I remember well the 350-mile drive from Huntsville in Northern Alabama to Mobile on the Gulf Coast, where my father would attend the conference for Superintendents and School Board Presidents. My father was the first African American to win a position by city-wide election in my hometown of Huntsville. He served as the Vice-President and later President of the Huntsville City School Board for many years. I was in elementary school and was thrilled that my mother and I would join him on the trip. I would see the ocean for the first time, and I would miss a day of school!
After a long drive through many of the 69 Alabama counties I was required to memorize in my civics class, we arrived at the conference location - a beautiful hotel on the water. It may not surprise you that in early 1970s Alabama, there was no room for us in the hotel despite having made reservations and prepaid for the room. We drove 20 miles to check into a motel with plank for a walkway and small dark rooms in a little town called Fairhope, and each day we drove from Fairhope to Mobile and back.
This story was a common story for many African Americans. But what wasn't so common was that the Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools and his wife, who were Caucasian checked out of the fancy hotel and stayed with us at the motel in Fairhope. The Superintendent made a personal sacrifice for justice. My father never made the Superintendent's job easy even after that, but they had a deep respect for each other and a bond built on integrity.
As I reflect on where we are and where we are going as a society, I see that the future will require us to make difficult choices and sacrifices for the greater good. Fiscal cliff, climate change, equity in our school systems and workplaces are only some of the challenges we face.
As we consider what makes America great, I believe it is this spirit of we are all in this together, that will enable us to achieve what we cannot on our own.
Efforts of communities across the country to come together in new ways - cross-sector collaborations, public/private partnerships - are inspiring and show the way for business, nonprofits, philanthropy, government and citizens to work together for purposes that are more important than any one organization or group. This is also true of companies that view their role as community members as just as important as economic return on investment. For America to prosper, whether we are citizens or institutions, we must welcome inconvenience in order to achieve something greater.