A couple of weeks ago I watched my colleague and friend John Kesler honored for a lifetime of commitment to community engagement. He was awarded the Civic, Character and Service Award at the 5th annual Dialogue on Democracy event in Salt Lake City. This was a grand event sponsored by the Utah Coalition for Civic, Character, and Service Learning, and attended by over 500 people including many state political and educational leaders. John’s list of groups, committees, and organizations that he supports, and in many cases, chairs, is lengthy. It makes me wonder again if he ever sleeps.
I love John’s fierce commitment to engagement. I’ve seen it many times in our shared work through the Salt Lake Center for Engaging Community. Seeing him honored, and seeing many friends at this event who are also committed to dialogue and engagement, had me reflecting on a few anchors in John’s fierceness — anchors that are teachers for me. .
One of those anchors is translocal learning communities, communities of place that act locally while connecting regionally and learning globally. The SLCEC is a budding example. Our local action includes “Creating a Culture of Connection” in which we are supporting dialogues on creating welcome. This work includes local school districts, neighborhood community councils, university students, and community immigrants. I don’t know to what level this initiative will become a translocal learning community, but I love the starting points that we are at and how this is inspiring many.
Another anchor is the cross-fertilizing among people of similar interest and imagination. One example of this through our center is a recent Sustainability Summit. At this half-day event, 85 people from various organizations in the Salt Lake valley gathered to explore possibilities that make a difference – from greening business to expanded local gardens. Our format very much invited participants to share their work and to imagine collaborations that might help – simple cross-fertilizing of ideas.
I appreciate John for his steady focus on the community – the tending to the whole – while at the same time supporting the action of the individual. It is a leadership that is so needed, and one of the qualities that many see in John. I am grateful to learn with him about keeping my eyes and heart open to the global, while at the same time, keeping my feet firmly committed in the local.
John spoke it well and with deep passion as he announced a statewide call for improved civic discourse in Utah. “Now is the time. It is the time for discourse. It is the time for inclusivity. It is the time to stand up.”