Displacement. Restarting. Two words that kind of make me cringe. You know it’s going to be tough.
Today, on June 3, I celebrate my fifth year anniversary of relocating from White Plains, New York, back to my hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts. A planned dislocation; an eager restarting.
Yet only two days before my move into a new home, hundreds in Springfield, Massachusetts, were tragically displaced from theirs. This week, we’ve read stories and shared memories of the terror that the June 1, 2011, tornado wreaked on the city and the heartbreak and skeletal remains of the neighborhoods that lay in its 37-mile path.
I find myself reflecting on the conflicts I felt that day I drove up Route 91 from Westchester County, New York.
Eager to meet the movers at my sparkling new home on South Street in Northampton, I was smacked by the devastation and ruin of Springfield from the highway. Springfield, where I had been working for months on a new marketing campaign for the city with Barbara Moffat (then Campanella) of Western New England University, Jane Albert of Baystate Health, and John Garvey of GCAI Associates. Springfield, a city not unlike the neighborhoods of Queens and New York City where I had worked for 30 years. Springfield, a city I truly believed had promise for better days to come.
Unpacking boxes in my new home on June 4, carefully unwrapping dishes and china─nothing was broken, nothing was lost, everything was in order. But my heart was torn in two. How dare I peacefully set up a beautiful new home, when just 20 miles to my south families were desperate to reassemble their lives, homes and belongings torn asunder?
I dropped everything and signed up with the American Red Cross, calling on displaced families living in makeshift shelters to connect them to resources. I called on extended families in which only the teenage children spoke English. I went to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on St. James Avenue and to the Basilica of the Holy Apostle on State Street to help parishioners sort through the overwhelming masses of clothing donated for the tornado victims.
Five years later, there is a new kind of silent displacement happening in Springfield: Churches, retailers and restaurateurs are being forced by MGM Casino developer to move out of the same South End section devastated by the tornado. Grocers and pizza restaurants, hair salons and clothing shops are receiving loans, in some cases, to find a new community, a new town, or a new neighborhood in which to restart.
Once again, I plan to help those displaced from Springfield in some small way. My client, Common Capital, is asking me to provide marketing assistance to small businesses that MGM has forced to relocate.
The past five years have been a commencement for me, a new beginning, after the loss that comes with being displaced. I only wish to be able to offer the same to these Springfield small business owners.