I have been a 4-H member since I was a little girl. The 4-H motto is to make the best better. The pledge for myself and other 4-Hers is: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living. For my club, my COMMUNITY, my COUNTRY, and my WORLD.” As a youth in Athens County, I was a Junior Fair Board member working in partner with the Senior Fair Board to support the events of the Fair throughout the year and especially during the Fair week.
For years I have attended, participated and supported the Fair, and the youth programs that make it a community togetherness event. I also know a majority of the people who are sitting on the Fair Board as directors. These are good, kind, hardworking community members who truly mean to do great things for Athens County, with a strong focus on providing opportunities for our youth to grow and learn and to “Make the Best Better.”
I have current membership to the Athens County Fair Board, and in the fall I was one of those 33 people who voted to ban selling the (Confederate) items. I have been monitoring the comments regarding the article about Mayor Patterson sending a letter about the city’s expectations over selling of Confederate flag items. I also know many of the people on both sides of the issue who are posting those comments. They are crushing my spirit!
None of the postings seem to be building a bridge for us to make the best better, to teach our children how to handle conflict and how to navigate community issues that involve opposing opinions. The Fair Board directors’ role is to better understand their constituents’ concerns and wishes. For community members, it is our job to clearly share those concerns and wishes, and it is indeed Fair to give them the insight of what you may or may not do if they do or do not make changes regarding the flag issue.
Saying mean things, declaring that the Fair sucks in hateful ways when you are not an active Fair member is not Fair, nor is it helpful for those who are actively participating in the Fair to take mean jabs at those who do not partake in the Fair as we do. Ideally, we really hope the whole community would come and be a part of the Fair and help make it something they would indeed enjoy and take part of.
For those of you who speak negatively regarding the Fair, I am sorry that it is not a flavor to your taste, but it is a good, positive event to many people. If you oppose the selling of the flag items as I do, the question is how do we help others learn that the reason isn’t meant to be a full attack that Fair members are racist, ignorant and unwilling to change.
These things take time and persistence. An issue such as this that makes some of our community members feel threatened, devalued and unwelcome is paired with an ingrained history that many people aren’t even aware exists. It is a fundamental issue, and the more vicious and mean you make the fight, the more people dig in and are unwilling to search their soul to better understand why we feel it needs to change.
I value Mayor Patterson sharing the concerns of the city and the position that selling those items does not align with the city’s values and that it is a concern the city officials are pondering, and it may indeed be an issue that stops them from doing business.
I have a deep connection with 4-H. I volunteer at camp and know most of the youth who attend the Fair to exhibit their projects. While I do not condone the sale of these Confederate products, much like the city of Athens, I will keep insisting that this matter be addressed. However, you will not hear me do so in a disrespectful way or in a way that causes the two opposing sides of this to viciously go to battle.
My vision for the Fair after many years of exhibiting, advising and volunteering, and supporting my three children as they also enjoy their 4-H years, has been that together our community can pull together to make the Fairgrounds look beautiful, to find ways for everyone to have reason to come to the Fair.
We have a beautiful historic building to display antiques, produce, home goods and more that is fairly empty each year. Imagine if we could come together and include Community Food Initiatives and Creating Healthy Communities and our community gardener to come and be a part of the exhibition and competition for first prize and winning top premium for your floral arrangement.
Imagine if every business felt included and sponsored events, structures or activities on a larger scale than we currently operate. We could be a community that unites, coming together in kindness. That is truly what makes things better, what will build our community, and what will be an example to others to change our world.
This is OUR Fair. We want YOU to be a part of it. I want you to keep using your words and sharing the consequences if the matter isn’t discussed and addressed, to be the gentle wind, a friend of the Fair to help get buy-in to why your voice matters.
Time changes many things, and join me in this effort to help the youth of Athens County see how kindness and a strong voice can truly make a difference no matter which side of an issue you are on!
Editor’s note: Autumn Brown of Nelsonville is a 4-H volunteer and past 4-H exhibitor, plus a member (though not a director) of the Athens County Fair Board. Brown serves as director of Integrate Athens, a division of the Athens County Board of Delevopmental Disabilities that promotes inclusion in this county.