Graduation Time in ABQ; Get Out Your Lassos

Having been a teacher in Albuquerque for over 20 years has had its ups and downs, and the greatest “up” has been the chance to work with some of the smartest, most inspiring young people on the planet.

Yes, here in Albuquerque.

Example: A colleague and I were discussing some of his current work involving an intern who was a former student of mine. One anecdote and observation about this tremendous student led us to note other stand-out young people we’ve worked with here, and, as the professional glow of having had the chance to work with these kids lingered, we mentally transitioned to a seemingly eternal question of civic selfishness:

How are we gonna keep these kids in Albuquerque?

While crime, A.R.T. or no A.R.T., behavioral health services and business expansion are all important issues here, perhaps none of them equal how important it is to successfully answer this bolded question. How do we keep ’em here?

The flippant answer would be to simply move all the prestigious colleges (Stanford, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, etc.) and workplaces (Centers for Disease Control, Google, AECOM, etc.) where these dazzling kids escape to Burque. Or at least one of them.

Another option tried by many cities in the dog-eat-dog world of intellectual retention is to be like Columbus, Ohio and create an entire marketing campaign geared to not only retaining talent, but having it move there. Albuquerque could do something similar, but there’s the question of expense and, more importantly, the need for some fundamentally shared vision of what our city wants to be.

Like ABQ today, Columbus was once mired in economic stagnancy:

Cameron Mitchell runs a restaurant company headquartered in the Short North, the neighborhood that sparked Columbus’ downtown revitalization. Mitchell, long a Columbus booster, says the city’s success is no accident. On a tour of the neighborhood, he points to North Market, an old local market that’s been turned into a hub of activity. “Twenty years ago … you wouldn’t be caught dead around here at night. There were no hotels here. It was decrepit down here. It was a rundown dead urban core.”

Sound familiar?

And while “C-Bus” does have a trendy webpage and mass transit ad campaign in places like Washington D.C. to draw young people, its best selling point has been to create economic and quality of life development that has kept its smart young people there, thus attracting others to what sounds on its face a dreary prospect: Central Ohio.


Meanwhile, back in Burque, while its natural to have strong differences of opinion on how to move forward, we have an undeniably unnatural vacuum of social and political leadership needed to prod us forward. In the linked Columbus stories, mention is made of the city’s first African-American Mayor, Michael Coleman, and his persistent influence in overcoming the town’s stagnancy.

We don’t have a Michael Coleman here, and we haven’t for a long time, at least as far back as when I got here in 1993. If we could have somehow combined the thinking of Jim Baca with the inherent “asshole who gets things done” nature of Marty Chavez, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now. Maybe not.

Regardless of how that Frankenstein-esque brain meld would have hypothetically played out, we are where we are: wistfully thinking about talented young people who once lived in Albuquerque and are now off in Washington, Palo Alto, New York City, Nashville, Seattle, Denver, Germany, to list just a few places.

If we could keep even half of these kids, young people I’ve personally witnessed in action thinking to myself: “One day this kid is gonna run the world,” I don’t think we’d be mired in this mess. And we’d have such kids from other places moving here, trendy web page or not.

Something to think about as we sit at the many graduations, graduation parties, graduation receptions and other de facto going away shindigs held in coming days. They are like christenings of a beautiful ship likely never to return to this harbor.


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