This morning as I get ready for my Shabbat to start in the evening, I am meditating on the value of community. I tried my best to write this last night but was consumed like the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis over the murder of George Floyd. How do I write about community, when one is literally burning down?
It is easy in Wyoming to unplug–not only from the nation, but also our own community. Growing up in Casper, I knew more about how to find a good camping spot where I wouldn’t run into any other humans than I knew the day-to-day events in my own hometown. Sure, I was in student council and tried to improve my high school community, but I never felt that community support until I left home. When I left Wyoming at 18, I went to a small all-women’s university with about 800 students. There I really joined a community.
It was the experience of a lifetime to be surrounded by so many driven and inspiring women. I sometimes look back at my time at Hollins in wonder at all of the things I was capable of doing at once. Just listing out my senior year feels exhausting. My accomplishments were only possible because of the support I received from women just as busy as me. Much to my surprise, at graduation I was given the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for putting my community before myself. Mostly this meant supporting my classmates, showing up for their events, organizing other events, and just generally being involved. As I walked to the stage to receive my award my classmates sang to me our traditional song of love. Once on stage I returned the song, shouting my love for my class at the top of my lungs. Hollins was my first real taste of a strong community.
We love you, Hollins! Oh, yes we do!
We love you Hollins, and we’ll be true.
When you’re not with us, we’re blue.
Oh, Hollins, we love you!The traditional song of love. My class replaced “Hollins” with my name and I sang to the “seniors.”
When I left Hollins, I started working full time at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in my hometown. It was my first view into my home community and the first time in my life that I actually felt aware of it. I didn’t stay long before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska to pursue my Master of Arts degree, where I received another crash course in community. Working for the Malone Community Center to build this timeline, I traveled around with one of my teammates to collect oral history from community members. Before starting this project, my own personal community had stepped up for me in a big way– bringing me food, walking my dog Bandit, and taking me to the doctor while I passed a kidney stone over the course of a month. I learned first hand and through stories how a strong community handles pain.
Then I came home. For the first time in my life, researching Wyoming history, sharing it with the public and joining groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, the League of Women Voters, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, I feel as though I am an active member in my home community. Casper’s community has become so much stronger than it was when I was a child. Business owners have pooled together funds to revitalize downtown and summer events regularly take over city streets. Some things haven’t changed though, if you don’t seek it out, it is easy to miss. Wyoming is still an easy place to unplug and embrace your inner misanthrope. Yet, the more people I meet the more I find myself inspired. I think that community involvement makes us capable of accomplishing more than we ever could alone. That is why even when it is painful–especially when it is painful–it is important to plug into your community.
I look to the communities in pain right now, fighting for justice. The people gathered there out of anger and love, demanding that their officials do the right thing. This, in all its mess, is what a community is.