More than One Feather

It began, as do many success stories, with a small group of determined individuals sitting around a table.

As someone once told me, when you hit bottom, the best thing to do is stick out your legs and push. And push they did.

When a community is in trouble, the pushing off typically begins with a small group of individuals coming together to talk. These conversations are the beginning of change and ultimately the solutions for an active, creative, engaged community. 

In this case, the conversation was the result of a growing crisis in a small, somewhat isolated rural community. Here there were serious issues within their youth population – drugs, violence, poor health and now, several deaths.

Sitting around the table, the small group talked about the kind of community they wanted to be and what it was going to take to get them there. As part of the process, they reviewed work previously done on a community-driven strategic plan. They revisited their vision and values, purpose and strategic priorities.

To their surprise much of what they had set out to do the previous year had been accomplished. With renewed energy they tackled new specific actions and a plan for moving forward. One of the actions would be a focus on developing young community leaders. 

As they were talking, our community development coach noted that one of the participants had been sketching. Curious, she asked him if he would mind sharing his drawing. The young man held up a beautiful rendering of an eagle. Beneath it he had written, “It takes more than one feather on the eagle’s wing to soar above the clouds”.
It was such a simple yet profound message.

Today’s issues and the solutions are complicated and ambiguous especially in small communities.  As each community is unique in its challenges, resources and solutions, there isn’t a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all solution. Nor is there a cookie cutter leader. The traditional, top down, corporate or business leadership won’t work. Instead we need a new kind of leadership that impacts the quality of life for each and every one of us -  leadership reflective of the many feathers on an eagle’s wing. 

To get there, we need to tap the wisdom, energy and resources that exist within our communities.  We need to work together and be brave enough to acknowledge that the old ways and the old rules don’t work any more. We need to ask questions, reflect thoughtfully and be willing to try new approaches. As part of that process we also need to be okay with moving forward without knowing all the answers ahead of time.

One of the activities recently put into place in this particular community was a youth leadership conference that involved over one hundred youth. They participated in a variety of learning opportunities, heard from inspiring speakers, created vision boards for their personal futures, and planned recreation and sport activities for the upcoming year. In the closing activity each participant was handed a basketball by one of the event organizers which they then shot toward the hoop. As they shot the basketball they were each asked to share a word that described their individual strengths. The words were positive and inspiring. All reflected hope and a much more positive picture of their future.

It was a remarkable achievement. In a few short months, they had moved from despair to hope and a new found believe in the power and possibilities that lay within their community.

Posted on 06-01-09

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