My name is Codney Washington. My hometown is called Pine Bluff, located in central Arkansas (about 40 miles south of Little Rock). It’s a relatively small college town with a population of about 43,000 people.
As a pilot, I enjoy the aerial view of a seemingly picture-perfect town, yielding the vision of a utopian town most people dream of.
When I think about Pine Bluff what immediately comes to mind are scenes of a lake, complete with fishing piers and walking trails. It sits right off the Martha Mitchell Expressway, our city’s main thoroughfare.
I think of opening
day and fun
at the Pine’s Mall that opened in 1986 when I was just 16. I smile reflexively when I think of the boys and girls club, or the little league teams of various sports, the many parks with beautiful pine trees that provide shade from the summer sun.
Some would say, and even I will admit, that the landscape of Pine Bluff is a shell of what it once was. We have a declining population, vacant homes and buildings, an increase in violence primarily among the young population – it needs renewal.
But it’s not all bad. The residents are friendly, and a stranger here wouldn’t be a stranger for long.
I personally still see Pine Bluff as a vibrant, friendly town and a community that cares about its youth. When I think of scenes of summertime on the lake, I think about the summer youth program at the local university. Programs like these – that’s where my heart lies.
I grew up with extremely supportive parents. My mother was in education for over 30 years. She had a natural propensity to work with youth and she truly excelled at it. I would say it's in her DNA, and by default mine. Reflecting on my life beginning in young adulthood, I noticed a progression in involvement with youth usually in the form of mentoring.
She started with Big Brothers Big Sisters and eventually became involved with many other various mentoring programs. That interaction, those relationships, it rubbed off on me.
When I was a full-time building contractor, I would hire teenage boys during the summer and weekends. It was often their first job.
With youth it’s a bit abstract, it’s not anything specific as much as it’s the light you see in their eyes, the curiosity you hear in their voice, and the excitement they have to participate. Kids are naturally drawn to people that care
and show consistent interest in their development no matter how subtle it may be.
For whatever reason, I look at a number of kids in our community, and to be quite honest, I just see this need for someone to be involved in their lives in a positive way that helps them develop their potential. Someone who’s involved in a way that helps them create lasting memories, helps them develop into the person they want to become, helps them to the point of creating the same desire to become an asset to their community and feel the need to give back to it.
Over the past 30 years that drive for constant community involvement has developed into a desire to make vocational and entrepreneurial development programs my primary focus. Quite naturally, I have an attachment to the Pine Bluff community, and my involvement with the youth there over the last 10 years has created a desire within to help develop their potential – develop the potential of our future communities.
There are two main issues that persistently stand in our way.
Number one: We don’t always have the funds to facilitate what needs to be accomplished.
Number two: Organizing people with a vision, and finding people who will participate. This is probably the most important part. Not to discount the money, but finding good people with a true desire to serve can be difficult. It feels a little like a hospital with an abundance of sick people needing various forms of treatment – often, we have the facilities to treat them, but simply not enough staff.
With a background in construction, as well as computer software applications, photography, videography, music, and a grab bag of other interests, my current efforts are channeled into a program I developed called the WE Center.
The WE Center is a community facility designed to offer groups and individuals a place to not only think, learn, and play, but to provide the tools and resources to foster entrepreneurship, personal growth, and development.
Our goal is to create an environment that promotes independence, encourages education, and supports the development of small businesses. It starts with basic knowledge and training, but allows individuals to explore possibilities that exist in the world. This could be pursuing formal education and certification (HVAC, welding, music, etc.) or simply working on skills for personal development.
No matter what community you’re from, personal growth is essential. What’s even more essential is that the community works together to help you grow in whatever way they can. I hope that I/we are doing that here in Pine Bluff.
It’s a really good feeling to know that something I did or said made a difference in someone’s life. It’s as if God is giving me confirmation and saying, “keep doing what you’re doing.”
It means that even when you think you’re not making a difference, don’t get tricked into thinking you’re not. Because you are. Sometimes you don’t see the full picture – who am I kidding – you never see the whole picture. This alone really drives home the importance of staying committed to whatever it is you feel God is leading you to do, and have the faith that it all works together.
And in that sense, my focus is more on the individual in such a way that I think if you change the people, you’ll change your community. That would be kind of like my slogan, I guess: change people, change the community. In the end I’m learning how much it's about building relationships – ultimately, that’s the most important thing you can do. Because it truly takes a village.
But in any case, nothing happens overnight. Growth doesn’t happen – good or bad – instantaneously. Real change takes time. The process takes patience.
And even when something negative has developed in us or around us, we must realize that we first have to destroy those inhibiting thoughts or habits. We have to do that before we can start to build a new system. I fundamentally believe that to be true. I just play my role within that system. That’s all I can do.