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Reformer Prophet

by Kelly Chopus

June 5,2006

I am fresh out of graduating from this community’s most intensive leadership development program, Leadership Charlotte (Class XXVII if you are wondering). Like most recent graduates, high school, college, culinary school, I am pondering the meaning of life and my place in it. I consider what ifs, next steps, and applying what I learned about myself and the people I met and places I experienced along the way. Service is an important component of this program, and service is an important component of my life. It continues to shape my outlook on community, faith and governance. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Lucky for me, the Queen City is ripe to model change and participation. How to get it all done is what keeps me up at night---it also serves as my professional motivation. This reminds me of the general themes in my newest (yes, there are more than one) guilty pleasure: HBO's Big Love.  Big Love depicts the life of a modern Utah polygamist family. The series conflict involves the family and the powerful Prophet, the patriarch of the commune and church colony they renounced. My husband and I are hooked. Having lived, loved and reproduced in Salt Lake City, Utah before moving to Charlotte four years ago, the show re-creates for us the magic of living in a theocracy. Tongue in cheek, of course, because living in a theocracy is not as fun as it sounds. The show has it all – the tension of family versus the individual, the inherent discord of the whole versus the one, elements of sisterhood, life lived in service and an evil Prophet.

The show has me thinking about similarities in Charlotte, and some of the challenges our community faces. Where will I be in the decisions we make? How I, and others like me, find ways to give to the community and to individuals in need of friendship and kindness, despite jam packed schedules, will determine if in fact Charlotte is a great city. I will keep giving. First, it makes me feel I can control something….anything. Those of you with children or dogs understand perfectly what I am talking about. I like having input in making things better. Second, doing is believing in the possible. It is active, productive, hopeful and spirited --- adjectives I strive to be on a daily basis. Third, I like to model good behavior for my children. The next generation needs to see leadership and love in action.

Charlotte is very much like Salt Lake City – I often muse “same stuff (religious overtones, lack of a quality anti-establishment faction, traffic and pollution congestion), different state”. One can get as easily involved in Salt Lake (what locals call it) as in Charlotte. Salt Lake has genuinely nice people, most of them not even polygamists. Same in Charlotte---no polygamists here. Service is valued and highly encouraged in both cities, in fact, service is considered its own leadership track. What separates Charlotte from Salt Lake though is the number of fragile neighborhoods and the number of big city issues like crime, poverty and the state of public education. Salt Lake really is a small town. Charlotte hasn’t seen small town status for a while. Sure, decisions get made here as if we were a small town – deep pockets and back room or golf course meetings, but growth is outpacing us.

A friend and I recently dissected with morbid fascination the past few Big Love episodes. He called me a Reformer Prophet, someone who sees the change and is bent on making change. It is a new phrase which could well describe a new movement …and I will conscript immediately him as the first member. I love it! It covers visionary thinking and can-do action--- high praise and compliment to me, and an apt description for the people of Charlotte. Itchin’ to get to work and make a difference. It also is a little “off”, as in dangerous. I like that in a compliment. Reformer Prophet resonates; it rolls off the tongue with gusto. It just might mean I am a force to be reckoned with. That works for me.

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