I have never gotten this much backlash for anything in my life. If you know me, then you know that’s saying a lot. If you don’t know me, let’s just say that I am a constant magnet for the dramatic, and it was once recommended to me to put “Facebook Fight Instigator” on my résumé. I don’t like being a divisive human being, but I also don’t like having big feet. Some things just have to be embraced. My passion for downtown development has become my most recent controversy, and somehow, it is by far my biggest one. I want to explain why this fight, no matter the backlash, is so important to me.
I have to get a little personal to make my point. When I was ready to leave for college in 2012, I was set to go to UNT for undergrad. I spent about 8 hours at freshman orientation before running back to my assigned dorm room and crying into a pillow inconsolably until I worked up the courage to tell my parents that I needed to come home. This was a shock to everyone, including me. I was always outspokenly against spending more time in Amarillo than absolutely necessary upon high school graduation. Completing undergrad in the Panhandle was never in my book, but there I was, realizing that homesickness was a factor I’d unfortunately never considered.
Following the completion of my bachelor’s degree, I knew I was set to go to law school, but I decided to take the highly recommended “gap year” that everyone always boasts. I was told again and again that the “gap year” was a year to build experience, network, and appreciate life before law school kicks me in the teeth. The opportunity to move to Austin for the year opened up like heaven opening in the clouds, and I grasped at straws to leave, but plans fell through suddenly and heavily. Not only did I feel knocked down, but I felt knocked out. Another year in the Yellow City.
Around this time, I started hearing more and more about some dumb baseball park. “Whose stupid idea was that?” I wondered. So I went looking for answers, and I asked questions with the same amount of combativeness that I use when I ask people why they don’t like cats (I can’t help my passion, you guys). I kept getting answers that just didn’t match with my typical skepticism. Why would the people in charge of this city want to do something that seems so good? Their motivations just seem too pure. They keep saying people are against this thing, but when I listen to those people, all I hear is willful ignorance and a fundamental lack of understanding of the project.
As my understanding grew, so did my involvement. I went from researching and asking questions to updating myself on local news and attending meetings. I got my degree in political science, so I’ve always been used to staying obnoxiously up-to-date on current events, but I never in my life thought Amarillo local politics were even a thing. I realized something else as I entered this strange new political arena. There was a massive segment of the population that was conspicuously absent: people my age.
The regrets I had about staying here for undergrad, as well as the depression I fell into when my move to Austin fell through, all dissipated so quickly that I didn’t even realize the light had turned back on in my life. My passion was ignited. We needed to mobilize the young people– and fast! This wasn’t just an opportunity to make something great happen in Amarillo that carried countless benefits for everyone. This was also an opportunity to awaken an untapped demographic in Amarillo.
I have called Amarillo many things in my life. I called it stagnant. I called it a black hole. I called it a few names I can’t even write here because I was an angry young adult with a potty mouth. But here is something I’ve recently started using to describe my hometown: Hopeful. For the first time in my 21 years in Amarillo, Texas, I am proud to tell people where I’m from, and I’m even more proud of my city for moving (slowly but surely) in a positive direction. I will not lie to you guys, especially since you’ve read this far: I’m tearing up just a little bit as I write this.
In 4th grade Texas History, my little heart sunk with shame and disappointment every time a map of Texas lacked our little city. Even though the font was always smaller, I was just glad to see that the mapmakers, and therefore all the other little 4th graders who were reading the same book in classrooms far away, knew we existed too. When I realized how often Amarillo was omitted, my disdain for my hometown grew. I knew that I wanted to be somewhere connected, exciting, and unique enough to be on a map. That little burning flame of hope died out years ago. Thankfully, this project has reignited that hope inside of me.
There is something really different about the way I feel when I go downtown compared to how I felt a few years ago. Something is growing. Hope, ideas, and innovation are bursting at the seams from downtown business owners, elite and humble ones alike. I don’t just see the rumbling of growth. I feel it. New life is slowly spreading into our little downtown. With that, there is a true revolution in our generation of Amarillo-grown millennials who, for the first time, are considering the possibility that Amarillo is the place to be, not the clingy inherited roots to flee from as soon as possible.
So why bother? Because this vision of a thriving Amarillo has stolen my heart. It is why I will continue to keep my head up. I am so proud of what the Amarillo Millennial Movement has already accomplished as we begin a journey to excite young people in this city. I am so inspired by Amarillo’s willingness to move forward and grow. I am so excited to come back to this city following law school to give back to the community that thanklessly gave so much to me. So, backlash is temporary, but the positive future of Amarillo is an ongoing trend that hinges heavily on our willingness to move forward with the downtown project.
That is why I bother.
– Co-Founder Meghan Riddlespurger