Sharing Our Humanity

By Bill Bolling, Executive Director
November 2010 - February 2011

It began as it has for over 25 years, one of my favorite evenings of the year. On a cold winter night this past December, some of our best local writers, poets, musicians, and comedians shared what is most personal to them – their creative work. It’s known as WordFeast (formerly Writers In Concert), and a feast it is. It’s a fundraiser to support the work of the Food Bank, but it’s much more – an evening of affirmation, laughter, tears, and a deep appreciation for those who share for the benefit of others.

Unplanned by the organizers, a theme began to emerge this year – the uniqueness, dysfunctions and familiarities of our holiday family stories. We laughed out loud hearing some of the stories of fact and fiction, often times because they were so familiar to our own experiences. We probably all have a crazy aunt, a mischievous child, an inspiring grandparent, or a nosy neighbor. It reminded us that our lives are full of memorable characters who make life rich and interesting, if only we take the time to acknowledge them.

What is most inspiring is when we share something very personal and heartfelt with others. It is like being invited into a very private and tender place in a person’s heart. It may be one’s greatest gift, to share what is most alive, or stressful, or inspiring in our lives. I find it interesting, too, that our stories don’t often focus on how wealthy we are, our political beliefs, where we live, or our station in life. What we’re much more likely to share is our humanity – a connection that transcends all our differences.

There are those among us who accentuate our differences – who see differences as bad or wrong, instead of interesting and stimulating. Many in the media today make a good living framing things this way. It’s like a spectator sport, and for some reason many people continue to support it, influenced time and again by the fears of others.

But our stories can also be amusing, inspiring, and even offer teachable moments. At WordFeast, they were all those things. It caused me to think about how we frame our work at the Food Bank.

Many of us who have spent our lives creating and managing organizations and systems to help others in need are asking the question – should we continue to frame our challenges in the same way? As real as they are, can each of us keep going to the public with stories about greater demand for our services, emergencies that demand more contributions, and critical situations that are likely to get worse if everyone doesn’t do more?

Or do we focus on the incredibly creative and committed response to the most challenging times in decades - of being more efficient, leveraging more, building and sustaining collaborations, of people working across distinctions and differences to find common interests, and commitments?

Of course both sides of the coin are true. Fear, distrust, and critical need have been great motivators in recent years, and really throughout history. But fear has never been the thing that sustains us over time. As a people, and a community, we have great aspirations, looking out, looking forward – believing in a better future for all.

We are doing good work at the Food Bank, our best work ever. We are stepping up to the challenge. We are living the real-life stories of our times even as we struggle to know the best and most effective way to do our work and tell those stories. I am reminded again and again that all the energy and work around getting and sharing food with others brings us closer together; it creates a context that weaves in and out of our personal lives. As we begin the New Year and move into the inevitable unknown waters it will bring, we are challenged once again to sustain the effort. I’ve always found that the best place to start is to focus on some of the things that have worked best.

As we continue to work through the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign's busiest season, providing free tax preparation services for hard working families, we know that helping those who strive to help themselves is some of the most rewarding work any of us will ever experience. It is impactful.

As we plan for this year's Hunger Walk/Run, we look forward to celebrating what a group of very committed people, coming from all walks of life, can do to make a difference in the world. It is affirming.

As we look forward to spring and the planting season, we know that growing healthy food not only helps address hunger, but can be used as a teaching tool about the sacredness of life itself and our deep connection with each other. It is growing.

As we call on thousands of volunteers to once again share one of life’s most precious resources – their time – we know many stories that nurture and sustain us through difficult and challenging times will be lived out here. It is hopeful.

Our story is about shared sacrifice, of being personally challenged, of facing difficult choices, of discovering what we value, of stepping up to lead, and in the process finding our soul and then our voice. It is the American story, and it resonates deeply with what we know is true in ourselves and others.

Bill Bolling