Director’s Log | September 2019

A Tale of Two Countries (or States)?

If you are a fan of cohesive communities, it is the worst of times. But it is also the best of times. It is an age of foolishness, but maybe, just maybe, it is also an age of wisdom and inspiration.

I don’t need to tell you about the “worst of times” and “foolishness” part. It is splashed over your TV, dumped into your Twitter feed or oozing out of your paper. This week, it’s played out with blown whistles, impeachment proceedings, accusations of state budget shenanigans and calls for lie detector tests.

The “best of times” and wisdom don’t attract the same headlines, but it is important to be reminded that they exist. The annual MacArthur “Genius” awards are one sort of inspiration, but you can also find it closer to home. Just in the past couple of days, I’d like to share five times I’ve “caught” people being generous and inspiring me – selfishness or partisanship be damned.

  • I spent Wednesday night with a group of private sector product developers and marketers who came together with the help of a group called Product Camp RTP. Here’s an invitation I thought would bomb: come to the Institute for Emerging Issues at the end of a long workday and give us four hours of your time to help them develop innovative public policy solutions to the challenges they are working on: economic mobility, broadband implementation and health care challenges. If you read the headlines, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Instead, we watched 120 of the region’s best thinkers submerge themselves in developing new ideas. Why? I don’t know, but one possibility is that they understood how important those issues are to the state they live in.
  • Thursday morning, I watched as Representative John Fraley, a Republican, and Sen. Don Davis, a Democrat, discussed what the state can do to help adult workers upgrade their skills. As part of the October 15 Emerging Issues Forum (REGISTER!), they were taping a segment at UNC-TV (we’ll post it when available) where we wanted them to calmly discuss their differences on strategies to assist adults. The segment failed miserably – they couldn’t find anything (related to this subject) that they disagreed on.
  • Then I had a chance to speak for a few minutes with Pearce Godwin, founder of the Listen First Project. Pearce could be a high-powered (and high paid) political consultant somewhere. Instead, he’s devoted his past five years to trying to convince people across North Carolina to start talking and listening to each other. IEI brought him in to help us launch our “Civic Conversations” this summer, and I got to watch him and be reminded of what passion looks like. Need hope? Meet Pearce.
  • From there it was off to Asheboro, where I had a chance to meet with three of the leaders of our KidsReadyNC group (supported in part by The Duke Endowment, the Belk Foundation, and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center). During a podcast interview (be on the lookout!), Lisa Haywood, Micki Bare and David Allen talked about how they are helping to forge a coalition of elected officials, child care administrators, providers, parents and businesses to get all of Randolph County’s children to school healthy and ready to learn. Then at dinner I got to be part of a broader community celebration bringing together the whole team working on the project. It’s a community cohesivist’s dream!
  • And just when I thought I had all the hope my analog twisted cable brain could process, I heard from two of the communities we are working with as part of our ReCONNECT to Community cohort. Edgecombe County and Elizabeth City (both supported in part by the State Employees Credit Union) have launched independent efforts to form new coalitions of citizens to move forward community priorities. On Thursday, they got together, and, even from Asheboro, I think I could see the sparks fly.

There will never be a shortage of people willing to tell us the sky is falling, and for sure there are some cracks. But it’s good to be reminded that there are earnest, optimistic repair crews out there, too, in every one of our backyards, quietly, patiently mending the breach, making the worst of times a little better and the best of times great.