Opening Keynote: Leading in a Age of Chaos and Change: Building a Community of Grace

by | Nov 4, 2020 | 0 comments

Earl Lewis

Earl Lewis, founding director of the University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions, Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and public policy, and president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, presented an inspiring and thought-provoking keynote address entitled “Leading in a Age of Chaos and Change: Building a Community of Grace”. It received many strong approvals.

He noted that 2020 has earned its place in American history. We have a 3-fold pandemic with health, racial, and economic effects. Fast forward to Charleston, and we are in a post-racial period. Bigotry and racism seemed to have a permanent hold of us. America’s deadly dance with racism continues to erupt. The death toll from COVID is over 30,000. The Federal government is seized by gridlock, so you will find yourself casting into your reservoir of grace. Access to the services we provide has been limited because of COVID.

We need a new supply of patience. Demands for services skyrocketed. The economic downturn will be with us for 4-5 years. What is the demographic composition of your workforce? A grace-filled community begins with responsibility and flattened hierarchies. Saying you are sorry is required.

The nature of work is changing. Working from home will be a permanent way of organizing work. What is our role of reminding people of the dignity of labor? We will all need new approaches. Working from home has meant each person (which includes all of us) has now become responsible for IT (cost, maintenance, etc.) out of our own pockets so we can do our work. Ask how you can contribute to the common good. A grace-filled community seeks institution builders and needs a staff that understands the difference between a job and a career and is willing to experiment. Tens of thousands of women have left the workforce during the pandemic and many of them will never return. The failure to address this problem will alienate an entire generation.

Members of a grace-filled community must embrace each new encounter as a teachable moment and care about others as much as they care about themselves.What is your role in a new world? We have the opportunity and responsibility to do much more.

People working at home are becoming increasingly irritable. Our systemic racism has been prevalent for many, many years in the US. That is why we see it going in and out of favor. It is not a solved problem. Systemic racism is invisible so many people who don’t care as much for others as much as they care about themselves. We must all strive for some modicum of grace. We all have a role in building and sustaining a grace-filled community. Lewis quoted John Newton’s well-known hymn Amazing Grace.

“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”

The recording of this presentation is openly available on the conference YouTube channel


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