LIFT: Foundations

Many citizens erroneously believe that the isolationist behaviors of the City Leadership teams of the two Texarkanas circa 2009-11 were the motivation for LIFT; the actual original motivation for LIFT was our community’s seeming inability to move forward on beautification, and building pride and on overcoming apathy for citizen engagement.  

The motivation for the Community Leadership Initiative now known as LIFT is captured in the following report, taken from a letter sent to LT graduates in March 2010:  

The Motivation... 

In 2009, Leadership Texarkana began ramping up the “engagement” function of the Leadership Texarkana program- to get beyond mere facts and figures, and to better explore the challenges and opportunities we have in Texarkana, USA.   

Over the course of the 2009-2010, the LT class heard about numerous programs and initiatives which are truly exciting and demonstrate Texarkana’s ccommitment to excellence.  Texarkanians have many reasons to be proud.  

At the same time, as the class debriefed virtually every session, there was a recurring awareness that, along with the successes, we have even more numbers of incredibly virtuous, hard-working groups in Texarkana, which are working in relative isolation from their natural partners - specifically, from other groups and individuals who share similar dreams and goals. The efforts are not necessarily coordinated. 

The significance of that reality hit home when several of the 2010 LT class presented a program to the Wilbur Smith Rotary Club, when the class representatives touched on several Texarkana issues which concern them most. Those issues included:  

  • obstacles to community pride, from curb appeal to our undeveloped State Line Avenue and downtown assets,
  • overall community beautification,
  • as well as the challenge to community self-talk of not having a local TV network affiliate nor other widely available means for knowing all that we have to take advantage of and be grateful for.

As part of the program, the class also solicited Texarkana wisdom from Rotarians. Two responses hit hard:

  • From a now-retired community leader who had been instrumental at Leadership Texarkana's beginning 30 years ago: "My God, we are beating the same dead horse as we were when we first began."
  • From a business leader and former elected city official: "...we're charitable enough, religious enough; we've got plenty of education, plenty of groups and commitment; [but] we're not united to make our community great."

All Texarkanians know the challenges in Texarkana of working across boundaries, but something about the “dead horse picture” combined with the “we ARE smart enough!!” comment was catalyzing.

Why, if we ARE smart enough, and committed and charitable enough, can we NOT quit beating the same horse?

Several years ago, LT leadership was sent a Chamber document from FORTY years ago, written by community leaders, which outlined Texarkana’s new community-wide goals; more than a few were goals which we are STILL pursuing and which could have been written today. 


Why is it that we keep talking about the same goals - and dreams - for forty years - but we can’t seem to effectively turn that talk into action and “get there?”  

Can we work together?  If we say that we can’t, what are we saying about ourselves?

We’ve proven over and over that we CAN work together to achieve whatever we put our minds to.  We are at heart a community of excellence, and where we achieve excellence, it is because we are working together, united in some goal for the good of all, working cooperatively through all sectors: public, private, non-profit.  That is the lesson - and the opportunity.  

If our community has as its primary core value EXCELLENCE - then unified efforts matter;  WORKING TOGETHER to overcome obstacles and to reach our dreams is a given, and reflecting our deep values of COMMUNITY PRIDE and PROGRESS, is a basis for ACTION.

Since our citizens keep setting the same goals, they must know what we want as a community, yet we keep spinning our wheels.

How much FARTHER and FASTER and SMARTER might Texarkana progress on key issues (from those identified by the LT class, to those from forty years ago.) if we changed our plan of action?

What if we regularly worked with our natural partners from the public, private, non-profit worlds, from throughout the metro area and across the state line?  

What if natural partners who shared common goals, dreams and obstacles, routinely pursued the power of communicating, coordinating, and cooperating with one another? 
         How much more excitement and community commitment would we be able to generate?
         How much more effectively could we leverage needed resources of money and talent?

As many of the community leaders who speak annually to the class reiterate: 

“We are in tough economic times!  If ever there was a time to pursue untapped opportunities for adding excellence to our community for competitive punch, this is it!”

It IS harder to make things go in a community like ours; a community like ours requires all to be super-leaders.  But, Texarkanians ARE smart enough, and charitable enough.  And excellent enough.

Excellence. Working Together. Pride. Progress. 
The questions are: What are the possibilities? 
And what role, if any, might LT play?

Leadership Texarkana’s goal is to CONNECT and ENGAGE leaders for the well-being of the community, and from that context we need to ponder the possibilities for turning talk into action.  

The Road from There

Based on this State of the Community letter in March 2010, Leadership Texarkana officially voted to refine its mission statement in April 2011 to "WORKING TOGETHER for community excellence pride and progress," to reflect both the priority need for Working Together for achieving community excellence, as well as to reflect the enduring community VALUES expressed for decades in citizen input.  From this point, all Leadership Texarkana programs and activities were reviewed and revised as needed, so they could best align with the clarified mission focus.

Following months of planning by a Leadership Texarkana Board team, the Community Leadership Initiative focus was officially announced to the LT membership at the organization's Fall Membership Party in October 2011, with the first use of the name LIFT: The Leadership Initiative for Texarkana, for the various LT efforts which would go beyond just conversation with LT grads, to engage the greater community in conversation about the leadership needed to achieve community excellence. 

"The relevant question is not simply what shall we do tomorrow, but rather what shall we do today in order to get ready for tomorrow.” 
-Peter Drucker

In order to ensure that the LIFT effort would have the credibility and the gravitas needed to effect Community Culture shift to motivate new ways of doing business and new outcomes, LT formed a LIFT Community Advisory Team of LT grads and members that included the Presidents of TAMU-T and TC, Bix Rathburn and James Henry Russell, Curt Green, Chris Karam, JoAnn Rice, along with the Chamber's Charles Nickerson, in addition to LT Board members Naomi Byrne, Gene Erwin, Cheryl Brown and Eric Cain. The Team was chaired by LT Director Fred Norton, Executive Director Ruth Ellen Whitt.  

The LIFT Team held its first meeting in January 2012.  The question was: How might we best move our community from Talk to Action in changing our community's outcomes and the propensity to settle for Half as Nice, rather than working together for community excellence.  

Although LIFT’s original motivation in 2010 centered around our lack of progress around issues of beautification and pride producers, by March of 2012, the LIFT Team determined that the priority issue for the community was to have the leadership teams of the two Texarkanas talking and Working Together.  Consequently, a year of planning began for LIFT IN ACTION:  The Joint City Leaders’ Summit of January-February 2013.