Community Identity - Awakening Compassion

This is an excerpt from my interview with Kory Wilcoxson about his community’s initiative called Compassionate Lexington, and their annual program Lex Gives Back.

Kory Wilcoxson:
So, this year for Lex Give Back, one of the organizations that needed help was Hope Center, and Hope Center is a homeless shelter, and then they have the Hope Mobile, which delivers sandwiches to homeless people in our area. So, I realized no one had signed up to make sandwiches. So, on Tuesday, I just posted on Facebook, “Hey, I'm going to host a sandwich-making party on Thursday. Come at lunchtime, bring sandwich supplies, and let's put together some sandwiches at the Hope Center.” And, I didn't know if it would be me, maybe me or one or two people. Well, on Thursday at noon, 18 people showed up, and we made seven hundred sandwiches. 
And that's just from putting the word out on Tuesday.
And so, I think that speaks to that desire to be compassionate that people have they just need an invitation, and they just need an avenue to live that out. For me to think, just by one Facebook post, we made seven hundred sandwiches and fed people who wouldn't have a chance to eat otherwise. The capacity is there. We just need to find ways to tap into it.
Ame Sanders:
One of the questions I had was, how do you change the heart of a city? But what you're saying is the heart is already there. It's just a matter of giving us an avenue or tapping into it or giving people the opportunity to express the heart and the compassion that is already inside them. It isn't really about changing.
Maybe people are changed through the action of doing it or through the action of receiving. But what you're saying is, there's a lot of compassion already there in your city, and maybe in most cities. That it's just a matter of kind of releasing it? 
Kory Wilcoxson:
Yeah, I would say, yeah, that's good releasing.
I think that maybe a word I would use is awakening.  
You know, it's awakening this compassion, or it's I think people have the compassion, but in a lot of cases it's it has a layer of fear over it because it's easy to be compassionate for someone who looks like me, and who lives near me, but what we're really trying to push, and I really want to make inroads in this in future years is going out and being compassionate in parts of the city that you don't normally go to and with people whom you would not normally associate with.   
Lexington is a close-knit community, and we have a strong sense of community, but like a lot of communities, there's a racial divide, there's a socio-economic divide, but I think compassion is universal. And so, it's one of the things that can help us bridge those divides because it goes beyond the theology or politics or those sorts of things because I think everyone has the desire to live out their compassion, but I would argue that everyone also has the need to receive compassion. And so, if we can bridge some of those divides with this core value of compassion, I think it makes the community even stronger knit, this releasing or awakening of compassion and giving people a conduit to follow that puts them in a place to live it out.

So, what are our takeaways?

Defining and Living Into Community Culture and Values

The group involved in Compassionate Lexington is working to define their community as a compassionate community. They have staked that out as a core value of their community, and then they are living that value across the city in many different ways, including Lex Gives Back. 

Kory told us that he felt this value was always there in his community but that it needed to be awakened, that the community needed an invitation of sorts in order to bring it out.

Leveraging and Building Social Capital 

In Kory’s story of making the sandwiches, he leveraged some of his own social capital to reach out to his network and invite others to join him. Through this invitation, one neighbor to another, and the act of feeding their community, those who joined with him that day were also building their own form of relational capital. It was a relatively small moment in the life of the city, but it is through many of these small moments that relationships are formed, and rich tapestries of social capital are woven over time. Varied experiences also help construct those “wide bridges” we spoke of in the introduction to this chapter.

Bridging Through Service

Another aspect of Lex Gives Back is that through such a broad call to service in the community, there is an opportunity to bridge across racial and cultural lines. Through the act of collaborative service to the community, we have the possibility to form new relationships and make positive and sometimes lasting connections with individuals beyond our typical circles.

Building Community Narratives and Identity

If you listened to my full episode with Kory, you would realize that he is a natural storyteller. However, Compassionate Lexington also lends itself to the kinds of stories that people want to share. All of these little stories of individual and group actions as part of Lex Gives Back are their own multitude of stars in a narrative, or constellation, of compassion that contributes to the culture across the galaxy that is Lexington.

Learn More

The Compassionate Lexington initiative is part of the global Compassionate Communities movement that grew out of the Charter for Compassion

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