Four years and seven months ago, I sent an email to all my friends, family and colleagues, expressing my distress and alarm about the divisiveness and hostility in Washington, D.C. Over several months of online discussion, we recognized that the best way to address our nation's challenges was to start at home.
Let me tell you about two initiatives that came from these discussions. Allow me to explain why they are differentiating us from the nation's current divisiveness and hostility that culminated on Jan. 6, a day that will live in infamy.
AVOW Advancing Voices Of Women
Four of us came together initially; now more than a thousand women are advancing their voices:
• Women have gained training and are experiencing the power of civil conversation. We come together from across the political spectrum to discuss guns, education, health care, evictions, impeachment, sexual assault, immigration and many other hot-button issues. Women and supportive men hear differing perspectives, seek to find common ground and always gain greater respect.
• Women are now advancing their voices in the public square with the support of The Journal Gazette, providing us a prominent location in the Perspective section of the newspaper nearly every Sunday for four years and counting. This has given us precious space for some 200 women to express an opinion that is thoughtful, well-researched, well-reasoned and never a rant. It has encouraged hundreds more to write their own opinion pieces and letters.
• Women are participating in the Women's Campaign Institute to learn from luminaries across the country how to run for office, seek appointment and govern at the local, state or national level. In so doing, women from both political parties with significantly differing ideologies have gained friends across the aisle as they discover and practice collaborative leadership.
• 12 women – four Republicans, four Democrats and four independents – committed to a year-long journey to break bread together, meet on Zoom together and discuss emerging news together on our local CBS affiliate. Throughout 2020, they role-modeled how ordinary women can demonstrate extraordinary civility.
• Women offered their Profiles in Public Service to create a ready pool of citizens to serve on local, state and federal boards and commissions. These are women who have all experienced the power of collaborative public service.
Fifteen regional leaders came together to elevate northeast Indiana for the purpose of creating “entrepreneurial culture shock.” The result was the Farnsworth Fund, now the Fortitude Fund. We established a fund to provide startups with a community of entrepreneurs, mentors with real-world experiences and money to begin their enterprises or take them to the next level.
The magic behind the Fortitude Fund is the big-tent approach to support entrepreneurs with high-growth potential as well as the quality-of-place entrepreneurs who are building unique businesses. These businesses in turn make our communities unique and attract talent to our region.
What we're most proud of is that we have purposely sought out the entrepreneurs who are often overlooked: 35% are entrepreneurs of color, 42% are female, 42% are younger than 30 and many are rural founders. When the rest of the country awakened to the fact that Black Lives Matter, we had already recognized that Livelihoods Matter, too.
Just before Thanksgiving, I wrote something that was inspired by an old poem:
One courageous leader can start a movement
One righteous person can stand for justice
One caring soul can ease another's pain
One voice can speak with wisdom
One act of love can make all the difference
We are already benefiting from the many people in our region who saw divisiveness and hostility four years and seven months ago. They chose a different path. But we are just getting started.
How will you get involved?
MarilynMoran-Townsend, CEO of CVC Communications, is co-founder of AVOW, Advancing Voices Of Women.