By Rebecca Trout
Scroll through the headlines each morning and you’ll be bombarded by news of gridlock, scandal, corruption, partisanship, name-calling and a general sense of woe. Flip on the local news after work and you’ll likely be confronted with an obscure story of a local crime, making it seem as if a robber or assailant is lurking around every corner. It’s easy to fall into despair, to think that societal problems are entrenched, differences are irreconcilable and solutions impossible. The work of the All-America City Award offers a different narrative, one of community, problem-solving and inclusivity.
Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, since 1949 the All-America City Award has recognized communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofit and government leaders. The All-America City Award does not honor perfection, there is no such thing as a perfect community and even All-America Cities must address those problems lurking in the news. The award does honor the progress and innovation demonstrated through the cross-sector partnerships that come together to provide local solutions to local problems.
The program recognizes innovation and excellence in a range of American communities – from neighborhoods, small towns and tribes to cities, counties and regions. The smallest towns and largest cities compete on equal footing – judged on the impact of their work and excellence of their engagement, not reputation or size. Leaders from local government, nonprofits, libraries, and youth have all led their communities to apply.
The nature of the award program has changed over the years as the nature of community problem-solving changed. In the early years, it was often given to cities that adopted the League’s model of a city council-city manager form of government. But other issues emerged as civic actors stepped up to address new challenges. Last year’s applicants were tasked with submitting project examples that promoted equity and they didn’t disappoint, sharing successful local initiatives that addressed issues such as food deserts, immigrant integration, racial trauma, disaster relief, community-police relations, income inequality and many more.
“Clearly, despite many major changes in the award criteria, values, and orientation, the (All-America City Award) remains faithful to the democratic and civic traditions and ideals initiated by the founders of our nation and the founders of the National Civic League,” wrote Lenneal Henderson, a longtime supporter of the League in 1999. “It has encouraged citizens to leverage government, business, education, institutions of faith, and even international resources to become their civic best even when facing the worst natural and human tragedy and challenge.”
“Citizens have discovered each other throughout the nation through the AAC awards,” he added. “They now exchange information and insights at a record level of frequency. Few programs can boast such an amazing, consistent, but changing and productive record of civic achievement as the first fifty years of the AACs.”
The tradition of recognizing communities that unite to collectively and collaboratively help solve our country’s most pressing and complex issues will continue in 2019 as the award will celebrate examples of civic engagement practices that create healthy communities. We are looking for communities that demonstrate inclusive decision-making processes to create better health for all, and particularly for populations currently experiencing poorer health outcomes.
The June 21-23 awards will bring together hundreds of community champions from across the country to Denver celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the award program, as well as the 125th anniversary of the National Civic League.
Next time you notice your eyes glazing over after reading yet another discouraging news story, renew your faith in the American spirit by exploring the National Civic League’s Promising Practices Database which features stories from our inspiring All-America Cities. Better yet, get engaged locally to address a problem that your community is facing, and maybe one day your community too can be recognized as an All-America City.
For more information on the 2019 All-America City Awards, visit www.nationalcivicleague.org.
Rebecca Trout is the Program Director of the All-America City Award Program at the National Civic League.