In the past week or so, I’ve been privileged to be involved in two extraordinary gatherings that inspired people to imagine what is possible.
First, last week, more than 40 people from agencies and education and government in Manatee County came together at USF Sarasota-Manatee to join in the launch of an initiative representing a transformational dream for the 13th Street corridor in Bradenton, Florida. The leader of this initiative is Cynthia Newell, a powerful woman with joyful and unshakeable faith in the capacity for people to transcend anything, no matter what. She has a dream. But she’s a do-er as much as a dreamer. And in two hours, educators, government officials, researchers, community members, service organization leaders, business people got involved, engaged and motivated to share the work of revitalizing a healthy, vibrant community in a declining neighborhood where, today, gangs rule, the unemployment rate is twice the national average, and many people — not all — have begun to lose hope for a bright tomorrow. C-4, she called the work: Collaborate, Connect, Create, Communicate.
As people talked and shared their hopes for re-awakening health and warmth and creativity and dignity all throughout that community, for keeping children safe to learn and challenging them to really envision their own potential and catch the fervor for moving towards it, for rebuilding and re-energizing the business heart that keeps the beat of progress, for bringing unlikely partners together to move toward a common goal, you could feel the warmth and love suffuse that room. We might became we can, as long as we work together.
Cynthia is a natural leader; she elicited the leadership in a room full of people ready to step together across the threshold of the unknown and envision greatness. They, in turn, will bring out the best in those with whom they work. And it will all start one soul at a time, as people realize their own resiliency and power and start to reinvent their lives.
And, yes, it will happen. It will because leaders like Cynthia and those who stand with her are filled with hope and passion and purpose and don’t give in to their temporary self-doubts or insecurities. And it will happen because it is in the cards, a natural outcome for all people when they rediscover the source of their own wisdom and generate insights about their lives. I’ve seen the thrilling human dimension of the power to change so many times before, and it will be thrilling to see it and share in it here, in my home town.
Then, this week, I attended my first meeting as a Board member of Realize Bradenton, an organization that has been several years in the making with the intention to make the City of Bradenton a wonderful place to be, the kind of place you really want to spend time just walking around and taking it all in. So, not far at all from that 13th Street Corridor where Cynthia is making magic, Realize Bradenton is making magic, too. It’s bringing artists, designers, musicians, planners, poets, landscape architects, builders — more dreamers and do-ers — together to make a nice town a great 21st-century community of friends and neighbors. Talk about imagining what’s possible! They’re talking about a meandering, walkable waterfront, serene little parks where people can find quiet and watch the Manatee River roll by and listen to the gulls and the sighing breezes, places for children to play, places for dogs to play, places to stand back and enjoy public art, wonderful galleries and shops mingled with all the cultural and educational attractions already there.
Once more I found myself in a room full of people brimming with respect for each other’s ideas and the courage to think about the unexpected, the as-yet-unrealized possibilities of a little city that people have come to love but take for granted, sort of like a quiet old aunt. It’s nice, and it’s there for you, but it’s all to easy to wave and pass on by.
So much has already been realized by this organization yet in its infancy, and so much more will happen soon. I thought about the charming artistic geckos that adorn so much commercial wall space now in Bradenton, and how they’ve made boring blank spaces quirky and appealing, worthy of a second look and some conversation. They started in someone’s artistic thinking, someone who thought, “Why not?” and created a phenomenon from nothing. That’s the power of the human mind set free.
It’s wonderful to see, in these times when it too often feels like human relations are strained to the breaking point and all we hear is name-calling and blame-calling, that ordinary people can come together with love and hope in their hearts and accomplish extraordinary things.