Expanding Leadership, Responsibility and Hope in the Borderland to Build A Strong Future
Why this discourse? Over the next few weeks, we will explore how much we, as a "community", have improved since March 14, 2013 when this speech was given at the El Paso Club.
Our purpose is to seek meaningful solutions to the difficult challenges facing the Borderland and to engage a greater percentage of the Borderland population, as citizens, to support regional development; to lessen the burden on local, state and national government agencies; and to harness the incredible diverse talents and ethnic richness which exist in the area.
With this purpose in mind, it is a good practice to start with defining “community.” Do people living in the same zip code define community? Does race, religion or the area in which we dwell define community? We will define community [communite or citizenry] from the perspective of three dictionaries. Community is defined as: “a group of people residing in the same region and under the same government;” or “a class or group with common interests1.” “Likeness or identity <a community of interests>;” “society as a whole;” “the area or locality in which a group resides2.” Going one-step further we need to consider the definition of communion which translates to “fellowship,” “partake,” “contribution,” and “common” (in Latin this is communis and in Greek (koinōnos). The fundamental connotation of the root koin is that of “sharing in something3.”
Is the Borderland a Community?
To begin this discourse, we have chosen two of the definitions above to define our perspective of “community” here and now in the Borderland. These are: “the area or locality in which a group resides” and “partake.” Choosing the other definitions would imply that the citizens of the Borderland already have common interests or are experiencing things in “common” or in “fellowship” with each other. It seems, as we look across the Borderland, there are many different interests with some common desires. But, for the most part, the East Side is the east side; the Northeast is the northeast; Central is the central part of the city; the West Side is the west side; the Upper Valley is the upper valley; the Lower Valley the lower valley; Cd. Juarez with many descendants living here and having their family roots in Mexico; and so on.
Does having “more” give us a better quality of life?
There is no real sense of being in relationship or fellowship with one another when people live in the same area and are partakers of the assets in that area, i.e. the Borderland, but do not have a common set of “community values (standards).” During the past decade, many say they’ve experienced the culture here in the Borderland becoming more “me” focused. A spirit of entitlement is increasingly evident and civility is on the decline. Here are just some examples:
“We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time. We have more college degrees, but less common sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom and lie too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've done larger things, but not better things; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes; but lower morals; more food but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication. We've become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships5.”
What lessons from the past do we want in our future?
Despite these modern-day examples, we have an example of “people groups” who immigrated to America, dreaming of a better life and future for their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and generations to come. The definition of community for them was “a class or group with common interests;” “fellowship;” “contribution;” and “communion.” Fast forward, 200+ years, we now have a nation of people who have lived here for generations and have ancestry from virtually every nation in the world.
Before anyone assumes this discourse is about immigration, politics, or religion, let us stop you in those thoughts and refocus your attention back to improving the Borderland. In the continuing articles and blogs, we will work to help citizens in the Borderland community define what “building a strong future” can be.
Accepting Responsibility for the Future
Additionally, before someone challenges “what right we have to address the challenges being faced in the Borderland,” we simply offer this explanation. As citizens of the United States, of the Republic of Texas, and the Borderland, we desire to give back to our community through our experiences and expertise in success, failure, and preparing leaders. As Baby Boomers, we believe it is both our responsibility to give back to our nation that has been good to us, and to ensure our children, grandchildren and future generations have a strong future ahead.
Allow us to share a brief explanation of our background. We moved to the Borderland in May 1998 and purchased a property, which literally borders both Texas and New Mexico (with 4 acres in Texas and 6 acres in New Mexico). This property now features a strategic planning, learning center and retreat facility known as the Eagle’s Nest.
As two kids, we grew up in small communities on the east coast. After marriage lived for 10 years on the west coast, 6 years in the south, and traveled throughout the U.S. We have led change initiatives in 43 nations. With this broad experience and knowledge of cultures, we can honestly say that relocating to the Borderland has been one of our best decisions!
In spite of this decision, for more than 12 years, our professional work kept us out of the Borderland about 80% of the time. Fortunately, having businesses here, we were still able to work with many fine organizations in the region. Since, 1989, we’ve had the privilege of working with national leaders, as well as, leaders at all levels of society, in all sectors (public, government, private, and the social sectors).
In November 2011, as we contemplated the future and our approaching 40th wedding anniversary in 2013, we set our next 5 year plan. In this personal and professional “game plan,” we decided to reverse the 80/20 formula and spend 80% of our time here in the Borderland and the United States. Because of this decision the Build A Strong Future Initiative was born.
With this brief insight into our background, let’s get back to the conversation about the Borderland. While we understand the Borderland has its shortcomings, just as there were positives and negatives within other communities where we’ve lived, we are concerned when we hear people actually put down and even “curse” the fact they live here and desire to move away. From our viewpoint, the positives here far outweigh the negatives!
What is in the future for the Borderland Community?
Promising economic studies indicate continued growth for the Borderland. According to Mr. Kaid Benefield, in his March 08, 2012 article entitled “How El Paso Ended Up With America's Best Smart Growth Plan”4 (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2012/03/how-el-paso-ended-americas-best-smart-growth-plan/1440/), in December 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency honored the draft of Plan El Paso with a national award for achievement in smart growth, judging the effort as the year’s best example of outstanding “programs, policies and regulations.” Benefield stated, “the plan has actually gotten better, and certainly more detailed (it runs some 900 pages in all) since I reviewed its predecessor. Early on, the new document makes clear that it is time for a bold new vision and commitment. The undertaking involved substantial public engagement. Plan El Paso "deputized the entire City as citizen planners" with a series of hands-on public planning workshops comprising over eight weeks of intense community exercises and discussions to generate the plan vision. This process was followed by over a year of regular meetings with a citizen advisory committee to refine the draft plan. A project website that also welcomed discussion received over 30,000 visitors, and the process received bilingual coverage in local and national media. In a guest column in the El Paso Times, city manager Joyce A. Wilson summarized both the effort and the accomplishment: Through one of the most expansive planning processes in a generation, Plan El Paso gathered the ideas and aspirations of thousands of El Pasoans. Over 20 citywide meetings were held in various neighborhood centers and libraries, approximately 150 stakeholder meetings involved many of the region's most vital agencies, nonprofits, and businesses in the process, and a website (www.planelpaso.org) synthesized the plan's major ideas and policy recommendations.
“Plan El Paso offers ideas for the revitalization of our urban core. Other policy recommendations include increasing our tax base through traditional neighborhood design, preservation of our open space while planning for future infrastructure needs, increasing our transportation options in an era of increased oil demand and price, improving recreational amenities, developing walkable schools, and continuing our successful relationship with Fort Bliss.”
“Despite these projections, there are factors that impact our quality of life. One factor is the median household income in the City of El Paso in 2009 was $36,147, up from $32,124 in 1999, but still approximately 72% of the 2010 national average median income of $50,2214.”
The Borderland Challenges
Statistically, the primary challenge with over 86% of all strategic plans is they never get implemented! Primarily this is true for three reasons: the plan is not communicated; a clear implementation plan is not in place to execute essential strategies; and a lack of leadership capacity. When it comes to community initiatives and plans, success is predicated on the proactive involvement of citizens. Additionally, our “community” is a Borderplex. This means our day-to-day operations are impacted and influenced by the policies and practices of two nations, along with agendas of multiple counties and cities comprising the Borderplex.
The Borderland community is a multi-cultural, multi-faceted place where north meets south, east meets west. The result is an extremely diverse culture including nearly 2 million people. We are a community of Latinos, Caucasians, Americanos, Mexican Americans, Asians, African-Americans and a blend of all! This rich diverse culture also includes divisions, barriers, and cultural deficiencies. While these facts are truly evident and can be seen nearly everywhere, they create a serious question about what concept of “community” exists here.
What are some of the practices, issues and problems (referred to as cultural deficiencies) that challenge key decisions which need to be addressed today and in the future?
EPISD ranks 98th out of 107 in the Education Choice and Competition Index (Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings - http://www.brookings.edu/ECCI)
Declining customer service
Declining ethics and community standards
A declining sense of personal responsibility
Corruption within all sectors
Self-interest supersedes the interests of the “community”
We live in a society of “labels”
Over 50 cents of every dollar generated here leaves the Borderland to hire people and services –much of which could be supplied locally
The increasing impact of drug abuse on children under the age of 21: nationally, 1 in 5 students are using, buying or selling drugs in school; schools and local organizations are drug-infected; over 29% of young people go to bed at night unsupervised; 9 out 10 high school students know at least one class mate that is drugging, drinking or smoking; and social media sites reflect these activities in vivid terms.You may ask, how we tackle the many “problems” we have here in the Borderland. Is it possible for people to change? Will people really work together across language and cultural barriers? Will it really be possible to see transformational change here?
Hope for the Future
In response to these deficiencies, we offer hope in two ways. First, from 1997 to 2006, we were privileged and afforded the opportunity to support a strategic training initiative in Paraguay, a nation of 5 million people, centrally located between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia. It was there, during 33 trips, we experienced Paraguay being transformed from the 2nd most corrupt nation in the world to one of the Top 10 most improved nations in the world in less then a decade. Second, transformation by definition is change from the inside out. A proven model and process exists, along with the incredibly gifted leaders here who are ready and able to facilitate a community improvement process.
We’ve learned over time that life on a personal level, organizational level, community level or even a national level is filled with decisions which often can be reduced to distinct choices. For example:
We can experience two kinds of pain: The pain of discipline or the pain of regret! Discipline requires us to do the right thing, the right way at the right time. Regret will result in us looking back over our life years from now and reflecting on the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas.
We can choose to improve the place where we live or curse it and leave! Ducks poop in the place where they live causing all kinds of parasites that create a toxic environment. The choice is ours – are we going to be ducks or eagles?
We can keep doing what we’re doing or decide to change for the better! Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity. To get something new we need to evaluate new ways of approaching life, business and the community.
We can be The choice is up to each of us. We can wait for someone else, but that “someone” may never show up!
Therefore, the goals we aspire to are: 1) reduce the HS drop-out rate from 33% to 10% by 2020, 2) help the Borderland become a transformational change model for the nation, 3) sponsor practical education in the community to overcome cultural deficiencies, and 4) help parents become aware of the real and present danger of drug abuse and how to protect their child(ren) under the age of 21.
Citizens helping Citizens
To accomplish these goals, we’ll seek and share historical perspectives, insights, and best practices. We aim to stimulate a healthy and productive conversation about how to implement desired improvements and changes, as well as, to foster meaningful collaboration between community organizations and contributions from citizens throughout the Borderland. The desired results are real decisions, educational initiatives, and community collaboration to continue helping the Borderland become a model for our nation and other nations.
It is essential no one draw the conclusion that this discourse is a definitive or final word about the current conditions or future results in the Borderland. Instead, we invite people from all walks of life to enter into a conversation to determine what future we want here for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. And, then to get involved to make a difference!
To facilitate this conversation, we offer a number of considerations for the journey ahead:
See more clearly where we are now
Put the pieces together
Know where we’ve been
Know what can hold us back
Choose the course to help us build a strong future
What do we need to change?
What do we want to accomplish?
Determine the decisions which need to be made
Know how to stay on track
How we will contribute and fulfill our commitments to each other
How we will continuously improve along our journey into the future
More to come…
1 Webster’s II new Riverside desk dictionary, copyright 1988 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
2 Webster’s II new Riverside desk dictionary, copyright 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
3 The New Bible Dictionary second edition, copyright 1982 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
4 Plan El Paso Economic Development Report page 7.3