Making the Circle Bigger: Remarks at The Giving Wall event, 5/11/19
May 11, 2019
Remarks at breakfast event convening participants, staff, and supporters involved in The Giving Wall initiative.
I was asked to say a few words about why my family became Supporters of The Giving Wall project. The Giving Wall is a project undertaken in partnership with the Office of Community Wealth Building, which is dear to my heart. But I also want to share that I actually became a supporter in honor of someone even dearer to my heart, my mom, Joan Williamson. And I think this project is a wonderful example of Community, Wealth, and Building.
My first experience of school was a pre-Kindergarten class run by Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, NC, the Episcopal church at which we were members. One day, my mother Joan Williamson appeared at the school to give our class a lesson on “Circles.” She had about twenty little felt cutouts of people, which could be placed and rearranged on a bulletin board. She arranged most of the miniature people into a little circle and said “this is the circle of people who look out for each other.” But she also had a few miniature people on the outside. She told our class, “Look, we have some people who aren’t in the circle. Do you know what we do about that? We bring them inside the circle and make the circle bigger.” She then rearranged all the people until there was one big inclusive circle.
My mom was my first and most influential teacher of the meaning of the word COMMUNITY, a gift that by its nature can’t be repaid but only, however imperfectly, shared and spread around. I learned from Joan Williamson that just “taking care of your own” isn’t enough, if you have the opportunity to help and support others who need help, you should do it.
The Office of Community Wealth Building from the beginning has been distinguished by a positive focus on people’s assets. The Office believes deeply in the actual and potential ability of the citizens of the City of Richmond, including those who are struggling and striving economically. Each human life is already a precious form of wealth.
But the Office is at the same time also based on hard-edged realism. OCWB’s staff know that for all the talk and rhetoric surrounding poverty and its complexities, all too often it boils down to one simple reality: lack of resources, and particularly lack of dollars, to allow an individual or family to meet a need. And one unmet need at the wrong time can cause an entire life to spin into a downward cycle. We can talk about hard skills and soft skills, connections and training, but at a certain point it really is all about the money. I appreciate that the Giving Wall is honest about this, yet at the same has developed a method to make sure that investments of cash have a maximal positive impact.
Finally, there’s building. The term “building” implies a process, a journey. Community wealth, like all of our lives, must be attended to every day. It’s an ongoing process.
Specifically here in Richmond, it’s a process of continuing to build as many bridges as possible between our concentrations of wealth and those who have been excluded. The work of the OCWB Career Advisors is one extremely important bridge—it connects people to economic opportunities, and faces head on the different obstacles that individuals face. I salute and deeply respect the Advisors, because I know that while they get to witness many amazing stories of success, they also witness challenging, frustrating, heartbreaking stories on a daily basis. I’m hopeful that The Giving Wall becomes a tool, an asset, that helps tip the balance in the right direction, and helps our entire community start gaining momentum in the work of helping people move from economic crisis to economic thriving.
So with all this in mind, it didn’t take much deliberation for me to become a sponsor last winter, just before Christmas, in honor of my mother, the person who taught me and still teaches me about community, sharing and inclusiveness. I did it also because I support and honor the work of the entire Office of Community Wealth Building team.
And most of all, I did it because I believe in and support the efforts of those who are overcoming all the doubts, the hard knocks, the unfairness, the racism, the sexism, the unkindness, that our world and sadly our city so often offers up, and nonetheless believe in themselves.
I stand here in awe of your journey and your resilience, and I want to let it be known that I believe in you, too.