On Friday, Feb. 3, Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. sent a message to the campus community regarding how to move forward and make a difference in these turbulent times. The full message is below. 

“When I Find Myself in Times of Trouble”

Or,

“What Should I Do Now?”

I’ve struggled the last few months to write something that is meaningful and thoughtful; something that sheds light on a way forward in these most turbulent of times. It’s been difficult because I don’t want to succumb to rhetoric and intemperate language – that does nothing more than add fuel to the fire. And I don’t want to impugn the integrity of anyone who truthfully believes that his or her perspective is valid and without malice, whether on the political left or right.

So where does this leave me?

Two recent and interrelated stories have provided me some clarity. The first story concerns the reported shortages of food at the Greensboro Urban Ministry’s Food Pantry. As has been reported in the media, the demand for food in the latter part of 2016 left Urban Ministry with a desperately low inventory of food items to distribute to individuals and families in need. While it appears that charitable contributions from generous members of our community have staved off immediate shortfalls, leaders at Urban Ministry are understandably worried about the days ahead.

The second story is about the Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) spearheaded by Associate Professor Christine Murray of the Department of Counseling and Educational Development in the School of Education and Elizabeth Phillips, Executive Director of the Phillips Foundation. This project focuses on the role that healthy relationships play in contributing to broader community-wide health. Put differently, this work lifts up the idea that one way to prevent community corrosion associated with domestic violence, drug abuse, and the neglect and abuse of children is to engage preventative strategies that target the interactions that form the foundation of our day-to-day experience. The HRI framework calls attention to interventions designed to build healthy relationships. The theory is that one critical marker of a healthy community is a significant number of healthy and vibrant interpersonal relationships, particularly at the family level.

An exciting feature of this work is that it brings together representatives from the academic community, the philanthropic community, and the governmental, non-profit, and private sectors. Of course the cynic will observe that it is remarkable that these disparate interests can collaborate at all. I’d rather stipulate that this network is the contemporary antidote to today’s complex and interrelated problems. Not only is it desirable, it is necessary.

Now – what does this have to do with finding a way forward in the current climate?

It is this. We should pay attention to and work on the problems that are right in front of us.

We have many problems right here in Guilford County. People are hungry. Children are abandoned. Families are in distress. I was stunned to learn, for example, that the Guilford County Family Justice Center, which works on domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse issues, has helped over 8,300 individuals and families since its inception a year and a half ago. I was shocked when I heard this data reported by Catherine Johnson, the new Executive Director of the Center and a UNCG alum.

Now, I’m not arguing that we should ignore the daunting issues that face the nation. Nor am I suggesting that we can’t or shouldn’t have strong emotions about issues currently on the public agenda. We absolutely should. There are times when conditions are such that they present complex challenges to our individual and institutional core values. When they do, we must take the time and invest the energy to understand how to move forward and when it is necessary to take a stand. This is what this university has always done and will continue to do.

What I’m suggesting, however, is that we not allow the noise on the political and social landscape to paralyze us or derail efforts to make a difference, discourage individuals from doing things that can help their communities, or dissuade people from believing they can have a positive and meaningful impact even in an environment where it seems that the challenges we face can be overwhelming.

Let’s focus our energy on transforming our community and making it a more vibrant place to live. A safer and more welcoming place to live. Let’s help our neighbors, be kind to strangers, and love each other a little bit more.