As I went around Columbia meeting 100 people in 100 days, each one contributed to a mosaic. You start to see themes, connections and even some gaps within these Columbia residents.
To help me show you what I found, I have drawn up six categories Columbians fit into. These are composites, though some were directly inspired after meeting certain people. If you don’t fit in somewhere here, drop me a note and let me know — we should talk!
The Academics: This is a no-brainer, but Columbia is a smart city. Based on Census reports, more than half of the adult population age 25 years or older holds a bachelor’s or higher degree, compared to one-third nationally. In Columbia, the Academics are proud to be associated with a university, but they still have reservations about some way the school conducts itself. The Academics are prize-winning experts, working on their next books. But you wouldn’t know it when you run into Academics as they shop for groceries on a Thursday evening.
The Transplants: As the name suggests, the Transplants aren't from here. Transplants came here for school and never left. Whether they finished their degrees or not is not really important. What is important is that they found a home here and are making it work. They like that CoMo has an evolving identity that, despite the rapid growth recently, has remained friendly and low-key. Transplants have the feeling hipsters get when they are one of the first to discover a new band before it gets too mainstream — they found “cool” before it was cool. Though not native, they still work to protect the city they fell in love with.
The Artists: Not every city of this size has a vibrant arts community, but Columbia does. The Artists are part of this small but energetic collective. They have a firm grasp of a craft and a wellspring of talent. The Artist may work with sculpture, paint, paper, food, ink, music or words — we have them all here. There’s a streak of bold color in their hair, a statement of “Yes!” in a world of “meh.” Fortunately, they're appreciated for making this place more interesting and more colorful, but they also know there are limits to being here.
The Volunteers: Non-profits, community organizations and school groups run on volunteers. Some are really, really good at it. The Volunteer is a do-gooder in a world of gone-wrongs. They can’t help but help. Saturday morning? Food Bank. Wednesday night? Feeding the hungry at church. Next week, rescuing beagle puppies. They wish others were more dependable about showing up for shifts, but their plucky demeanor keeps them from getting bitter. They're part of an under-appreciated, and in many cases, resource-starved social safety net that keeps the greater community from slipping into utter chaos.
The Mavericks: The Mavericks know that they aren't exactly welcomed with open arms by everyone in the community. But as true believers in what they are trying to do, they don't need everyone on board — yet. The Mavericks have a group, or founded a non-profit, or are activists, and they are serving a need or creating a conversation most people don’t even realize is needed — or don’t want to acknowledge. In a different community, they might have more support. Here, there’s an uphill battle, but faith in people keeps them going.
The Townies: The Townies, despite being here all their lives — except for that time they tried to get away and came back — know a bit more about Columbia’s backstory. They remember when Shakespeare’s had just one location or when The Shack mysteriously burned down. They know that Sharp End was lost to ill-advised urban renewal, and how it’s been a long, complicated journey for Columbia to become welcoming for all people. The Townies, despite being raised here, still had to work to find a place for themselves in the community.
I will continue to reach out and meet more Columbians and residents throughout the region, but more important, our journalists will continuously bring more voices into the fold. Keep reading, and you're bound to meet them.