I live in Akron, Ohio which has had its share of ups and downs as a community in recent decades. It does feel like things are turning around, though. Especially via younger adults who have surfaced in the last few years with new businesses, community development and social service initiatives.
There has been for a long time a program to attempt to develop community leadership called Leadership Akron. I have thought that it is a nice community service type program which basically has developed leadership for the status quo. It has enrolled folks already part of the local glitterati and helped initiate some other folks to become part of the illustrious of our urban area.
With the younger folks starting up stuff, they have developed their own leadership type things. And I am noticing already that there is developing this same illustrious more elite group of folks among them as well. There is a lot of notoriety.
We have just been through a tumultuous time of a multiple decade mayor who has serious anger problems attacking anyone personally who disagreed with him. Surprisingly, he resigned in the spring of 2015 as things got more and more out of hand for him. We have had an interim mayor who has been very good in quieting the waters yet while cheering on the community. We elected a new mayor for the 1st time in 3 decades in November and he takes office today. Knowing some of the people around him, I think he will be a great counter-point to his elected predecessor and continue the style of leadership that the short-term interim has exhibited.
So, just when we thought we were going to usher in a new era of community tranquility, the new president at the University of Akron, along with the university board of trustees began making immediate decisions about a number of things around the university which greatly impact our community. It was done in the name of economic necessity. However, there was no conversation with our community about these cuts for instance the major concert and public speaking facility of our community. That is just the top of the ice-berg. The community has been in an uproar over this almost filling exactly the time of tranquility that we were expecting when the previous mayor resigned.
There then evolved an ad debate in our local newspaper between two groups of community and business leaders. One via 5-6 ads severely chastising the university leadership for its decisions without communication or collaboration with our community. Another group saying we all need to come together for the good of the university and the community. However, the latter group basically said we should trust them to help the university leadership realize its mistakes and get back on track. These two groups of leadership are social, community, and business colleagues presenting to the public competing ideologies.
I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bio of Abraham Lincoln called “A Team of Rivals.” Lincoln put together a cabinet of leaders who had run against him, attacked him, or at least thought he was not up for the job. All of his cabinet would have been candidates for Leadership Akron, the young upcoming leader types here in town and those who are trying to help right the university ship from competing positions. Lincoln would not have been a candidate for any of those groups.
The same could be said of Jesus and all of his disciples. Especially in the Gospel of Luke. If there had been community vetting for the roles, none would have have made it to even the application process.
I think a major problem in our community and in our nation is we have so institutionalized the process of leadership development, that true transformative leadership is which comes along every once and a while is now shut out.
We can think of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks as some of those who surfaced outside of established leadership development avenues. There was great optimism that Barack Obama would clean out the cob webs of the presidency. But we have seen that there was only so much he could do. The President of the US will not be a transformative leader. Ironically, the last transformative President, Lyndon Johnson, who went beyond any expectations in regards to race and poverty, was also buried by the office in the quagmire of Vietnam.
Long before Citizens United opened the floodgates of big money having free reign for politics, the institutions themselves were stuck in cement so that no real change was going to happen anyway.
So today, rather than substantive changes on the horizon, we flock from one flamboyant personality to another as the great hope for “making things better” (whatever that would mean for each of us.)
Is there hope? I don’t have a clue! But I know we got a heap of trouble. And I know there are some great leaders already at work among us. They just aren’t part of the daily news cycle, social media or illustrious people that we keep expecting to show us how to fix things.