“It takes a village to raise a child,” says an African proverb. The town where I was raised always beckons fond memories of the village that impacted my life. Teachers, coaches, ministers, bosses, town leaders are a few that come to mind. They were all influential in my life because they dedicated in making the community stronger, giving voice to the many lives they touched, and believing that the whole is stronger than the individual.

In Thank You for Being Late, author Tom Friedman advocates for the role of community. The main idea of the book is that, more and more, communities will have to be the places where innovation and progress occur. He says that state and national governments are becoming too large and bureaucratic to affect any real change. In summary, the world will be shaped by the strength of grassroots movements in small communities. That is empowering for little towns all throughout our state and nation.

Friedman finishes his book by telling the story of the community in Minnesota where he grew up. He describes St. Louis Park as a place where people solved problems together, respected differences, believed in compromise, and shared a vision for improving the lives of its citizens. It was a place where making decisions was much less about politics and division and more about compromise and the common good. Sounds like a great place to be!

A progressive community can be described metaphorically like an oak tree with strong roots or a high-rise with deep footings. I’m sure you get the picture that a solid foundation is an important characteristic. As Jesus so well describes it, a house built on stone withstands the storms and problems that come its way. Conversely, one that is built on sand is easily blown down. So it is with a community.

Those of us who live in Sylacauga take great pride in our community. During April, we observed the Marble Festival, an exciting time filled with activities that highlight the literal bedrock of our city. Celebrations like this, Veterans Day recognition, SAFE Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Parade, and Easter Sunrise Service weave together the fabric of Sylacauga. Patriotism, faith, family, and compassion are a few of the values symbolized through these events.

Education also is a value critical to the survival and progress of our community and nation. Democracy can only exists as long as its people are educated. Thomas Jefferson said “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people”. When a community reckons that education is the key to overcoming the plagues of indifference, hate, and apathy, its bounds are limitless.

At its most basic level, to be educated is to be literate. Reading opens a child to a world of opportunities. To not read, stifles their chances for success. Do you know that studies have consistently demonstrated that children living in professional families are exposed to about 30 million more words by their third birthday than children living in poverty? Imagine the power of a community where everyone embraced a goal to overcome this gap. Illiteracy would die and the community would thrive.

Education is both a right and responsibility for every citizen in our nation. Illiteracy is a call to action for every community. Where a gap like this exists, a community with a shared vision will make up the difference. Another African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. As Friedman says, a thriving community does not wait for somebody to call and ask for help; it just goes and helps. That is exactly the grassroots community mindset that can transform our world!

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Dr. Todd Freeman is Superintendent of Sylacauga City Schools. Almost 2,400 students are enrolled in Sylacauga’s school system — Sylacauga High School, Indian Valley Elementary School, Nichols-Lawson Middle School, and Pinecrest Elementary School. Follow Dr. Freeman on Twitter at mtfreeman or visit www.sylacauga.k12.al.us.

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