Wow it’s kind of crazy to think it’s been one year since the founding of Rockford Proud (and one whole year I’ve gotten to constantly bombard my Facebook friends with these posts). It’s been a pretty amazing and fun hobby of mine but I want to tell you more about its beginnings.
As many of you know, last summer I had the great fortune of interning in the Mayor’s Office at Rockford City Hall (disclaimer: nobody there asked me to set up Rockford Proud or promote Rockford in anyway. I happily filled this niche on my own volition). I met our City Administrator, Jim Ryan, and if you know Jim then you know he’s a walking, talking Rockford fact machine. I saw myself as a kind of Rockford connoisseur before my internship—I followed all local media and spouted out the importance of my home region to my friends—but I couldn’t (and still can’t) compete with Jim to save my life.
Every day, Jim nonchalantly mentioned another random fact about Rockford and some of them were so unbelievable that I had to look them up myself (and sure enough, they were all true). I thought I knew a lot about Rockford, but boyyyy I was wrong. And then I thought, if I didn’t know most of these stories (as Rockford-obsessed as I am), how would a normal Rockfordian?
I looked all over social media to find a Facebook page that actually promoted Rockford, and besides Go Rockford (the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau’s page) there was nothing. No one who wasn’t getting paid to promote Rockford was promoting Rockford.
I’d say that surprised me, but it really didn’t. When it comes to citizen-run pages, we somehow have three very successful pages that showcase Rockford’s past, a police scanner page with double the fans of the Register Star and Eyewitness News combined, and a (now-defunct/now-transformed) satirical news site that truly enjoys mocking this community; but not a single page that talked about why this place deserves our community ownership.
There were (and still are) so many community-disruptive pages and narratives out there it’s no wonder people think Rockford is worthless.
I planned to change that.
I wanted to create a Facebook page that showcased the facts and stories of Rockford’s past, present, and near future but I had an early problem: what the hell do I call it?
Facts of Rockford? Rockford Facts? Cool Rockford?
A minute before I launched the page it was going to be called Rockford Pride but as you might have guessed, I realized it could get mistaken for something else.
I finally came up with Rockford Proud and wrote my first “Did you know” on July 7th, 2015: Did you know the original Illinois State Flag was designed in Rockford? #rockfordproud
Audience reach was low and still fluctuates depending upon the post, but now I reach thousands of people and not all of them are from the Rockford region either! Some of my more wildly popular posts (such as Rockford being the birth place of Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid) have gone global.
The best part of running Rockford Proud is watching the community take ownership. I get Rockford haters commenting on various posts every now and then and sometimes a random person fights back! This is our town. This is where we were born or where we grew up or where we call home. We know and volunteer to combat its problems without consistently bashing the community at the same time. It’s because of this community ownership that we feel compelled to make it a better place for everyone.
Since last year, two other great sites have joined me in not only promoting Rockford but they also urge people to shop, dine, and volunteer in our region: State & Eight and Happy Rockford. I highly recommend checking out their websites.
It’s exciting to see the shift in conversation about Rockford. The pastime of bashing Rockford is slowly becoming just that: a past time. The more we take ownership of our community, the more we transform our community.
Rockford is once again finding herself and I couldn’t be happier to help spur her along.