I am not a native of the Midlands or even of South Carolina. I have lived in many places, as journalists tend to do. Some of them were great places, but in my seven years in the Midlands, I have found this area to be truly special.
Rev. Dr. Brad Smith, founder of Souper Bowl of Caring, believes Souper Bowl might have failed had it started somewhere other than Columbia. Columbia, he said, “was big enough to have the vision and yet small enough where people were willing to do it and share their gifts and talents.” I could not agree more, and I think his words explain a lot of what makes the Midlands a great place to live.
This is the place where the Nickelodeon Theatre honored David Bowie by showing Labyrinth after the singer and actor died. This is the place where a local radio host and the Five Points Association put together a memorable tribute to Prince in just a few days after his death, and where a huge crowd gathered around a purple fountain to sing into the night. This is the home of a St. Pat’s festival to match any in the country, and of a New Year’s Eve party which draws people from far away to Main Street.
This is a place where many people are devoted to improving the lives of others. This is where Happy Wheels started, with volunteers devoted simply to bringing joy to sick children by delivering toys to their hospital rooms. This is the place where a group called Food Not Bombs quietly gathers each Sunday to feed the homeless. This is a place where volunteers are ready at any hour to go with sexual violence survivors to the hospital and to talk to police, to ensure the survivors need not stand alone. This is a place where this list could go on for pages and pages.
This is the home of the University of South Carolina, a source of pride on many levels. USC is ingrained in the community, and devoted to making it a better place to live. President Harris Pastides, Coach Dawn Staley, Coach Chad Holbrook, and many more are always working to help those in need. USC’s students also give back in ways that defy every negative stereotype of young people. The largest student-run philanthropy on campus, Dance Marathon, has raised more than $2.4 million dollars for Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, including a record $527,810 this school year alone. The students devote countless hours not just to raising money for the kids, but to making them smile. They believe in miracles, and spending time with them and seeing the work they do has made me believe too.
This is the home of SC Equality, of Tell Them SC, of the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, of the NAACP South Carolina Conference, and countless other individuals and groups who work for equality and freedom for those to whom those things have often been denied. This is the place where in just the last few years we have seen gay couples win the right to marry and the Confederate flag removed from the State House grounds in a bipartisan effort. This is the place where a bill similar to North Carolina’s divisive “bathroom bill” was defeated swiftly, as straight and gay people alike stood up to oppose it. This is a place where SC Pride draws tens of thousands to Main Street, and none need fear to show their pride.
This is a place where police are part of the community, where Sheriff Lee Foster of Newberry will point out the best spots for sledding on a rare snow day or walk around town with a cutout of Barney Fife and talk about the lessons fictional Sheriff Andy Taylor can teach us all. This is where Columbia’s deputy police chief ended a protest which might have turned violent with nothing but calm words. “This is Columbia. We’re better than that. I grew up here. We have relationships with the community,” he told me that night. This is where police officers will find a young man a place to fish, or buy an older man a new bicycle out of their own pockets. This is the place Officer Greg Alia, Officer Stacy Case, and others laid down their lives to defend.
The Midlands is not a perfect place to live. No such place exists. It is a place with a great deal to offer, and more than that, a place headed in the right direction. I moved here in 2009 and have on several occasions since, including just this past month, had opportunities to go elsewhere. I declined, and I’m glad I did.
This is a place where there are many great stories to be told, and I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to tell some of them. Share them with me, and I will tell them. This is also a place where I have been lucky enough to find Midlands Anchor, which gives me a voice to share those stories, the small ones as well as the large ones.
We want to be a part of this community. We want to contribute to it by telling those stories, and in any other way we can. If someone needs help, we want to spread the word, because we know there are good people who will bring that help. We want to share the news of the great things happening here in numerous areas. We want to deliver the stories you want to read, and give you the information you want to have at your fingertips. My contact information is below. Get in touch with me any time. I’ll always answer and do all I can to help with anything you need.
Most of all, I can say something about the Midlands I’ve never felt ready to say about any of my previous stops: this is home. Thank y’all for welcoming me.