By Gray Duncan
Oxford Intermediate School Assistant Principal
It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint what exactly makes a thriving community. Some would say numerous entrepreneurship opportunities, some would say strong support for the arts, and some would say quality school systems.
The list is endless, and there is no magic formula to create a strong sense of belonging among locals. However, there is one essential ingredient. Every thriving community is filled with people who are committed to their hometown and making it better.
Like many who were a part of the “greatest generation,” my grandfather often chalked up professional accomplishments as simply being his duty. Those deeds were nothing more than what he was supposed to do at that time in that place. When the moment called, it was his duty to his neighbors and strangers to act for the betterment of everyone who lived and worked in that place he and his family called home. And above all else, he made decisions with humility and a sense of service.
My father jokes about being the only person he knows who has moved to Lafayette County four different times. I, too, spend a good deal of time thinking about our “postage stamp” these days and what it means to me and my family. The Lafayette-Oxford-University (LOU) community is a melting pot of smaller neighborhoods, churches, civic organizations, schools, non-profit groups, and businesses. Each group has something unique to offer to the people who live here, and we all benefit from the support of others. But we must not take this for granted.
For generations, members of Lafayette County have dedicated themselves to this place. They have strived to make it better for future generations, and they have been wonderfully successful. As the LOU footprint continues to grow and expand, we must not forget how we arrived at this point. It was through commitment from public servants like teachers, nurses, and first responders to live and work in a once-sleepy small town. It was through commitment of local businesses to weather economic (and natural) storms in order to remain fixtures of the community. It was through churches committing to neighboring communities when ice storms and tornadoes struck. Lafayette County has always filled each other’s cups when empty.
In order to for us to continue to enjoy all this place has to offer, we all must be willing to commit to this place, to give back more than we have received, and to feel the sense of duty to one another that has been passed on to us.
Small acts can make the greatest differences, so don’t miss easy opportunities to recommit to this place. Take a moment and strike up a conversation with a stranger in the grocery store. Stop and smile at the frustrated fast food employee. Pick up that piece of trash on the sidewalk. Pay it forward in the Chick-fil-A drive-through line (I actually experienced this. Pretty cool.). Find a few hours each month to assist at The Pantry, Rise and Shine Breakfast, or any of our other philanthropic groups. Attend free, local events put on by groups like the Oxford Park Commission and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and support their work. Or just go out and vote in the upcoming elections (Aug. 6 and Nov. 5), arguably the greatest civic duty one has to fulfill.
The LOU community is a special place, one worth writing about, visiting, and retiring to in the twilight years. But we must not forget what made it special, and we must not take for granted the work done before us and the work ahead of us as we prepare to leave it for future generations. We must commit to this place and its people. It is our duty.