate are problems but the community knows that. Little makes a person seem less interesting than not being interested in the space around them. It doesn’t reflect badly on the place; it reflects on the person, making them seem negative and unobservant.
Fortunately, some Rockfordians dedicated to improving their city’s reputation. Our City, Our Story is a community storytelling project that creates short documentaries about locals working and living in Rockford. I stumbled across their homepage two days before moving here and, after watching two or three videos, was seduced. Exhilarate Rockford is a website dedicated to appreciating and improving the city that developed in the response to the negative Urban Dictionary definitions. Residents post lists of favorite places around town, things they want to improve and descriptions of what they love about Rockford. It’s heartening to read people’s expressions of love for their home.
I used to assume I would hate the next place I lived but the places always proved me wrong. My life would be no better, I would be planning the same future, deal with the same anxieties. If I can embrace the adventure of moving spontaneously to Vietnam, I can embrace the adventure of living in Rockford.
Besides, compassion, change, liberation and strength are messages of hope everywhere.
E. State Street, downtown Rockford, IL.
*I did not make up this phrase. It came from Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which you should read this minute), in which it describes the town of Swindon, England. A friend who once lived in Swindon assured me that the insult was justified, though I am certain the town probably has redeeming qualities.