Learning from History

Guest Correspondence

Gulf Coast Community Foundation has found a spiritual partner of sorts in historian David McCullough. His prize-winning books tell the stories of great people who have changed our country and world. But McCullough insists that it’s the communities they came from—the places and the people who shaped them—that enabled these individuals to achieve greatness. That’s a guiding truth we hold to be self-evident as a community foundation.

I’ve thought a lot about McCullough’s wise take on American history and Americans’ potential as we prepare to welcome him for a luncheon in March. Here are a few reasons why his approaching visit excites me and lessons he might illuminate for our community.

McCullough addressed a national group of foundation leaders last spring on the themes of identity, purpose and place. That’s where I heard him say things like, “Pride in community generates purpose leading to action” and “No bird ever soared in a calm—you have to face the wind to rise to new heights.”

In the first quote, McCullough was referring to places like Independence, Missouri, where the subject of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Truman grew up, and Dayton, Ohio, the innovation hub that produced the dynamic duo of his best-seller The Wright Brothers. The latter line was McCullough’s take on a journal entry by Wilbur Wright. It can also serve as reminder and rejoinder for an ever-present question in our line of work: Is this the best thing for our community?

Besides such time-tested ideas as the unifying power of regional identity or the inspiring force of a sense of purpose, I expect Mr. McCullough will touch on some especially timely subjects for our region. While McCullough writes history, he stresses that no story he shares or event he recounts was preordained for his subjects. His work describes their present. And future. They were making decisions and taking actions that would determine history to come.

Here in our communities and region, we face pressing decisions that will shape our future history. How do we ensure adequate, affordable housing for our entire community? What will we make of our Sarasota Bayfront? Will we be a region that welcomes diverse populations of all ages? Deciding such answers and then forging the plans to realize them requires strong leadership and collaborative consensus.

And when it comes to leadership, collaboration and questions of policy, we can’t ignore the necessary means to positive progress: civil discourse and civic participation. McCullough’s work reminds us that the core values that ground communities are seeded in our neighborhoods and our homes. Moral sense, attitude and spirit, civility—these make us who we are. They are the foundation of community.

While David McCullough seems to write a lot about individuals, he’s the first to assert that history tells us we’re better together. In that address I heard last spring, he insisted “there’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman” and “very little of consequence is accomplished alone.” I look forward to learning much more from this celebrated chronicler of the past about how, together, we might write a better future for our region.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Learn more about Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s March 2 Better Together luncheon with David McCullough at GulfCoastCF.org.

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