What I Just Learned In the 5th Grade

By: Benjamin Lawrence Bradley

These last few weeks, I had the honor of visiting various schools around Limestone County to talk to 5th– and 6th-grade members of 4-H about recycling, beautification, and litter abatement. As I had never been in 4-H myself, I wasn’t exactly familiar with what the program was all about. I looked on with interest as they recited the pledge: “My head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

Heart to greater loyalty and hands to larger service for my community? That sounds an awful lot like my job description here at KALB. Clearer thinking about the community is something that I have found myself working to wrap my brain around. Where I was once oblivious to the trash that littered every corner, I now see it everywhere and it makes me sad. To see the world as it is, and then to consider it as it should be — that is clearer thinking. “To Make the Best Better,” goes the 4-H motto. How can I turn my heart to be more loyal to my community?

The other day, I almost pulled my truck over to pick up an armful of litter carelessly tossed and gathered by the wind into an unsightly pile beside the church on the town square. A crushed cup, lid, and straw cradling a bag of unsightly fast-food dross. I thought to stop and pick it up, but I didn’t. I had somewhere to be. I had something to do. So why do I keep thinking about the decision I made to keep going? Why is it bothering me? I am busy, sure. We all have somewhere to be, but a minute and a half spent picking up that bit of rubbish wouldn’t have made me late for whatever I was on my way to do. Even if I were already late, is there really any relative difference between five minutes late, and six and a half minutes late?

I have identified a shortcoming in my loyalty to the community. In the spirit of KALB, the proper act on behalf of my local environment would have been to spend those ninety seconds exercising that loyalty. I found myself considering my own sense of duty. If I am to preach it, should I not make a greater effort to practice it? I decided then to pledge myself to stopping here a little and there a little, picking up things that don’t belong to me and owning the responsibility of putting them in their proper place.

We surely wouldn’t have time to live our lives if we stopped to pick up all the refuse along our way, but what might be the result if each of us living within the boundaries of Athens City and Limestone County picked up even one piece of litter every day? Just one. An impressive 107,517 pieces of garbage would find its way off our streets, out of our yards, and away from our wildlife. Every day, 107,517 pieces of litter. That’s 752,619 each week, 3,225,510 each month, and nearly forty million every year. Just a single iota of trash once a day. What if you pick up two, three, or even four? That number grows exponentially, and we create a cleaner, more vibrant place to live.

You could outpace the rate of litter in our community by spending ninety seconds a day picking up a bit of mess that you didn’t make. If we own that mess, make it ours, and show just a speck of loyalty to the care of our community, we could pull together and make ourselves the cleanest county in the country. We teach our children to uphold this pledge. Will you step up to the challenge? Good. Let’s get to work.

By: Benjamin Lawrence Bradley – Executive Director, Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful