Nancy Vaughan column: We can choose to build cohesive communities

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By Nancy Vaughan | For The Herald Bulletin Mar 25, 2018 
There is much analysis of our divided world and the ways we live in silos and echo chambers these days. If that is the case, I submit that it is a choice each of us makes.
We have never had so many options to connect with and understand people unlike ourselves. As much as we criticize the media, like any other tool, its power lies with the user.
There is a wealth of programming on broadcast, cable and streaming services that opens the door to understanding the complexities of our world. There are smart journalists and writers who take the time to uncover the struggles and triumphs of everyday people. All we have to do is tune in.
I’ve been watching the second season of Atlanta, an FX series about a young man who is trying to manage the career of his cousin, who has achieved some local fame as a rapper with the moniker Paper Boi. The series has gotten rave reviews for its creator and star Donald Glover. Based in Atlanta, Glover’s character, Earn, and his cousin Alfred, aka Paper Boi, are trying to make their way up in the world through the rap scene. Along the way they come face-to-face with social and economic issues touching on race, relationships, poverty, status and parenthood.
There is little in my daily life that overlaps with these characters, but trying to make our way in the world is a universal theme. What is not universal are the specific challenges for people of differing genders, geographies, racial or ethnic backgrounds, family structures and economic status. What often gets us in trouble is making assumptions about those challenges based only on our personal experiences.
Last month, United Way launched a new committee that will focus on increasing engagement across the county. The Community Connections Committee has two goals: to maximize the connection of the Madison County community to United Way to create broader and deeper connections to individuals inside and outside the workplace; and to maximize the contributions of volunteers’ skills, knowledge, experiences, and labor to achieve the greatest impact toward realizing the United Way’s strategic objectives.
A small group of new committee members agreed that we have to work harder to reflect the racial, geographic and socioeconomic diversity of our county. We know that making direct connections is even more difficult than getting people to tune into diverse media or entertainment. Public gathering places are sparse and many neighborhoods lack infrastructure that encourages people to come out and connect with others. We also know that the roads between Elwood, Alexandria, Anderson, Frankton, Lapel, Pendleton, Markleville and points between are more barriers than connections.
However, community conversations we have had over the past year uncover a common desire to connect and build a greater sense of place, a higher quality of life, a more inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. We have the tools to build a strong community. We need people to use them.