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Mindful : October 2016
“To me, the purpose of our compassion work, particularly in the schools, is to create an open mind and an open heart,” says Fischer. “ When you’re in that position of freedom, that’s when you can learn the most. You can take in stimulus in a pure way and see how it impacts you. It’s hard to do that when you have a narrow view of the world or your mind is cluttered.” That mission became clear during the after- math of the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012. Many of Fischer’s advisors thought he should ignore the issue, but he sensed it would be a good opportunity to bring community leaders together and start having a dialogue. “That’s where compassion has led us,” says Sadiqa Reynolds, the head of Louisville’s Urban League who was the city’s chief of community building at the time. “The big thing is that those uncomfortable conversations have begun. So many people in our community are discon- nected from the suffering of others. But Greg has given people permission to acknowledge the compassion inside themselves. And not just to feel compassion, but to act on it, as well.” In Reynolds’ view, making that kind of dia- logue a priority has helped protect Louisville from the kind of scrutiny other cities have faced during the post-Tray von Martin era. It also made it easier for the city to deal emotionally with a brutal triple homicide that happened shortly afterward. During that crisis, several observers saw a different side of the mayor emerge. Fischer is known for being a reserved, unemotional speaker who, as one observer puts it, “is not the kind of guy who sees a fire and runs into it.” But in the wake of that disturbing crime, he found a new more forceful voice as he proclaimed, “This cannot happen in our city.” Since then, Fischer has not been shy about speaking out on issues he feels strongly about, whether it’s racial prejudice, same-sex mar- riage, or Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country. “ We’re fighting for the soul of our country right now,” says Fischer. “And one of the things I’ve learned is that we need to be louder. Being loud and compas- sion might seem like contradictory terms, but people have a natural desire for connection and belonging and they’re not hearing a lot of leaders talking about that. So I focus on the basic human values of love, kindness, and compassion and no matter what the crowd, no matter what the racial or political makeup, they nod their heads in agreement. People want more of this.” → ST. AUGUSTINE, FL Population: 13,440 Median household income: $43,201 Median age: 42 This small coastal city in nor theastern Florida signed the Charter for Compassion in 2013. Most recently, the campaign staged a creative rally to protest a billboard that had gone up in St. Augus- tine reading: “Islam Bloody Islam: Doomed By Its Own Doctrine!” Instead of getting into a clash with police as other protesters had done, the campaign’s executive director, Caren Goldman, invited about 90 friends wear- ing bright red peace-symbol T-shirts to a compassionate demonstration underneath the billboard. SEATTLE, WA Population: 662,400 Median household income: $67,365 Median age: 36 It started with a bang. First came the Seeds of Change conference, featuring the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, which attracted an estimated 154,000 in 2008. Two years later Seattle became the first city to affirm the Char ter of Compassion, launching the compassionate cities movement worldwide. But after years of hard work the leaders of Compassionate Seattle concluded they were failing to engage the audience they needed to most: the city’s underserved popula- tion. So in 2014 the organiza- tion decided to reboot. Thus was born the Call of Compas- sion NW, which extended its reach to include communities in Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and other parts of Washington. The Call focuses its energy on a clearly defined set of ini- tiatives, including peer-coun- seling programs for young people in recovery, teaching personal empowerment skills in self-managed homeless shelters, and partnering with churches and organizations to convene tough discus- sions about racial equity. The campaign is also working on strengthening its relationship with the region’s Muslim community, linking together organizations that are helping to build thriving neighbor- hoods, and connecting the dots between social justice and climate change. FAYETTEVILLE, AR Population: 80,614 Median household income: $38,680 Median age: 27 Compassionate Fayetteville competes regularly in the Compassion Games and recorded the highest number of charitable acts in the com- petition two years in row, in 2013 and ‘14. The campaign’s feature event is the Month of Compassion, which this past March included an inter faith harmony day and compas- sionate dialogues on race relations and other issues. October 2016 mindful 69