Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Getting in the same boat—establishing a new civic covenant

Richard C. Harwood

March 12, 2020

In the summer of 2019, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, in partnership with the Community Foundation for Mississippi, interviewed 25 Jackson, Mississippi community leaders to learn about their aspirations and concerns for the city, and then convened these leaders for a daylong meeting to discuss critical issues, identify underlying conditions, and generate principles for moving forward together.

Recently, we released “A New Civic Covenant: Jackson Ready to Step Forward,” which sets out an inspiring agreement among a diverse group of local leaders to work together to make real and lasting progress for the community.

There is an urgent need in Jackson for this new covenant. There is an urgent need in communities across America for their own new civic covenants.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We may have all come on different boats, but we’re in the same boat now.” For too long, the leaders in Jackson told us that the community has been fractured. Negativity and mistrust are rampant. Community redevelopment is uneven, deep economic disparities persist, and there’s widespread segregation. Race and class issues are taboo. People have been in different boats.

To make progress, the people of Jackson must step forward and forge new and stronger relationships and a can-do spirit.

At the core of these relationships sits a covenant—a new civic covenant—with one another. A civic covenant is about how we choose to turn outward toward one another, take shared responsibility for producing a stronger, more inclusive community, and step forward to work together to get things done. It is rooted in the belief that no single leader, organization or group can achieve a community’s goals on their own. We need each other. We must be in the same boat.

No single leader, organization or group can achieve a community’s goals on their own. We need each other. We must be in the same boat.

In my travels over the last few months on the Stepping Forward Campaign, based on my new book, it’s clear to me that so many communities must strike a new civic covenant on how they will work together to make the American promise real for all. This is a special task on which I see The Harwood Institute working with communities in the coming years.

In Jackson, I recall one gentleman telling the following story about a cartoon he had seen: “Northeast Jackson was telling West Jackson, you need to fix your side of the boat. It’s leaking.” The gentleman then pointed out, “It’s like, hello! You’re all in the same boat!”

The time has come for us all to get in the same boat.

Richard C. Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization located in Bethesda, Md.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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