As a transplanted Minnesotan, I have considered it a privilege to live in what I thought was the Golden State, a place of rich diversity, inspiring creativity and incredible beauty.
However, as I have lived in the San Joaquin Valley, I have been shocked to find levels of poverty mirroring the Third World and a California culture so fragmented I had to wonder if the principles laid out in the founding documents made it to the West Coast.
I believe California Forward offers an opportunity for Californians to unite behind a shared set of values and specific choices that will create, perhaps for the first time, a path toward a future that is prosperous, sustainable and offers opportunities to all – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is smart.
Follow any issue deeply enough and you will find that solutions lie in the hands of those who appear on the surface to be your opposition. For example, those that focus on economic development as the path to prosperity and ignore equity allow poverty to grow. Those that think equity is about government programs and maintain an anti-business bias create barriers to effectively address poverty issues. We need the talents and influence of both groups to solve community problems, or the cost of prisons, academic remediation and health will dwarf their progress.
I think we sit on a precipice. We must stop listening to the rhetoric of those who talk and squawk and take a deep look at ourselves. Solving the problems we face is the work of citizens in every community – not government acting alone. We defaulted, fragmented, wanted special treatment, believed in silver bullets and simple answers, and wanted someone else to fix it. Life is difficult—it always has been. We need one another to make it through.
California Forward took the time to honor the work of the past by reading the volumes of commission and consultant reports before fashioning solutions. Its leaders were painstaking in recruiting a board of people with diverse thought that is no doubt difficult to lead, yet essential for authentic dialogue and trust. Some of our largest foundations stepped up to invest, recognizing that as funders they have a unique role to play in creating platforms where stewards can lead the whole. It’s time to learn, reflect deeply, take responsibility as citizens, and do our part to meet the challenges we face.
We have a greater responsibility than to one another in current times. We have a responsibility to those who sacrificed everything for freedom and those who will inherit the world we leave behind. In times like these—there is no neutral. You either choose citizenship and take responsibility, or you are simply a resident, riding on a wave created by the commitment and hard work of others. The choice has always been ours.
Deborah Nankivell is CEO of the Fresno Business Council and one of California Forward’s Forward Thinkers