Best days are ahead

Confidence and pride have more power than you know

Fireworks are launched from the First Avenue Bridge over the Cedar River during the Freedom Festival celebration in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Ron Corbett makes a toast to the city of Cedar Rapids at a reception honoring the outgoing mayor outside of the council chambers at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. City manager Jeff Pomerantz also unveiled a new portrait of Corbett that was drawn by local artist Kipp Wieland. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

In my very first State of the City address to the people of Cedar Rapids in 2010, as I ended the speech, I asked everyone to raise their glass for a toast. The toast was to Cedar Rapids — our best days are still ahead of us. I could see by the looks of some in the audience that not everyone may have felt that way. And as I interacted with the community, there was a sense of doubt that our best days were ahead. Community confidence was certainly shaken, and for good reason. At that time, we were still in the beginning stages of recovery from the devastating flood of 2008.

However, I learned at a very young age the power of community confidence and pride. When I played in the state championship football game in 1978 for the Newton Cardinals, I saw this pride in a tangible way. That year the community rallied behind our football team. The pride was expressed in a slogan — Red Pride — which still adorns the water tower in Newton. During that time, I learned the power of community confidence.

The best way to build confidence and pride is to show progress — to build things, improve things … to get things done. It’s amazing how the tangible can influence the intangible.

I am often asked, “What project are you most proud of?” I believe they were all important. Some were easier and some were controversial, but they all mattered. They all played a role in the Cedar Rapids story.

If you don’t invest in yourself, why would others invest in you? We have certainly invested in ourselves, and in our future. Today, our public sector investments pale in comparison to what the private sector has invested. We take risks, we rise above and we believe in ourselves. Believing in ourselves has paid off. That payoff has been both tangible and intangible. We see investment and new construction all throughout Cedar Rapids. More importantly, confidence and community pride is abundant.

If you doubt me, just reflect on a year ago in September. The floodwaters were on the rise again, and every one of us were thinking back to 2008, worried it would happen again. But something happened — something unpredictable that a river forecast could not compete with. The swell of community confidence and pride rose up to beat back the river. You, the people of Cedar Rapids, saved your city. You don’t save something you don’t care about. But people cared … and they stood up. People had ownership of the recovery and the rebuilding that had taken place years before, and refused to see it destroyed. That is the power of community pride.

To this day, I reminisce about that championship football game 40 years ago with my classmates. Many in the town of Newton still talk about “Red Pride.” In the same way, I will never grow tired of telling the Cedar Rapids story, because it is a story that needs to be told. People can see the tangible — they can see the buildings, and the homes, and the projects — but it is the intangible story of resiliency, grit, confidence and community pride that makes me proud.

In my second State of the City address, I quoted Freddy Mercury from the rock group Queen’s hit song “We are the Champions.” It says “I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I’ve come through.” We’ve certainly had our share of sand — and water — kicked in our face, but we kept fighting.

Cedar Rapids, you came through. We are the champions.

As my term ends, I want to thank each and every one of you for the opportunity to serve as your mayor. It has been special to have a front-row seat.

Eight years later, I raise another glass and make this toast: “Our best days are still ahead.” I hope you agree.

• Ron Corbett is mayor of Cedar Rapids.