Have you ever had the feeling that you were being bopped on the head by the divine after hearing a reoccurring message over a short period of time? Most of us have had some sort of experience with something like this. Most of the time, I am in too much of a hurry or too caught up in my own inner thoughts to catch the message. This time, it came from three unlikely and seemingly unconnected sources in the following order; a leadership coaching session last week, the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce’s annual MLK breakfast last Friday morning, and a singer-songwriter concert last night.
First, at the end of an hour of critical thinking and problem-solving, my leadership coach, Paul Schmitz, asked me a question which sparked a strong response from me. The questions was, “In light of being a community foundation whose main purpose is to make grants to local nonprofits in their efforts to support the needs of local citizens, citizens struggling with access to mental and physical health care, struggling with access to healthy foods, and struggling to find affordable and safe housing, how are you dealing with the future uncertainty of policy around these key areas AND additionally the potential changes to tax policy that might impact individuals and corporations in their efforts to support your community philanthropically?” Well, that was a very big question. After a short silence, I responded by saying, “All I know is that we have really strong relationships in our community across sectors. When it comes to local, regional and state issues, we know each other. We have practice working together in a different way to actually get work done. We have experienced success in changing systems that aren’t working effectively for our community. We have invested the time and relationships to build police and community trust. We have invested the time and relationships to talk about how we can improve education in our community, knowing that it takes the whole community working together. We have invested the time and relationships to receive the very competitive State Innovation Model grant to improve and to radically redesign the system of our community’s health. We are working hard to talk openly and honestly about how race influences our work. We have much more to do, but we have built a culture of collaboration that prepares us to have these constructive conversations and for whatever comes next.”
At the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Friday morning, the room was packed with over 470 leaders, from 7th Graders from our local schools to the Director of AARP Michigan. This event is a celebration of our community’s commitment to Challenge Day, to help middle school children be the change they want to see. As you probably remember Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” The “Be the Change” movement is designed to inspire peace, create hope and challenge everyone to find their affinity for all people. Our community over the course of the last 10 years has focused on starting our leadership training early, with 7th graders. To help them understand that they have the power to notice what’s happening in the world around them, to choose actions that create positive change, and to act as a role model for kindness and compassion. This is probably the best leadership training we could possibly find and not just for middle school students…
And last night, I had the great pleasure to go on a date with my husband. We braved the rainy, and at times, icy roads to Ann Arbor because we are lovers of authentic, singer-songwriter music. He scored tickets to a “living room” concert featuring the lead singer of Hold Steady, Craig Finn. He is touring across the Midwest to share his new solo album entitled "We All Want the Same Things". At the very beginning of the concert, he explained to us that he made a conscious decision to roll out his new album this way, in small, intimate settings. He wanted to have a chance to build community with the people willing to take the chance and show up, concert by concert, in a way that allows for real people listening to and talking about music, the way it is created, and the way it impacts the people listening to it. As the title of the album alludes to, his songs play off the idea that we all want the same things; safety, freedom, wellness, connection, purpose, and love.
I started nodding my head. Sitting there with this group of strangers, I made the connection, through music this time, which made me certain that the experiences of the last week reinforce what I already knew. It helped me find a calm and renewed sense of purpose. Although we may disagree about how to get things done, Jackson is a community that is practicing. We are practicing and improving how we work together, how we refine our strategies to change and grow our community, how we communicate and collaborate across sectors, how we prepare our current and future leaders, and how we are all in this together and want the same things. At the Jackson Community Foundation, we spent the better part of the last year working on our new Vision statement. We envision a thriving community where all people have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. I know we’ve got this, especially if we keep practicing together.
If you want to hear Craig Finn, go to NPR’s All Songs Considered at http://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2017/01/09/508607477/hear-preludes-the-first-single-from-craig-finns-new-solo-album