This week at the Obama Foundation Summit, a group of thoughtful and passionate civic leaders gathered to talk about opportunities we all have for engagement and transformation. Featured at this event was the National Rural Assembly’s Whitney Kimball Coe.
Here is the text of Whitney’s talk, and here are some reflections she shared afterward, along with a challenge:
“This week, I had the honor of joining hundreds of civic leaders at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. The experience fortified my belief that civic leadership is for everyone, no matter where you live or who your mamma is.
In rural communities like my hometown of Athens, Tennessee, civic leadership is the daily practice of showing up in small, but consistent ways — at potlucks and funerals, at PTA meetings and choir practice, at football games and city council meetings.
That regular practice of participation is what characterizes our relationships, and it gives us the ability to live and work and worship together in spite of disagreements. It’s hard to dismiss someone when you expect to see them tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
At the Obama Foundation Summit, I learned so much about how people from around the world show up in their communities, and I’m so grateful to take those lessons home with me. Here were a few of my favorites:
Community organizers Necia Freeman, Patricia Keller, and Jan Rader of West Virginia encouraged us to reach out to one person who is hurting and walk with them through their darkness.
Author Bryan Stevenson spoke of the importance of staying in “proximity” to those who are suffering in order to build compassion and better understand the problems we want to solve.
Women’s rights advocate Manal Al-Sharif told us to remember that we all have it within us to be courageous, and to draw on that courage to address inequality in our communities.
At the end of the Summit, President Obama asked us all to fill out commitment cards to reinforce the lessons and goals we’re taking home with us. He told us they don’t have to be big and lofty — they should be achievable within a matter of months.
My commitment is to host a civic dialogue supper in my community about an important local topic. You should make one, too.