A “Springboard” to Thriving Communities

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By Monte Roulier 

Communities across the country have an immense reservoir of energy, courage, and imagination that can propel widespread local and nationwide action around a single unifying and measurable expectation: All people and places thriving—no exceptions. This is the message of Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America (e.g. Springboard), a guide developed by more than 100 people, organizations, and communities.

Springboard is for everyone who wants to help America to emerge from the compounding crises of 2020 with greater resilience, humanity, and direction. It highlights scores of actions, or pivotal moves, that communities, organizations, businesses, governments, and funders can take in the wake of COVID-19 and other related threats to our nation. It is a practical resource to help America heal through the trauma of 2020 and secure the vital conditions that all people and places need to thrive: a thriving natural world, basic needs for health and safety, humane housing, meaningful work and wealth, lifelong learning, reliable transportation, and belonging and civic muscle.

Pivotal Moves 

Springboard offers more than 120 pivotal moves, decisive, locally adaptable actions that could begin now and change the course of community life relatively quickly. For example:

Create outdoor classrooms—help schools with social distancing and, over the long term, studies show that exploring, playing, and learning in nature improves academic achievement (Thriving Natural Environment).

Provide emergency funding for mental health—dedicated resources to community-based organizations and clinicians treating individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. With demand for services soaring in the pandemic, it is essential to keep the doors open, lights on, and providers paid, to save lives (Basic Needs for Health and Safety).

Make housing affordable—the cost of building affordable housing can and should be reduced by having state and local governments purchase and hold land with federal assistance. Policymakers should create renters’ insurance through payroll taxes and create Rent Resilience Funds to cover rent for those who require assistance during economic downturns. We can prevent housing instability in the first place by encouraging corporations to provide subsidized housing for low-income employees (Humane Housing).

Focus on early childhood development—increase support for high-quality home visiting programs. Forty years of research shows that these kinds of programs yield significant reductions in child abuse and neglect, reduction in ER visits, fewer behavioral and intellectual problems in children, and a heathier population (Lifelong Learning). 

Prioritize maintenance—transportation funds should be focused on retrofitting and equipping existing communities to handle the long-term implications of this crisis and to create more jobs per dollar (Reliable Transportation).

Organize local Recovery and Resilience Accountability Councils—assure local control and coordination over the direction, actions, and accountabilities of federal, state, philanthropy, and business partners. These Councils can incorporate insights from similar, successful efforts, like Accountable Communities for Health and Ryan White Planning Councils (Civic Muscle and Belonging).

Springboard is rooted in the following guiding principles for making choices or weighing trade-offs:

Long, Thriving Lives
Fully value long thriving lives, in aspiration and in calculations. Balance attention to physical health and wealth with equal concern for other states of being (mental, emotional, social, spiritual). Always begin with those who are struggling and suffering. 

Dignity & Justice
Fulfill America’s overdue promise of justice for people of color, Tribal Nations, people who experience gender inequality, and all others who endure unjust adversity; reject hierarchies of human value and tell a new story in which human differences are a strength, not a reason to destroy each other. 

People & Place
Let local wisdom shape solutions that are a fit for each place and its people; look for existing assets and enrich them; remove constraints that impose segregation; pay attention to the interdependence of all things within whole living systems. 

Shared Stewardship
See ourselves—and one another—as interdependent stewards of well-being for people and places; negotiate vested interests, but do not lead only on behalf of your own issue or organization; work across differences with curiosity, grace, and humility. 

Past & Future Legacies
Look back and reckon with legacies that inflict harm; look ahead to sustain past achievements while solidifying new legacies that expand opportunities for well-being and justice.

Shorter-term pivotal moves may help us to change course, begin to move us on the right trajectory. However, the renewal we need requires persistent, courageous, trend-bending effort on many frontiers. Long before the crises of 2020, life in America was out of balance. We have been consumed by an inhumane style of winner-take-all economics, by fight-to-the-death politics, and by a White-is right culture. It is exhausting. And it has locked us in an unjust loop: living-to-work, not working-to-live, feeling socially short-changed, emotionally adrift, spiritually tested, and civically cynical. A pandemic that endangers our lives, halts the economy, and falls hardest on people of color makes this maddening way of life unworkable. Ghastly scenes of racial injustice exemplify how deep the dysfunction goes. A super-majority of Americans agree that our entire system is spiraling out of control.

Paths to Renewal

But renewal is within reach. Often, we hear the same refrain: we cannot go back. Yet there are many paths forward. Those willing to work for renewal must make choices that may well change the world. Elders will do their part to clear the way. Youth will rise and rapidly take the lead.

One section of Springboard explores three paths for renewing Civic Life, Economic Life, and Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Life. Each avenue braids the vital conditions together into cohesive but still-evolving proposals for how our lives together could unfold. These three Renewals are emerging ideas (not definitive actions). They are framed as an invitation to respond to Legacy Questions with inquiry, creativity and collective action…

RENEWING CIVIC LIFE

Civic life is about living, learning and working together, as shared stewards, to shape our common world. It encompasses the infinite ways that people may connect and contribute to their community and society: from voting in an election, organizing a neighborhood arts festival, standing up for a just cause, or doing everyday work with pride in its public impacts and civic significance.

For the last several decades, many democratic norms and structures have been decaying, while mistrust has been rising. Pernicious forces, such as systemic racism, hyper-individualism, and partisan division are also causes and consequences of declining civic life. The physical distancing of COVID-19 reminds us that we are social beings. The crisis has revealed a civic silver lining, shown in an outpouring of civic generosity and mutual aid. However, public displays of racial injustice remind us of the many ways we are not yet in right relationships with each other.

This is a legacy moment, an opportunity to reimagine and renew our civic life. Over generations, we have passed along legacies that inflict generational trauma and exclusion, as well as legacies that have built strength and dignity. In a year unlike any other our nation has previously faced, 2020 is testing our resilience and humanity. We have the collective power to decide what legacies to leave behind, bring with us and co-create to ensure a future in which all people and places thrive.

We have a chance now to embrace our interdependence and strengthen the civic muscle we need to create just and productive communities. Success depends on our ability to create pluralistic spaces that foster relationships of belonging, ensuring everyone has the privilege and motivation to contribute to a thriving community.

RENEWING ECONOMIC LIFE

Our economic life encompasses more than jobs, business, and financial institutions. It is an expression of what we value, who we value, and how we work together. It structures and channels our most basic transactions—and our most complex innovations. Our economic life holds tremendous possibility for unlocking trapped human potential, building wealth for working families, and sustaining the living ecosystems that support our existence.

The economic fallout from COVID-19 has exposed, yet again, the flaws in today’s prevailing form of capitalism. Even as we honor essential workers, from caregivers to clerks, many of these same people are still without fair pay, still without adequate health care, and still beleaguered by hunger. COVID-19 has exposed how our economic system is designed to extract value from the many, concentrate its benefits in the hands of a few, and place us all precariously on the edge of an adversity spiral.

This legacy moment demands that we reorient our values, reinvent our industries, and reject the idea that financial return requires exposing ourselves to social or environmental ruin. Our markets, corporate practices, and public policies do not currently align with widely held American values. Those values can come to life in a new well-being economy that is just and regenerative, that safeguards workers and the environment, and that allows those long excluded from prosperity to build wealth for generations to come. We must transition to a well-being economy as if our survival depends on it—as people, families, companies, as well as for our country and planet.

RENEWING SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL, & SPIRITUAL LIFE

Our social, emotional, and spiritual life is tied to how we understand ourselves, relate to others, and experience belonging and purpose. It is about our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories, and states of being. This sense of self is further shaped by culture, early life experience, faith, ZIP code, and other factors. Our social, emotional, and spiritual life guides our decisions, influences our actions, and helps us know who we are.

Too many of our lives are compromised by trauma, exclusion, and violence. Too few of us receive the care that is essential for strong social and emotional health. Too often, our differences and biases drive us apart and disrupt connections to each other and our better selves. The structures meant to promote social and emotional health are hobbled by fragmentation, over-specialization, and inaccessibility.

This legacy moment has exposed the systems that create prolonged toxic stress, harming social and emotional health across generations. We must create institutions and places that allow us all to flourish, experience belonging, and reach our full potential. We can heal our nation’s pain by preventing further harm, treating distress, and investing in our whole selves and whole communities.

CONCLUSION 

There is no doubt that we are in a legacy moment, a moment that offers an historic opportunity to tap into the immense reservoir of energy, courage and imagination present within a nationwide network of local communities. Over the next six to twelve months, the Springboard contributors and the National Civic League will be lifting up opportunities to share ideas and engage in dialogue around Legacy Questions that help lead us to all people and places thriving—no exceptions.

Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America was launched by the Well Being Trust, coordinated with Community Initiatives and ReThink Health, and supported by the CDC Foundation. 

The Springboard is moving forward through the efforts of a broad and growing network of community and organizational change makers. It is now ready to spring to life with your input. To access the full report and resources, go to www.thriving.us. To reach the team and engage, write: input@thriving.us 

Monte Roulier is founder and president of the Community Initiatives Network

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