It was refreshing and inspiring to read James Fallows' article "How America is Putting Itself Back Together" in this month's The Atlantic. The article recounts the places he and his wife have traveled across America over the past three years - based on an item on the magazine's website asking for advice on cities that have suffered "some kind of economic, political, environmental, or other hardship during the financial crash or earlier." This article shares the stories of what he and his wife found and what it has taught him about reinvention and renewal.
Specifically, he highlights the work being done at the local level - away from (or ignored by) the media's glare - to strengthen communities. We have seen the same thing in our work at the National Institute for Civil Discourse where we answered the president's call for a National Dialogue on Mental Health. Creating Community Solutions has now worked in 258 communities across the country where people came together to educate themselves on the critical issues facing people with mental health challenges in their communities and have taken action and committed resources to improve the lives of fellow residents who suffer from mental illness. More than 70,000 people have stepped up to make a difference on these very challenging issues.
Unfortunately this story did not make the headlines or the national news. It did - and is still - however, making a difference in those 258 communities. They are serving as a living laboratory for other communities on what works and what doesn't when it comes to improving mental health.
Fallow found the same thing in his travels - communities harnessing their local talent and using it to improve their collective future, whether it was neighborhood beautification, improving the educational system or starting a nonprofit training program to train local youth for available jobs in the area.
The tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign would lead one to believe that our country is headed 'to hell in a handbasket' - that is when the candidates are not too busy exchanging slights on body parts, their wealth or lack thereof and pointing out how the media misunderstands them. If we go solely by what we see on the nightly news, hear from the talking heads and read on twitter and the newspapers, we are certainly given every reason to think our country is in a race to the bottom.
The late Paul Harvey had a segment on his radio broadcast called "the rest of the story". In it he would bring out all the facts on an issue or incident, not just one side or the most audacious statement. Mr. Fallows' has done the same with his article - he has given us 'the rest of the story' by pointing out the good work being done by communities just like yours and mine to improve the lives of those who live and work there. We need the American media to start telling the rest of the story as well. Entire cities get painted with a broad brush over a single incident on the news and unless you live there, or know someone who does, you will never get the full picture.
Fallow's article should give us all hope and serve as a reminder about the strength, ingenuity and the strong sense of community that still exists across our nation. For as Fallow noted "Until the country's mood does change, the people who have been reweaving the national fabric will be more effective if they realize how many other people are working toward the same end."