In a world where a single click can deliver your ideas to a mass audience across the globe, it can be easy to overlook the power of local, community voices. These voices can become powerful, reverberating over time to enact positive change on a grand level.
I thought this last week of just how impactful a single voice can be as I traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the celebration of life services for Ambassador James A. Joseph, held at the National Cathedral. Jim, as he liked to go by, called Sarasota home for some time along with his wife, Mary Braxton Joseph. Joseph’s work in elevating the experience of Black people spanned the globe—including serving as the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa during the critical Mandela years—but his ideas of equity and justice began in his youth, growing up as a Black boy in Opelousas, Louisiana, a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan. The early interactions of his youth in the small town of about 15,000 people informed his ideas of justice and shaped his beliefs and messages that listening to others is the foundation of building relationships, which can then lead to broader social well-being whether that be a city block, a ZIP code, or a nation.
A keen listener, Joseph also knew well the power of speaking up, and his willingness to use his voice to improve the lives of others made an indelible impact.
On the memorial program for his service was printed this quote from a speech Joseph delivered at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 2012: “It is now well documented that what makes a nation a cohesive community is the ability of its citizens to transform the laissez-faire notion of live and let live into the moral imperative of live and help live.”
Voice matters. As a Community Foundation, we are often regarded as the funder of charitable dollars. Of course, much of our impact comes from the lives changed thanks to grants and scholarships that support the results of great organizations and individuals; however, a strong focus of our mission is empowering people, and that empowerment often shows up in the form of voice.
Over the last decade our foundation has immersed ourselves in a 2Gen philosophy, which rests upon the idea that family success lies in education and the attainment of credentials and careers that lead to economic prosperity for adults and the children in their lives. While the financial implications are clear for children of parents who improve their professional credentials, of equal importance to family success is social capital, which is built upon the growth of a network of ever-growing relationships. Social capital is a major focus of ours as we embark on strengthening families.
To that end, in 2020 we created a Parent Advisory Council (PAC), giving voice to concerns and hopes shared by parents. Through the PAC, we united a supportive group of parents trying to improve their own lives, as well as the lives of their children. This support network enabled these parents with children in Sarasota County Schools to draw from their peers the resiliency, accountability, and knowledge and resources needed to progress in their family goals. This group of mothers gathers at least four times a year in an official capacity, but relationships continue through texts and phone calls with people helping one another as their relationships grow. As they are engaged in sharing their ideas and experiences, these parents are exposed to new opportunities that can enhance their own lives, their families’ outcomes, and, over time, the outcomes of people who succeed them.
Sharing information and expressing ideas are as ancient as humanity and key to creating thriving communities. These smaller community groups, where stakeholders feel heard and respected, can gain momentum that transcends their region and creates broad impact. Forget clicks and likes: the sea change in global progress we seek can come to fruition one conversation at a time.
Along with his many accomplishments, Ambassador Joseph is most often quoted among foundation colleagues for his concept of the ways we can enact change – it’s a concept known as SMIRF – (social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial capital) with social strengthening at its the core. We are honored to steward the memorial gifts being made in honor of Ambassador Joseph, a person I deeply admire. It is with pride that we are entrusted to hold space for his legacy of freedom and equality through listening, learning, and sharing.