by Adam Powell, President & CEO of CISDR

As we approach the holiday season, I once again feel almost compelled to engage in a healthy dose of self-reflection. The holidays frequently evoke this desire, as I sift through memories of “home,” of spending time with family, of engaging in the practices of giving, thanking, and communing. It is on these latter activities that I find myself focused this year. Admittedly, some years are more productive in delivering puzzlement than yielding even remotely meaningful (or fit for public consumption) observations about the world and my tiny role in it. This may be the year, however, that I have stumbled upon something considerable — dare I say significant — at least for me.

Unsurprisingly, part of my reflective process this year has entailed a thoughtful consideration, yet likely imperfect recollection, of the life events that brought me here, to Communities In Schools, as the new President and CEO of the Dallas region. I am elated, humbled, and honored to occupy this role, but it also demands something of me in the immediacy: a reconsideration of what community is, and categorically, what it is not.

Over time, we have witnessed a gradual hijacking of the notion of “community” by mainstream and social media, as well as politicians, corporations, and pop culture more broadly. The buying and selling of these pieces of “community,” as a social commodity amenable to manipulation and monetization, has beckoned us to join, support, and engage. With innumerable commercially available “communities,” we can be a part of something with just one click. Join our Facebook community, our community of bloggers, our community of leaders, our community of rainbow unicorn lovers, our community of “fill in the blankers.” What is absent from this new notion of community is the actual unity, a key part of the word; what is ever present, albeit obscured in many instances, is the profit-driven nature of such endeavors.

I am not so pessimistic about the popular notion of community, however, as to believe that people cannot find and create a sense of unity and identity in these virtual worlds. I am equally convinced that countless individuals and organizations have established their own communities to unite us. In fact, I will likely make numerous shameless plugs to join our community on social media in the near future. But, like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, in the denouement of the story hopefully, I think I may have arrived at a concrete notion of the meaning of community.

A community is far more than a collection of people who choose to like a page or meet monthly to network within their respective career fields. A community represents OUR people, in OUR village, and members constitute a collective on whom we come to depend for support, knowledge, and our current and future success. But community also produces a feeling, a sense of trust, closeness, unity, fellowship, and connection. Rooted in commonalities and respectful of differences, community furnishes us with a sense of caring, compassion, empathy, demonstrating a radical dedication to the progress and prosperity of the WHOLE.

It is not merely the physical, geographic closeness of people that fosters a sense of community, although proximity certainly does help. Rather, it is the process of coming together, and increasingly not just by happenstance. Changes in the world, and our economy in particular, have offered many of us a choice in community, and the ability to opt into communities that were once geographically distant to our homes. Yet we connect with our new communities so fervently that our sense of self, identity, and purpose becomes inextricably linked to it. Purposeful engagement is thus a requirement of the modern community if we wish to maintain it in a meaningful way.

Communities are also dependent on the institutions that reside in them. So, there is no doubt that communities should occupy a presence IN our schools. Indeed, schools serve as the cornerstone of a community, educating the newest members about the world they inhabit, and are thus deserving of all of the support a community can provide. Yet, communities ARE schools as well, or at least they have the potential to be. Insofar as they possess the capacity to cultivate knowledge, solve problems, and offer resources that contribute to the building of social and cultural capital among members, communities can and do educate. Indeed, the most successful communities engage in collective responses to not only problems, but priorities, as they intentionally undertake efforts to elevate all members. Schools deserve, and are owed, the benefit of an idyllic reimagining of community; one that is wholly devoted to supporting the success of its youngest members: the students who pass through the schoolhouse doors each morning.

In an era described as politically and socially polarized, communities transcend the pettiness that divides us, coalescing around a common good. And so, I find myself profoundly thankful to have arrived here, at Communities In Schools of the Dallas Region (CISDR), to be part of this good — our good — and it is anything but common.

Thank you for welcoming me into your community.