One morning last week after a site inspection I was riding to the office on my red Vespa, and I found myself looking at the big machines demolishing the abandoned Chatham County Jail. Its brutalist architecture was once on display next to the County Courthouse as a kind of warning to all citizens. Then I looked the other way and saw our new Cultural Arts Center under construction, a symbol of hope and aspiration.
In that moment I realized that a dream had been embedded into the landscape of Savannah. It is the dream we have that our children can be encouraged to grow up to be artists, musicians, creators and makers of wonders rather than to be locked inside their limitations.
Helping people to want to hold the instruments of art and performance, not guns. Learning to embrace careers bringing beauty into our community, using their creativity to build trust, instead of giving in to violence, our young people might find their own hopes and dreams.
I learned as a young father that parenting was not just about catching my kids being bad and punishing them, it was even more important to catch them being good and then praising them.
Sadly, we still need to have our newer, larger County Jail. But as my friend Joe Murray Rivers taught me, the point of having that jail is to try and make it empty. For what it costs us to incarcerate one person, we could help ten to find their artistry. Perhaps the next Annie Leibowitz or Miles Davis is just waiting among us to emerge!
This is the mystery of human potential. If you still don’t understand what the Savannah Cultural Arts Center is for, then try to imagine the day when our jails are empty.