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Where To Go From Here: Trying To Build 'Possibility And Hope'


Finally today, we want to close this hour by talking about how we are going to move forward, how to start mending the divisions between us since the election. So we turn to someone whose job it is to help build bridges. He's Richard Harwood. He is the founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. For nearly 30 years, he's traveled around the country to help communities solve problems together. He joins us now in our studios in Washington, D.C. Mr. Harwood, thanks so much for joining us.

RICHARD HARWOOD: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: When you go into a divided community for your work or a community where a problem needs to be solved, what's the first thing you do?

HARWOOD: Well, the first thing we do is we find leaders in the community who are willing to take a different path forward who believe that the path of the status quo is filled with frustration, with skepticism, with cynicism and that somehow we've got to jump to a path of possibility and hope. But to do that, we've got to forge different relationships, we've got to build more trust and we've got to build our civic confidence. So the question is - can you find enough folks to come together to start to work together and then to start to engage people across the community, not about just their problems or their grievances, which may be very real, but to then pivot to our shared aspirations about how we can move forward together?

MARTIN: Now, you, of course, watched this very divisive campaign just like everybody else in the country. Now that it's been a couple of days past that, do you see those kinds of leaders emerging, people who are saying that they want to move forward? You know, the country is kind of a big neighborhood to work in.

HARWOOD: It's a big neighborhood, but it's very fractured at the moment. And I certainly don't see those leaders at the national level. I think in communities, we find leaders who want to bring people together and do work differently. The number one challenge I hear Americans articulate when I go across the country even during the election season but long before that as well is can we restore our sense of belief in ourselves that we can come together and get things done together? And can we reignite our sense of can-do spirit in the country?

MARTIN: What would you say to people who say I don't think they want me and that's how I experience this? What would you say?

HARWOOD: I would say that there are a lot of other people like you who feel the same way, that there are the so-called white working-class in Kentucky where I'm working who feel that way, that there are African-Americans in Mississippi who feel that way, that there are Hispanics in Yakima, Wash., who feel that way, that there are in fact middle-class folks and folks with more resources who feel that way. Everyone feels disaffected to some extent. And the question is who will have the courage to step forward to start working together to demonstrate that we actually can bridge some of these divides? It won't be easy, but it's not as difficult as many people think either.

MARTIN: Why do you think that?

HARWOOD: Because I see it every day. It's not simply a belief I hold. It's what I see in these communities when - you know, it's interesting, Michel, when people come together and we ask them to talk about their shared aspirations for their communities, people start to look around the table and realize that they're hearing similar things from people with different skin color, with different ethnicity, and they recognize that. Do they share everything in common? No. Do they share enough in common that we can peel some things off and start to get to work together? Yes. And that gives people a sense of possibility and hope. We've got to turn it into action so that we can demonstrate that we can do it together.

MARTIN: That's Rich Harwood. He helps communities get together to solve their pressing and most important problems. He was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Rich Harwood, thank you so much for speaking with us.

HARWOOD: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.