Choosing Macon: Rachelle Wilson
By Rachelle Wilson
Photography by Maryann Bates
“What do you think about … brain drain?”
The inquiring eyes of three high-school-aged Moroccan girls awaited my answer with pen and paper in hand. The Peace Corps had brought me to a small village in the foothills of the Mid-Atlas Mountain range, about 70 miles east of Marrakech. I agreed for the teenagers to interview me for their English project, but had not expected to be asked about such a nuanced topic.
It was true of this village, as in many places, that the young talent often goes to big cities for college and rarely returns. I can’t blame them. Cities hold more opportunities and are often more progressive. For a Moroccan girl, a city could be her only hope of a future beyond marriage and motherhood. Yet,I wondered how the community might look if more of its sons and daughters returned to share their experiences and knowledge.
I answered their question, emphasizing the importance of giving back to the communities that give so much to us when we’re young. True and sustainable change, I said, can only be driven from within. As I spoke of investing in one’s hometown, the irony of my being halfway across the globe from my own began to gnaw at me.
My family moved to Macon when I was a child and, to me, it was home. But when I moved to Atlanta at age 18, my trajectory was international. Every decision I made was curated to propel me into life as a foreign service worker. My path was set – and Macon was not on it.
But in the months following this “brain drain” conversation, I couldn’t get Macon off my mind. Had I abandoned my home? I vacillated between feeling as though my decisions had been thoroughly self-interested and questioning whether Macon wanted anything I had to offer.
And then the shooting happened in Charleston, S.C. And then churches in Macon caught fire. And then I couldn’t get Macon off my heart.
I had always loved Macon. Aside from having an alluring historic charm, I felt an acceptance no other place quite captured. Most of my formative years were spent at my church, Harvest Cathedral. It drew members from many zip codes and was diverse in every sense of the word.
When I left Macon, I began to realize the acceptance, love and unity I found with my friends from Harvest Cathedral was special, if not rare. Eight years stood between Macon and my residence in Morocco, and though my family had since left, Macon still felt like home. I found myself meditating on how I could make a difference. My own words came back to me: True and sustainable change can only be driven from within.
As my commitment to the Peace Corps neared an end, I had no idea how my internationally-focused education and experience would serve me domestically, but I knew I had to go home. I knew I had to choose Macon. So much had changed in 10 years. I no longer had family here, few friends, even fewer connections and no resources. But I had a love for the community, a passion for change, a global perspective, a commitment to unity and a church to call home.
Every day I spend here, I know I made the right choice – and I am not alone. Yes, many leave to pursue an education and find careers elsewhere, but there are those of us who return–more than you probably realize. We could be anywhere in the world, truly, and we choose Macon.
My return to Macon was born out of a conviction that I am necessary, in the same way that you are necessary, to be part of building a community to be proud of–a South to be proud of.
Too long has the South been known for conflict and intolerance. Macon can be a place that takes steps to right the wrongs of the past by taking responsibility and giving opportunity; a place that dresses the wounds of the present by listening to understand, accepting fault for mistakes and redirecting actions; a place that promises hope for the future by standing shoulder to shoulder to face the unknown together; a place that I call my home.
Macon has room for my ideas, my passion, my love. Macon has room for me; it has room for you. So, tell your story, use your voice, share your heart and love your neighbor. This is our home. Let’s make it the best we can.
Rachelle’s story launches a new series entitled Choosing Macon, which will feature individuals from our community who, after some time away, have returned to share their skills and talents here.