Friday, November 30, 2012

Fifty Shades of Giving

Shameless, I know. Stolen from the creed that attention trumps all. Borrowed but not adherent to the name of a trilogy of novels that are currently popular. And, for all who might not be in the know", I'm confident you'll be Googling in the next 10 minutes…


But give me that long to make my case. In full disclosure, I have not read these books myself. And, from my limed knowledge, the topic of this essay is as far apart from the topic of the novels as is possible. Yet the distinction in title and meaning is all too real: Giving is the topic of this missive as it is always the theme for the season. 


Toys for toddlers; food for the hungry; blankets for those who are cold.  Wonderful giving that is encouraged and characterized by our natural and instinctive charitable impulse and responsiveness.


There are those who suggest that it is also characterized by guilt; critics who proffer that increased giving during this time is self-centered and contrived. That both our impulse to give and our gifts are more a balm to guilty consciences about personal consumption than a desire to help others. That our receptivity to appeals during the holidays "count less". 


Don't buy it.  Assistance between November and December is just as important as it is between January and October. And savvy nonprofits know this too. Just like shelters stock up on blankets in the fall and schools ramp up for summer programs in the spring, savvy nonprofit leaders understand and prepare for the market and make a big deal of holiday giving. And the smartest ones take the long view – and the accompanying responsibility – of being grateful for the now and diligently cultivating for the future. 


As grownups, we know that people eat all year long. That kids need care. That the environment and politicians need to be monitored. But if it's cold, and dark, and we know folks are feeling even more alone and lacking, it's more than right to respond.  It's essential. Because conscience is the impetus honed from our earliest years to be the motivator for good and healthy action.


It is a good act to balance for ourselves and our families the joy of receiving with the act of giving. There's much to celebrate and many reasons to give! At least fifty or so… J


Give, because giving





Most of all, give because giving is philanthropy in action…momentum that transforms each of us into instruments of change.


Through all the seasons.


Happy Holidays!


Monday, July 30, 2012

Growing pains – Atlanta’s Transportation Decision

For decades now, I’ve likened metro Atlanta’s posture to that of a beautiful adolescent -- preening, insecure and cocky all at the same time; looking mature yet still wet behind the ears.

I stick by it. We’re a region that has boasted the best of the best in our development, leaders, creativity and brand, yet we still can’t commit to guarantee a quality public hospital; we move poverty around the region like kids do the peas on their plate at dinner time; and even now that we’ve stopped debating the value of more and better transportation options, we don’t want to make the hard decisions to make it happen. We’re brilliant yet we often don’t have a clue.

There is huge debate as to whether or not the Transportation referendum will pass…if it’s good for us…who it’s really good for…what it will yield. Let’s see:

·         We know it will cost and yield an extra penny for an extra ten years.

·         We know that every county in the ten-county region will receive some payback; some more than others and some sooner than later.

·         We know – and this to my African American brothers and sisters – that we’ll have to remain diligent and firm to ensure that both the pain and benefit accrues to our neighborhoods, businesses, and  institutions as they do others. It will take more than a TSPLOST to level this playing field.

I dig it. A penny may not seem like much but one percent on every dollar I will spend for the next ten years seems like much more.

Yet here’s what I believe, and it’s not on billboards and fliers and the dozen emails I’ve received since last week.

The TSPLOST will be an opportunity for us to finally affirm our connectedness as a contiguous family of counties and cities, sharing roads and rules and people and lives. We try to deny this and often rail against it; as a lifelong Cobb resident, I confess that I brag about my county and my tax base and the quality of my public services. My attitude has been typically parochial: I don’t mind if you can figure it out in your county but leave me alone if I have to give up something in mine.

But I also realize that the region we love is not beloved by all. That the major airport and beautiful facilities and innovative, entrepreneurial spirit we enjoy is distrusted and often derided in other parts of the state. So tapping into what means more to me—the spirit of Atlanta--I am ready to pay into a system and process that can help us out of our current transportation hell.  

Just as when we turned 18 and gained “grownup” designation, this vote is one way for the region to plant a mature stake in the ground and take responsibility for the outcome. We get to diss the haters and take the power into our hands.

What we get to do tomorrow is to decide that the independence the TSPOLST provides through self funding (ironically another milestone of growth) are worth it. And that we get to hold ourselves accountable. There are lots more technical and practical reasons to vote yes. That all public funding for transportation is decreasing. That laws on the books are stifling. For a good Q & A, click on

The list and process is messy, as messy as the traffic we seek to avoid. Yet it’s the next step in our growth, as we mature to the status of the great cities we admire, here and abroad. Yet I really want my grandson to go after the job he wants and not just the one he can be assured reliable transportation to. I want my nephews to receive relief from their asthma pain. I want to be connected.

Remember the pimples, aching joints, fluttering hearts and new explorations of your teen years? That’s the growing edge on which we find ourselves, Atlanta. Let’s take a baby step to claim our future.

Vote yes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hummus & Wine

Over hummus & wine I got to nourish my body and share the quintessential story of my life.  And I realized – anew - that whenever anyone of us shares our story, it is instantly altered by its receipt.  

We enter this world bellowing our stories naturally and effortlessly. As toddlers encountering the miracle of speech, we instinctively assimilate and bestow our experience – seamlessly -- upon the entire universe and all within proximity.

Yet as part of our socialization, we are taught what is acceptable and indoctrination that morphs into our relationships. In all but the rarest circumstances, we learn how to moderate, filter and withhold the chronicle of our beliefs and our passions.  Sometimes this goes too far and we lose our voice, growing to fear the real, raw context of our lives, because we consider the passages to be final. We forget that we get to create and rewrite our story every day, every week, every hour- in the narrative of our time on this earth.

In the service of community, without life stories, we are reduced to sharing the rhetoric of theory, programs and outcomes. For those of us in this important work, our honest inquiry and interaction is the binding which connects our singular chapters into a novel that supports collective experiences and aspirations. Chapters of collective connection. Collective understanding. Collective action. Collective response. Collective celebration. Chapters made stronger by time and wear.

When we share our individual tales, we simultaneously get to edit the next chapter -- by moving forward, rolling back or flipping the script!  Through others' stories, the context for our personal story is enriched: our hunches can be transformed into ideas and our ideas grown into visions; our halves can become whole and our darkness light.

Just like hummus and wine--coffee & a doughnut…beer & pretzels…tea & cookies--we complement one another when we swap tales. For it's through our words that we communicate, but through our stories that we connect.  

What's your story?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Breaking Legs -- Georgia's 2012 Legislative Session

Politics is theater and it seems this has never been more true! And, in the tradition of the theater adage that signifies good luck, we pray the actors on stage  in Georgia’s Gold Dome -- our elected officials – “break a leg” this year.

 In theater, because it’s considered bad luck to wish an actor good luck, they instead wish the opposite.  There are multiple theories for the genesis of this tradition: one quotes the practice of curtsying, placing one foot behind the other, which “breaks" the line of the leg. Another points to ancient Greece, where folks stomped to show appreciation…and if long enough, they would break a leg. My favorite (and probably most apropos to politics) is ancient Rome,  where blood thirsty spectators urged gladiators to “break a leg” -- essentially wishing them good luck by requesting they keep their lives and only cripple their opponents!
 So back to the present. The 2012 legislative session began on January 9 and it promises to be active. Here are seven issues to track (one for each day of the week):

1.   SB 127 – the rewriting of Georgia’s arcane Juvenile Code.
2.   Bill(s) to introduce financial need requirements for HOPE scholarships

3.   HB 644 – implementation of the Affordable Care Act – the state’s design of a health insurance exchange product (even while participating in a national lawsuit);

4.   T-Splost – July’s ten-county transportation referendum to fund regional transportation projects

5.   HB 663 – revisions to “expungement” law regarding specific arrest records; this issue is seen as critical to facilitate employment opportunities

6.   Unemployment Benefits – the governor’s budget proposal to cut the amount and length of unemployment benefits

7.      Tax changes - Special Joint Commission recommendation for a $1 increase on tobacco and 1% grocery tax to offset a reduction in state income tax.

In the chambers of our political theater, we need our public representatives to “break a leg” and function smartly and respectfully. And, in the tradition of good audiences, we acknowledge our responsibility to be present, pay attention, and provide consistent, critical review.

Our communities are counting on it.