By Jeff Yost
“Everybody says rural America is collapsing,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks on March 21, “But I keep going to places with more moral coherence and social commitment than we have in booming urban areas. These visits prompt the same question: How can we spread the civic mind-set they have in abundance?”
It’s worth noting that these observations were published just days after Brooks and a team from the Aspen Institute embarked on a tour of Greater Nebraska. Over the course of 72 hours, they visited Nebraska City, Grand Island, McCook and North Platte and met with dozens of passionate community builders – they call them “weavers” – from places like Albion, Bertrand,Byron, Columbus,David City, Grant, Imperial, Ogallala, Ord, Paxton, Red Cloud, and Taylor.
This was all in furtherance of Weave: The Social Fabric Project, an initiative aimed at better understanding our society and highlighting the good in America today. Brooks is convinced we must build and sustain democracy from the community level up. I agree.
During his time in Nebraska, Brooks says he was struck by a discernible moral coherence and Nebraskans’ enthusiastic willingness to step up for the good of their hometown. At Nebraska Community Foundation, we’ve grown accustomed to this kind of generosity. We see it happening in over 250 communities across our expansive statewide network every day.
It’s the same generosity that is prompting folks to donate their hard-earned savings to better their community. To embrace their abundance and homegrown assets. It’s motivating them to dream bigger about the future and tackle projects that they didn’t think were possible.
And it’s the same generosity that we are seeing in full force following the catastrophic flooding and weather that has devastated hometowns across our beloved state. I am overwhelmed by the incredible acts of neighborly kindness and altruism. While disasters are never welcome, they do have the potential to bring out the best in people. Nebraska has become a case study for that phenomenon. I have to remind myself that this kind of thing doesn’t happen everywhere.
Having David Brooks and the Weave team here was exactly that – a beautiful reminder of why we are so lucky to call this place home. Nebraska and Nebraskans are truly extraordinary. They step up when a neighbor is in need. They give freely and unconditionally of their time, talent and treasure. They are willing to roll up their sleeves, both metaphorically and literally. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to point out the special things you miss from the inside.
I hope readers of this column will take a moment to read David Brooks’ reflections on his recent visit to Greater Nebraska and “What Rural America Has to Teach Us.” I hope his words make you feel as proud as they did me.