Tag Archives: Kindness

Reducing Rancor in Our Polarized Society – The Power of One

SEABROOKS SAYS: You, like I, spend very little time pondering the subject of polarization.  Jesse Caldwell does and you should know what he thinks.  Try adjusting your life by applying his three power=packed points.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The increasing level of open hostility and venomous attacks among people concerning political and social issues should have us all alarmed. The long respected American tradition of “ agreeing to disagree” seems to have been eclipsed with a “Reality TV” “Jerry Springer Show” aggressive display of name calling, personal attacks, and “one upped” insults. Fanatics on both the left and the right demonize people with whom they disagree. If not curtailed, this may be the greatest threat to our American way of life that we face. Truly, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Certainly we should all exercise our First Amendment Rights to Free Speech, and should never hesitate to hold our public officials accountable for their actions. But we should do this in a respectful way that does not intensify the decibel level of public discourse. Moreover, I believe that there are things we can all do as individuals to reduce the level of rancor in our polarized society.

  1. FIRST, LET US ALL MONITOR OUR TONE AND ATTITUDE

Courtesy, civility and a respect for everyone’s worth and therefore opinion can do wonders. As a young man, George Washington compiled a list of 110 “Rules of Civility”, which were the attitudes and values that helped shape his leadership. By setting the right tone, attitude and atmosphere in his Cabinet, this allowed our country to reap the best that men of opposite political beliefs, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, had to offer.

I love what my childhood friend from Victory School, Kandy Bradley Puckett, recently posted on Facebook:

While much of America seems to be getting more and more divisive, I’m going to
Be holding doors for strangers, letting people cut in front of me in traffic, greeting all that
I meet, calling people, “Sir” and “Ma’am, exercising patience with others, and smiling
at strangers. I’ll do this as often as I have the opportunity. I will not stand idly by and
let children live a world where unconditional love is invisible and being rude is acceptable.

2. SECONDLY, LET US TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND ON ALL ISSUES

We all have our own beliefs and opinions. But none of us is perfect, and none of us can be right all the time. On most issues, those on opposing sides are people of good will, seeking to find an honest solution to a problem. May we listen to the views of others and seek to find “common ground” if it can be done without comprising our principles. “Tip and the Gipper” is a wonderful book that explores how Republican President Ronald Regan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill were able to work together on certain issues, despite being on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, because they were willing to keep an open mind. Similarly, conservative Senator Orrin Hatch and liberal Senator Edward Kennedy, often at political odds with each other, were able to collaborate and co-sponsor many bi-partisan bills that became law, because they viewed what each proposed with an open mind.

3. THIRD, LET US SEEK CREATIVE WAYS TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS WITH WHOM WE HAVE POLITICAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

Much of the animosity between different factions on issues stems from the fact that most of us do not understand the backdrop of those who disagree with us. If we were all to see creative ways to reach out to others with whom we have political or philosophical differences, and try to get to know them as people, I submit we would lessen the virulence in our society. It is hard to dislike someone who disagrees with you when they know and ask you about your children.

We can begin by sending a greeting card to someone of a different political party, persuasion, or race. We can move beyond that by asking them to lunch. We can turn unlikely and potentially negative situations into positive opportunities for good.

In 1983, Senator Edward Kennedy opened a mass mailed letter from Moral Majority Leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, which urged the recipients to “unite and defeat ultraliberals like Ted Kennedy”. Instead of becoming angry, Kennedy was amused and reached out to Falwell. This led to an invitation for Kennedy to speak at Liberty University, family dinners in each other’s homes, and a surprising but enjoyable friendship. Rev. Falwell prayed with Sen. Kennedy’s ill mother, and Kennedy wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Falwell’s son for law school. If they can do this, why can’t we?

In conclusion, we can all help reduce the level of rancor in our land my monitoring our tone and attitude, keeping an open mind about current issues, and seeking creative ways to get to know someone who believes differently from us.

Let us not underestimate the “Power of One”. In the words of Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Jesse B. Caldwell, III
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge
Judicial District 27A

Tri-Faith Open Letter

SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer.  He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years.  Read with interest his thought-provoking words.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A Tri-Faith Open Letter to our fellow Citizens of Gaston County

Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:

    • Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
    • Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    • Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
    • Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
    • Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.  
  • Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.

 

  • Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
  • Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
  • Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
  • Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
  • Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
  • Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them.   And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.

With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength.   We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

SIGNED,

Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue

(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

  • Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
  • Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
  • Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
  • Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
  • Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
  • Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
  • Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
  • Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
  • Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
  • Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
  • Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
  • Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ

 

 

‘Tis the Season

SEABROOK SAYS: Who here in Gaston County would have ever thought we could be giving thanks and giving back as we have?  Read what Carrie Meier has to say.  Who would have thought teen pregnancy would be reduced by 57.2% in a relatively short period?  We have proven we can do more – now let’s dedicate ourselves to doing even more.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 

The holidays are upon us and we often see this as a time to give thanks for what we have, to give back to our community, to reflect on what has happened throughout the year, and to gather together with family and friends.   For those of us who work in teen pregnancy prevention and reproductive health, we have much to consider this holiday season.

Giving Thanks

According to data recently released from the State Center for Health Statistics, Gaston County’s teen pregnancy rate dropped for the eighth year in a row in 2015. Since 2007, our teen pregnancy rate declined by an incredible 57.2%.  I am extremely thankful to see this number continue to fall.  I am thankful for the five years of funding, attention, and resources that the Gaston Youth Connected (GYC) project brought to address this issue in our community.  I am even more thankful for those who have continued to stay involved and dedicated to this cause now that millions of dollars are no longer at play.  If you have provided accurate information about sex to a young person, coordinated a sex education program at your church or home, joined the Teen Action Council, attended a teen pregnancy community advisory meeting, or helped a youth make an appointment at the Teen Wellness Center, I thank you.

Giving Back

So maybe you haven’t been involved in the effort to curb teen pregnancy… yet. Here are some ways you can help and give back to your community.

  1. Tell the young people in your life that you care about them and are available to answer their questions about sensitive topics. Their health and their futures are worth enduring an uncomfortable conversation.
  2. If you aren’t feeling up to #1, use your resources! Gaston County DHHS has programs to educate young people about puberty and sex AND programs to educate parents and other adults on how to talk to young people about these issues. There are also excellent websites with tips and good information – check out SHIFT NC or Advocates for Youth to start.
  3. Talk to leaders at your child’s school about the importance of comprehensive sex education. For many youth, school is their only source of sex education outside of the media, which can be highly inaccurate and biased.

Reflection

Though we’ve seen great success in Gaston County, we still have work to do. Our teen pregnancy rate is still higher than the State’s.   The rates among minorities are still disproportionally high when compared to those of young white women.  In fact, from 2014 to 2015, there was a slight increase in the teen pregnancy rate among African Americans in Gaston County.   We need to focus our efforts to ensure that this does not become a trend.  We cannot allow our minority youth to fall victim to cycles we have worked so hard to break.  We can’t do it alone.  We need your help.

Gather Together

Each quarter, DHHS hosts a Community Advisory Council meeting on the topic of Teen Pregnancy Prevention. This group, affectionately called GYC 2.0, has adopted the mission of Supporting efforts that empower Gaston County youth and their families to make safe and healthy decisions.  We need as many people as possible to advocate for this mission, to be aware of the work that is still happening, and to spread the word far and wide.  We need your participation and your support.  Join us.

Happy holidays to all.

 

Carrie Meier is the Community Health Education Administrator at the Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services. She can be reached at carrie.meier@gastongov.com or 704-862-5405.

Gaston Together: Be Engaged

SEABROOK SAYS: Future leadership is an absolute essential if Gaston County is to move ahead.  Gaston Together is right now creating a plan that begins community-wide action on November 15th.  Please encourage the younger generation (ages25-40) to engage now.  Connect with Donna Lockett.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In 1997, a group of community leaders with foresight decided to launch a unique concept in Gaston County. A non-profit organization was developed with a mission that would tackle big Community Challenges by engaging the citizenry and working to avoid duplication of efforts in our community.  Gaston Together:  Communities of Excellence grew out of this effort.

Over the last nineteen years, Gaston Together has addressed many such challenges in our community. Some “solutions” have remained under its administration such as the “Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour” for third graders and the Gaston County MLK Unity Awards (honoring citizens in our county who build bridges of unity across lines of race, religion, gender, culture and geography in Gaston County.)  Others, such as “Keeping Families Intact”, now the Resource Connection at the YMCA , were transferred to other entities for sustainability.

One initiative developed by Gaston Together in its very beginning and still going strong today is the Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition (GC3.) The GC3 is a non-denominational ministerial association that provides faith-based leadership to address community issues.  Recently, they have created and signed a covenant with Law Enforcement in Gaston County including the Sheriff, the Chiefs of the County and all municipal police departments. The idea behind the covenant is to be proactive in Gaston County instead of reactive to community unrest; to develop a closer working relationship among clergy and law enforcement in Gaston County in an effort to prevent local protest events such as those experienced nationally.  Significant pro-active events since then have included a clergy/law enforcement breakfast to encourage relationship building, a gathering at the MLK Plaza to thank and pray for police following recent violence against police across our country, and a clergy specific police academy developed by the Gastonia Police Department.  Twenty-five Clergy members will take part in the training this fall.

The newest major initiative of Gaston Together is our Civic Engagement process. In an effort to attract and retain the 25 – 40 age group in our county and after several months of community review and cross-sector focus group sessions, in late fall Gaston Together will launch a community process to engage our next generation of leaders for Gaston County.  The underlying objective of this initiative, as the name implies, is to provide a vehicle for citizens- especially the next generation of leaders – to become engaged in endeavors that will improve our community’s vitality and quality of life.

These are just two specific examples of on-going Gaston Together initiatives, but there are numerous opportunities for people in this community to participate. So how can you help and what is the first step?

Find out what interests you. Whether it is just simply working with your neighbors to improve your street/neighborhood or getting involved by providing your opinions and desires to the elected leaders. Think of your county and its future; think of how it will drift if we all do nothing. We are the last county in the Charlotte Metro to experience tremendous growth. Be a part of deciding how, when and where that growth will happen. BE ENGAGED!

For more information about Gaston Together, please visit our facebook page, website: gastontogether.org, or call 704-867-9869.

Jaggy Anand
2016 Gaston Together Board Chair

 Donna Lockett
Gaston Together Executive Director

Go Outside!

SEABROOKS SAYS: Our churches have been in decline for decades.  Do we really want this?  Dwayne Burks draws an interesting conclusion of churches and the “Go Outside” campaign in Gaston. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Recently our community rolled out a new branding slogan that encourages us to GO OUTSIDE. It seems to be having an impact. In fact, last week I found myself referencing the slogan when I shared our county’s many outdoor attractions with an out of town customer service operator who took my refrigerator repair call. Before we hung up he was convinced to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Crowder’s Mountain State Park. GO OUTSIDE is catching on!

I thought about this new slogan in relation to the plethora of churches scattered across our county. The local Economic Development Commission reports that we have over 700 houses of worship right here in Gaston County.  If my math is correct this means we have a church positioned every half mile for every 297 individuals.

The reasons for so many churches is perhaps another story for another day. But the question for today is what is it that causes certain churches to thrive while others seem to falter or barely get by? Why do some churches pack the pews, while others have more pews than people?  Could it be that some of our churches starting grasping the GO OUTSIDE message long before it was enlisted as community catchphrase?

Christ charged the church to GO OUTSIDE over 2000 years ago by challenging us to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  In fact, Christian churches routinely refer to Christ’s instruction to GO OUTSIDE as the church’s Great Commission.  Furthermore, we couple the Great Commission to GO OUTSIDE with the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of First United Methodist’s Rev. David Christy who sums it up using all the sophistication of his Duke Divinity degree when he says, “It ain’t rocket science. We are here to love God and love people.”

Growing, thriving churches seem to GO OUTSIDE, motivated by their love God and their love for others.   Healthy churches do not wait for people to come to them. Instead they GO OUTSIDE their doors and engage their communities.  It may be as simple as greeting neighbors on the street or getting to know homeless in the street. But times are different and traditions die hard.  A generation ago we could open the doors and people would show up.   Churches were the centerpieces of community communication, activities, and recreation.  But times have changed. Communication channels are not limited to a weekly meeting down at the church.  Today we communicate instantaneously.  What once required hours, days, or sometimes weeks to filter down is literally in the palms of our hands.  Likewise, people are more mobile than ever before. Church has become just one of the many options on our map of weekly things to do and places to visit.  But that does not mean the church needs to fade into obscurity. It means we have the greatest opportunity ever to open our doors the other way and GO OUTSIDE.  The world is abuzz with activity where we can do what Jesus told us to do a long time ago – GO OUTSIDE!

While programs coordinate and support this going outside; programs do not dictate it. Healthy churches GO OUTSIDE not with out of a sense of obligation or forced outreach.  Rather, both pastors and parishioners GO OUTSIDE fueled by the genuine desire to love their neighbors as themselves. So the challenge for churches is clear.  How will we move from merely coming to church to actually being the church?  How will we love our neighbors as ourselves if they are not coming to us?  What if we take our lead from Christ and from the growing churches around us and GO OUTSIDE?

Dwayne Burks serves as the Chaplain and Director of Social Responsibility for the Gaston County Family YMCA.
Phone or text: 704.860.2957.
Email: dburks@gastonymca.org

 

Gaston County Schools Has Accepted Rachel’s Challenge

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County Schools are confronting BULLYING head on and are getting positive results.  Improvements are clear in relationship building, communications, learning and kindness towards peers!      NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In August 2012, Gaston County Schools became the first school district on the East Coast to launch district-wide participation in Rachel’s Challenge.  This program was made possible by a grant partnership with the United Way of Gaston County.  School support personnel including counselors, social workers, nurses, and media specialists experienced a powerful introduction to Rachel Scott’s story at our summer training.  Participants were all moved by the incredible vision of this young lady and the impact her life is still having nationwide, and they were excited to bring this message to everyone in Gaston County Schools.

Rachel Scott was a student killed in the Columbine school shooting.  Her ideals of kindness and compassion live on through the organization that sponsors the Rachel’s Challenge initiative.  Another important message of the Rachel’s Challenge program is the idea that each person can reach millions.  In the presentation, a story is shared that Rachel drew her hands on the back of her dresser and wrote that her hands would touch millions, a prophecy that has definitely come true.

From the organization’s website, www.rachelschallenge.org, five tenets for improving school climate include this challenge to students:

  1. Dream BIG and Believe in myself.
  2. Be KIND to others.
  3. Practice POSITIVE gossip with others.
  4. Show APPRECIATION to those I love.
  5. Be the ANSWER (not the problem).

In Fall 2012, school presentations were held to introduce the tenets of Rachel’s challenge to all students.  These programs were tailored to the appropriate learning levels for elementary, middle, and high school.  Students signed a banner, accepting Rachel’s Challenge to have a positive impact on school climate.  The message went beyond an anti-bullying message.  Students were being asked to complete targeted acts of kindness.  The speaker encouraged students and faculty members to consciously do something kind every day and to look for those who might need their friendship.  One important example in the program was for students to be inclusive.  An example was given to look around at lunch and other social opportunities in the school and to invite someone who may be sitting alone to join your table. In fact, Rachel was known to not only invite someone to her lunch table but to move to sit with someone who may have been sitting alone, and by this initiation to include them in a larger conversation that ultimately facilitated friendships.  Following the Rachel’s challenge presentation, many administrators, teachers, and support personnel witnessed this act of kindness happen throughout cafeterias across the entire school district.

At all schools, clubs were founded, Friends of Rachel (FOR) clubs and Kindness clubs.  These clubs had students write how they will be a positive link in the school climate chain.  These links were put together to decorate school lobbies, libraries, cafeterias, and classrooms.  These chains of kindness were a visual reminder to students that they are important and can make a positive impact on the lives of others.

In October 2012, Gaston County Schools partnered with Gastonia Rotary clubs to sponsor a Rachel’s Challenge video contest.  Schools videotaped implementation of club activities, programs, and student interviews to present at the Rotary Leadership program.  The Highland School of Technology won the competition with a student produced video.  The video showed students who had written on their hands that “these hands will touch millions” interspersed with clips of students showing kindness and interviews of students and faculty members answering questions about how Rachel’s Challenge can reduce bullying. In December 2012, high school FOR clubs marched in parades across the district.  The student groups had matching Rachel’s Challenge shirts to show unity among all club members at all schools.  A bus with banners encouraging people to accept Rachel’s Challenge followed the students marching in the parade.

Three years later, Rachel’s challenge continues to actively improve school climate by promoting positive character traits (respect, responsibility, kindness and courage) and reducing bullying incidents.  Schools are more welcoming and Gaston County Schools as a district has seen a subsequent rise in graduation rate and reduction in drop-out rate.  Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.

Here are some examples of Rachel’s challenge events across Gaston County Schools:

  • Belmont Central’s Kindness Club works on character education each month.
  • Chapel Grove Elementary school hosts a food drive for families in need during Christmas. The students make handprints and write well wishes and positive messages on the collected bags of food. The counselor supplements this activity with lessons on empathy.
  • Pleasant Ridge Elementary completes a Drumming for Kindness event to emphasize how listening to each other is an act of kindness and a great way to build positive relationships. Below is a picture of the students holding their chain reaction.
  • Belmont Middle School’s FOR members are the student ambassadors who give tours and mentor new students.
  • East Gaston High School FOR club hosts a food drive annually. They also hosted a faculty/student basketball game to raise money to help some students afford basketball camp.
  • The Highland School of Technology FOR partners with the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) to host a rally on conflict resolution, positive decision-making, and safety (no texting and driving). Students write “I Believe” statements on a banner that is displayed. Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.
  • South Point High School incorporates Rachel’s Challenge with Project Unify to bring together students with disabilities with other students and promote acceptance of diverse populations.

Dr. Melissa Balknight                                                                                       Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services                           Gaston County Schools