LEAP of Faith

Friday, August 30, 2013, Vol. 128, No. 170

A STEP IN SYNC. I have in my possession a rare document, evidence of a shared spark of hope, a light at the end of all the tunnel vision, a warm fire in that cold cave in Nashville.

I have a letter signed by two gentlemen of color – one black and blue, one white and red – pledging cooperation in a state program that could genuinely and uniquely benefit Memphis rather than target and isolate it. Think of it as Auburn and Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Pelosi and Boehner, wet ribs and dry ribs, humans and Klingons – all together to save the universe. I have a letter jointly from and signed by state Sen. Reginald Tate, chair of the Shelby County Legislative Delegation, and state Sen. Mark Norris, Senate majority leader.

Dan Conaway’s book, “I’m a Memphian,” a collection of his Memphasis columns, will be published in October.

Told you it was rare.

But before I put it on eBay, I’m going to hold onto it long enough to see if it works out. If it does, a lot more of us are going to work and it’s going to be worth a lot more than just the words and promises we’re used to around here.

The letter is an invitation to city council chair Edmund Ford and the council to join “A Conversation About Work” to be held next week at the University of Memphis. The letter names various commissioners and representatives from state acronyms, education officials, funding foundations, not-for-profits and important people who will attend and they hope will attend.

The two most important words in the preceding paragraph are conversation and hope. In the case of conversation, we’ve forgotten that progress is impossible unless we can talk to each other.

As for hope, those with the least need of it are systematically removing it from those who need it the most.

What they’re going to talk about next week is LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program), the new law championed by Norris and enacted last year that allows students at Tennessee’s technology centers and colleges the opportunity to combine occupational training in a high-skill or high-technology industry with academic credit and to apply that experience toward a degree.

A conversation between the people who need jobs done, the people who need to teach and train others for those jobs, and the people who need the jobs. A conversation about the pragmatic return of self-worth and community to replace soul-sucking unemployment and under employment. A conversation about a solution to the problem that experts predict is coming in five years – over half of all jobs in Tennessee will require postsecondary credentials beyond a high school degree.

In short, a joint conversation about hope.

Over the past few years, I’ve come after Mark Norris hard in this column, and while I’m not apologizing for that nor he to me for doing things that fry my bacon, I’d like to say this to my old friend. Pull this off and the next one’s on me, and you can name the place.

I’m a Memphian, and we’re about to share a conversation.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.