If you go by the headlines and listen to the podcasts and commentators, we appear to live in a nation of polarization where extremes in beliefs and identities dominate. This summer, though, I returned to one of my favorite pastimes where shades of red and blue blend together into our common aspirations and values as Americans.
In July I headed to Iowa along with my husband, Mike, to participate for the 26th time in the Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). This year marks the 50th anniversary of the event, which bills itself as “the world’s longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event.” Event coordinators have used Roman numerals to represent each year, and with “L” being the Roman numeral for 50, this year’s slogan was “One L of a Great Ride.”
Indeed, it was.
Among the throngs of 50,000-plus people from all 50 states and nearly every walk of life we experience the best of what America has to offer: folks pausing their ride to help one another out with a flat tire or broken chain; church members cooking up enough spaghetti dinners to feed an army, and hungry, grateful cyclists eating at shared tables; townspeople handing out ice cold water—or ice cold beer!—to weather-weary peddlers; music concerts energizing crowds into dancing, forgetting the fatigue that set in from hours of riding. The spirit of community is absolutely infectious.
The unity at RAGBRAI isn’t limited to those magical eight days, nor is it bound by the borders of Iowa. I see that same sense of unity here in our community, in times of challenges and of celebration, both of which we will mark this fall.
First, as we approach the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian—and with Hurricane Idalia fresh in our minds—I am heartened that with this marker of time, we see progress through long-term recovery work taking part through the $5 million raised through our Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund. The way our community has banded together to restore the lives of so many in the wake of the large-scale catastrophe is surely a pride point among neighbors. One lesson of Ian has been that investing locally in the people and communities affected by storms is an effective way to heal—this remains true as we support our neighbors to the north who are coping now with the damage of Idalia. Those looking to help can offer support through the Community Foundation of North Florida, which is activating a long-term recovery fund for the Big Bend. Relief organizations in the hard-hit region that are addressing immediate needs are United Way of the Big Bend and Second Harvest of the Big Bend. Other community foundations with relief and recovery funds covering regions impacted by Idalia, from Tampa Bay to Northeast Florida, can be found here.
While it’s heartwarming to see people come together to support one another in times of need, this type of meaningful unity doesn’t always coincide with crisis. Just as RAGBRAI illustrates, fun moments shared among neighbors are as beneficial for our sense of connection as they are good for our soul. Our Community Foundation has been proud to support the activation of The Bay, which offers programs and activities that are free and accessible to every person in our community. From fitness programs, to yoga, to family movie nights, to guided nature tours, this free programming is a chance for us to connect and focus on our shared interests. Later this fall The Bay will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a five-day festival to mark the continuous flourishing of hope and creativity that abound when people of all backgrounds come together.
There are plenty of momentous occasions to recognize our common values, but these ties that bind us can be seen in ordinary times as well. With Labor Day in the immediate rearview mirror, it’s a time for us to reflect on how our common hopes and aspirations—those attributes that make our communities stronger—are also present in our day-to-day lives. Work is more than an occupation, but a way for us to put our efforts together to strengthen our communities.
It's important to remember that our core beliefs and values, our interests and sources of joy, truly are much more of a common thread than is depicted in the news.
I’m curious: what ways do you see us unifying as a community?