What is community? It can mean a lot of different things. The place where you live. The people that surround you. Something bigger that you want to be part of.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a participant at many Sip Sessions before having the opportunity to moderate. What I enjoyed the most? Sip Sessions’ innate ability to gather talented individuals who are from different places and backgrounds. These people are like-minded in that they want to give back to the world, but a collection of diversity of thought that brings multiple perspectives to a discussion.
While this group has always engaged in thought-provoking discussion, I wanted to make sure that my Sip used the opportunity to guide this unique collection of people to action. This is what I believe to be the best way to activate the Sip Session community.
For me, Hartford has always been a place that I loved. As a child of the 80s it was a world where there was always activity. Sports? Check. Shopping? Check. Great food in the ethnic neighborhoods? Check. As someone who’s family hailed from New York, going into Hartford was as exciting for me as going back to Brooklyn on weekends to see family.
But Hartford has also always been a conundrum. What should be treated as a capital region has, for at least the last two decades, only been one of Connecticut’s many fiefdoms. And the people of this area by and large for some reason have not advocated for the place they live. They haven’t evangelized for the area where they work. And most have spent too much time worrying about what we aren’t instead of celebrating what we are and the great things we have here. In that way, it’s unlike anywhere in this country I’ve visited in that people seem almost embarrassed by where they live. And that just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to be here, you should do whatever you are capable of to ensure this is the best possible place we can make it. We need to stop waiting for others to do the work that we can do ourselves.
So how do we make our communities great? There’s no silver bullet, but this Sip Session focused on three ideals people should focus on when they make the conscious choice to take responsibility for owning what their communities are going to be:
This needs to be looked at in two ways: 1) have some perspective about where we are in the grand scheme of things. When I attend community discussions or read op-eds in local newspapers you would think that Hartford is in the dark ages. Two generations ago, 18-year-olds were landing on the beaches of France to free the world from tyranny. Hartford’s problems in 2019, while real and often serious, are things that can be addressed with time, energy, and resources. Let’s worry about what we can control and move on from the things we can’t; and, 2) have some perspective about where we want to go based on what we already have. Your life is yours, and only you can dictate what your actions are going to be each day. There are enough people who are along for the ride. Do something different, be something different, and go against the grain. Celebrate your community and do it unapologetically.
The people that make Hartford sound like a second-rate place are typically the people that are currently living and working here. Go to a map and draw a 120-mile radius. We should be the envy of the world. We live in a place that either has, or is in close proximity, to some of the nation’s finest universities, towns, and recreational activities. There are few locales with as much to offer as the Greater Hartford region. We have an obligation to spread this word and to evangelize everything we have to offer. And when you see someone putting our community down, step up and call them out. Make them explain their comments. They certainly will not be able to justify them, and you’ll have the opportunity to spread the good word
Perhaps the most important of ideals in a world that is full of talkers – action. Being someone who is known as a “doer”. Making the choice to actively find what makes you tick, or maybe finding the passionate leader you can’t wait to follow is a wonderful thing. But always keep in mind that we can all be leaders, especially if we are willing to be passionate about a cause. Sometimes leadership is vocal, sometimes it’s by example, and other times it’s as simple as supporting those who have already started a mission. I implore you to be what you can when you can. Also, owning your community and taking a stand to make it a better place does not mean you have to support everything. No one has enough time, energy, or resources to be all things for all people. Nor should they. Find what you can do and throw yourself into it with everything you have.
Our Sip Session analyzed these principles and discussed various projects they were willing to work on. The group wasn’t out to fix all the world’s problems, but we certainly had lively discussion. The attendees ranged from Hartford residents to non-profit and corporate leaders. Irrespective of their backgrounds, there were certainly people in attendance that were ready to set the world on fire with their energy.
The overall takeaway of the evening was that there is already an incredible amount of people doing special things throughout Greater Hartford, but an area where we can improve is trying to un-silo. Instead, we should be working to share resources and put more energy into supporting what already exists. This can be done through word of mouth or with the full breadth of technology that exists in this era. Whatever the instrument, we concluded that to own our community we need to support the arts, we need to support the start-up culture, and we need to create a better volunteer network where people don’t have to work so hard to find a way to do good.
But perhaps most importantly, here’s the ultimate takeaway from the event. Greater Hartford is a wonderful place. Imagine what it could be if we all take ownership of our capital region and take responsibility in creating where we want to go. Stop talking, start acting, and lead the way for those who don’t have your vision.
Photography and video by Mike Marques of Arbor Light Studio
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