Columnist Andrea Ayvazian: ‘Make Northampton Kind’ feels like a worthy goal


Published: 6/18/2021 6:23:11 PM

The arrival of a new grandbaby in Austin, Texas, has had my husband and me going in and out of that city with some frequency. She is like a little magnet pulling us back often to that blue dot in a red state.

A place unlike any other city in the state, Austin brags that it is the “live music capital of the world”— which might be hyperbole, yet also might be close to the truth. A haven for artists and activists, with a strong LGBTQ+ presence and progressive politics, Austin is proud of its unique character and reputation — and how the city is an outlier in its own state.

One of the things we love about Austin is the slogan the city uses to promote its identity: Keep Austin Weird.

Keep Austin Weird was adopted in 2000 by the Austin Independent Business Alliance to promote small, local businesses in the city. The slogan has been trademarked, and Keep Austin Weird T-shirts, hats, and mugs are everywhere. Other cities have borrowed the nickname, including Portland, Oregon in 2003, Louisville in 2005, and Indianapolis in 2013.

What makes Austin weird? It’s mainly its progressive politics and activism compared to the rest of Texas, but there are some interesting characteristics that the city clings to with pride: turtle racing is popular, with significant betting on the slow little creatures; the largest urban colony of bats lives under a major bridge and all of them take flight each evening at dusk; there are large, impressive outdoor art installations around almost every corner; taco joints serving breakfast are ubiquitous; and live music is everywhere, including in grocery stores.

Austin proudly touts its desire to be weird and to stay weird, and the presence of that slogan on murals and posters throughout the city made me reflect on my own home town: Northampton. If Austin promotes Keep Austin Weird, what equivalent slogan would Northampton choose?

I have found myself trying on different catch phrases that might, or might not, reflect our city and I find that this is quite a challenge: it all depends on how you experience Northampton, how long you have been in the city, and other demographic considerations. What might we choose for a slogan? Portland, Louisville, and Indianapolis mimicked Austin and now claim that their cities are also weird, and intend to stay that way. What about Northampton?

I have been playing with the idea of Keep Northampton Safe. However, Northampton is safe for some people, but not for everyone. Northampton feels safe to me but I am an older white female and I do not imagine that I am perceived as a threat. So that slogan won’t work.

Maybe we could embrace Keep Northampton Gay. That is worth promoting, but the term “gay” is not inclusive enough, so that won’t work.

Maybe we could embrace “Keep Northampton Green,” which is a lovely vision. We do have cows grazing in a field at Smith Voc between Northampton and Florence, and we prize many other green spaces within the city limits.

Maybe we could latch on to Keep Northampton Artistic. I know, I know … it is awkward and clunky but it attempts to honor our many visual artists, poets and writers.

I have also considered and rejected Keep Northampton Inclusive, Keep Northampton Open-minded, Keep Northampton Growing, Keep Northampton Affordable, and Keep Northampton Beautiful.

I rather like Keep Northampton Quirky.

All this pondering about a slogan for Northampton — which borders on foolishness — triggered a memory of a quote that I used to love, so I went back and found those words again.

When speaking about making a prophetic witness, theologian Robert McAfee Brown said: “Where you stand will determine what you will see; whom you stand with will determine what you hear; and what you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.”

Given the truth of McAfee’s words, maybe there is not one slogan for Northampton that can be applied to everyone. There is not one truth but multiple experiences of what it is like to live in Northampton depending on the intersection of a person’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, physical and mental ability, housing status, religion and age.

Who we are, where we stand, whom we stand with, and what we see and hear determine how we experience Northampton and what we would like to keep, and what we would like to change.

But maybe we don’t need to keep Northampton anything. Maybe we need to make Northampton something. Maybe “keep” is the wrong verb entirely.

My new thought is to look forward and strive to make Northampton a safer, more affirming, more just, and more welcoming community for everyone. My suggestion for a slogan is Make Northampton Kind.

Make Northampton Kind is not the answer to all the challenges that face our city, it is not the perfect slogan, and it is not the final word. But Make Northampton Kind feels like a worthy goal, and it is something we can work on every day.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian of Northampton is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership.

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