By Barney Blakeney
From Day 1 I knew the shared Future Project would be an issue. I’ve done some time serving on boards of directors. They’re double-edged swords – they offer excellent and meaningful opportunities to give back, but they’re time-consuming and often require some financial investment as well. Ultimately I think they’re well worth the effort. Despite some recent negative reports about the project, I think it’s probably one of the better things to come down the pipes for Charleston County schools in a minute.
I kinda got hoodwinked into serving on the Shared Future Project scenario team. A friend (and I use the term loosely considering what he’s got me into) called a few months ago as I prepared for an interview with a political candidate. I hate political stories. The candidates always say they’re going to change the world – yeah right! But writing stories is what I do for a living. So I write my stories and wait for the next election cycle.
My friend was telling me he had a project for me that really could make a difference. The committee which was focused on Charleston County School District dynamics he said, would only meet a few times over a couple of months, I’d only have to give my input and it would be over. Because I’ve been critical of the district over the years, some folks thought I should be a part of the project, he said.
Normally, I don’t do a lot of meetings. Black folks love their meetings. It sounds so professional – “I’ve got a meeting.” Usually it ain’t nothing but a bunch of Negroes sitting around talking about stuff they already know – and if it ain’’t about a crab crack, cotillion or raffle, nothing much ever comes of them. I don’t need meetings to boost my ego. I use alcohol for that.
Anyway the guy says this group’s not going to meet forever. We would talk about some problems and solutions then keep it moving. I figured I could live with that. If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I’m always willing to give some time and energy to solutions. As a citizen in this community, I’m obliged to put in a little sweat equity. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
The first meeting of the group was a three-day stint at Folly Beach. That doesn’t sound so bad, huh? Except the stint was to begin 2 p.m. on Tuesday and run over two nights through late Thursday afternoon. My deadline for this paper is Tuesday. That meant I had to wrap up my newspaper work early, leave my home and go to a hotel room at Folly Beach.
I’ve spent a few nights in hotel rooms in strange cities. You’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all. I wasn’t thrilled about leaving my house to go to a hotel room at Folly Beach. I love the water, I love the beach – but I wasn’t anxious to go to a hotel room 15 miles down the road to stay at Folly Beach. And no offense to the folks at The Tides Hotel, but that ain’t no 5-star hotel, okay?
So I get to the hotel, expect to check in, do a meet and greet then chill. I expected that first night would be relaxing. Instead I’m directed to a conference room, given a name tag and told to take a seat in a circle of chairs. Ya’ll, it was on! Them folks started us to working before we even checked in – went straight into training! We broke at 6, checked in and was back by 7 for a working dinner. That was the routine for the next two days! At work by 8 a.m., working through meals and shut down at 9 p.m.
I took my laptop thinking I could get some newspaper work done while I was there – maybe at night after the work sessions. Big mistake! It was all shared future. They gave us homework! Stuff to study and be prepared to discuss the next morning. Yeah we walked on the beach alright. During lunches they made us pair off with anybody as long as it was someone you didn’t know, walk the beach either before eating or after, and discuss our thoughts about the system and what was needed to fix it.
Most of the 27 of us were folks like me, self-employed taking time from their businesses. One guy said he looked around the room and figured the district probably couldn’t afford to pay most of them for their hourly time. Heck I was losing money on the deal and there were people there who charge several hundred dollars per hour for their time.
But it was some helluva training! I’ve previously served on boards that sent me to training conferences. I’ve never experienced anything like what I got from REOS. It was intense, it was constant, it made us reach down into our souls. At the end of those two and one-half days I had become akin to some people with whom I share almost nothing in common except a desire to improve our schools.
That Thursday I left Folly Beach feeling as if I had been reborn, refreshed with a new spirit. And I hated parting with my new friends. But over those couple of days of intense training I realized that our mission was not just to conduct a few meetings and give some input on what we thought about the school district. We were being trained for the long term mission of transforming our schools. We’ve met two more times in similar sessions of intense training over several days – in October and again in November right after Thanksgiving. It required commitment.
We’re still meeting. We’re figuring how to reach others, to help others become engaged in producing a more positive outcome for our children. Since this thing began I’ve heard concerns about what this is costing the district and taxpayers. Trust me it’s costing the scenario team partners a helluva lot more. Like my friends on the scenario team, I think the time we’ve spent and the time we have yet to spend is worth it. I’m not into a lot of meetings and boards and such. But this Shared Future Project thing began at the Tides on Folly Beach and I’m going to ride this tide back onto the beach. I invite you to ride the wave. Cost be damned on this one. 2035 here we come!