On Aug. 21, 2017 I had the privilege of being in Hopkinsville, Ky. to experience the most amazing natural sight I have ever or likely will ever witness – the total eclipse of the sun. There were many aspects to that experience that impacted me, but one of the most significant was the diversity of the people who came together to view the eclipse in this small Midwestern town. There were young and old, people of many races, multiple languages – there was a busload of what I can only describe as hippies from the ‘60s! It was a wonderful assortment of humanity.
And everyone was nice. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was polite. With so much diversity in a contained space, there must have been innumerable possible conflicts and disagreements and arguments and probably some outright fights. But there was none of it. The common cause of the total eclipse allowed for unity in the presence of great difference. Heck, even the traffic in and out of the place was good-natured! The common thing that brought us together, and which was bigger than any one person, “eclipsed” the differences so that for that time, the differences were insignificant.
On Sept. 26, at the closing session for this year’s Addressing the Challenges of Poverty National Conference in St. Louis, Gene Krebs (Republican) and Phil Devol (“I am not a Republican”) inspired us with a vision of addressing poverty in our communities that reminded me of my total eclipse experience. After a stirring presentation from Gene about how his relatives, by moving north, were responsible for the Civil War (you probably had to be there, but it was good stuff), Phil asked a serious question along the lines of this:
When your Bridges communities get together to have conversations about the challenge of poverty, do the conversations get bogged down in politics? Do you hear people talking about the President or the election?
One of the most important things I heard Gene say was that he believed there were solutions to virtually every public policy issue when those issues are viewed through the Bridges lens. Ohio has led the way through the bipartisan HB 64*, through which $11.5 million has been distributed to Ohio communities, with grants given to counties through what amounts to a Bridges len
Gene and Phil’s point was that when we have serious conversations about poverty through the Bridges lens, political affiliations and opinions lose their significance. Sort of like a total eclipse. Our differences no longer matter because doing something real about poverty in our communities is simply too important to get stuck taking sides. We don’t have time for that.
I was challenged by Gene and Phil’s presentation to renew my enthusiasm for applying Bridges concepts in my work at the schools I serve and in the community at large. I encourage you to join me and hundreds of others who are doing amazing work across the country and around the world making communities places where everyone has the opportunity to do well!
Editor’s note: Ohio HB 64 has established county-level Healthier Buckeye councils throughout Ohio to connect residents who face hurdles to sustainable employment– such as generational poverty, mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and lack of education–with resources to help them move forward.
Jim Ott is an aha! Process national consultant, a school psychologist in northeastern Iowa, and the cofounder of the City of Dubuque’s Circles Initiative, which applies Bridges Out of Poverty concepts at the community level. He is also an Emerge Solutions member. Contact Jim at email@example.com or through aha! Process.