Many people think this country isn't on the right track. Divisiveness and acrimony have spilled into our public discourse, undermining our confidence that we can get things done together. But how can we move in the right direction and put this country and our communities on a better path? And how can we make community a common enterprise again?
There are no easy answers, but there are practical steps we can take. We need to start by focusing on our shared aspirations—what we can agree on, and not what divides us. We also need to spend more time talking about our shared responsibilities and create can-do narratives to show examples of people uniting to work for the common good. This is possible if we choose a path of hope and spend more time talking about what's right instead of what's wrong.
I'm in Jackson this week to work with area leaders on these practical steps. I'm excited about this because I believe people in the community and across the state share many of the same aspirations—aspirations that all leaders must use as a guidepost for making decisions together. Otherwise, their actions may become disconnected from the very people they serve.
Indeed, many people have lost faith that we can come together and get things done. The task before us is to create shared work, with people crossing dividing lines, to instill confidence that change is possible.
I felt this yearning for change in Mississippi years ago when I came to the state to work on issues like education reform and building a better economy. I spent weeks traveling across the Delta interviewing area leaders and talking to residents and businesspeople about their aspirations for a better future.
Today, in Jackson and across the state, I'm hearing that people from all walks of life and diverse communities are coming together in areas like education to make the best use of community resources and create pockets of change.
One example of these efforts is Excel By 5, a statewide network where people of shared mind and purpose are implementing and promoting best practices for improving a child's overall well-being by age 5. The organization is now marking its 10th anniversary of helping children get the right start in life. In addition to speaking at Excel By 5's Community Collaboration Summit at the Jackson Convention Center, I'm meeting with the leaders of Parents for Public Schools—an organization where I served in different capacities for almost a decade.
On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., I'll talk about ways the community—and the country—can come together when I speak at Millsaps College's Community Forum.
These efforts are part of my cross-country Reclaiming Main Street campaign that I began last year. The multi-year initiative was started by my organization, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. I began the Institute more than 25 years ago to teach and coach people and organizations to solve pressing problems by turning outward—toward their communities, not inward toward themselves. Because only then can we begin to find a better path forward.
Jackson, just like other communities across the country, faces many challenges . But by coming together, people can forge a new path forward and show the rest of our country that they can get things done.
Together, we can show that there is more that unites us than divides us. Together, we can pave a new, more hopeful path of hope and shared aspirations.
Rich Harwood is founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation based in Bethesda, Md. The Institute teaches and coaches people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.