This is my last editorial as GMA president. As I’ve thought about what to say to you this last time, I must admit that it’s been a little difficult to figure it out. Why? Because we’re still stuck in the middle of the story—the story of the pandemic, the ongoing need to ensure equity and inclusion for all residents in our communities, and the never-ending work of advocating for and protecting the role of cities in our democracy. It’s hard to feel a sense of closure when we’re still in the midst of figuring things out.
So instead of trying to provide a nice, neat summary of the past year, I’d like to offer my thoughts on how we might be able to move through and beyond these challenges. What’s needed, among many other ingredients, is what the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, pointedly spells out for us, and that’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Regarding COVID-19 and the pandemic, it’s the need for us to respect the power of nature and the hard truth that we’re not in control of things, certainly not as much as we’d like to think we are.
When it comes to equity and inclusion, a lack of respect of our differences—be it race, color, class, sex, religion—undermines equality. Respect is foundational to the equal and inclusive treatment of individuals and is a basic tenant of our Constitution.
And as we navigate our intergovernmental system, it is incumbent upon us to always hold high and respect what we as cities and city officials bring to the table. Without our own self-respect and support of each other, we will not succeed.
As I survey the challenges we’re in the middle of, one thing is clear: The lives we live are interconnected. The actions we take, or don’t take, clearly affect others, often in profound and life-altering ways. Respect, that call and response between us all in our daily lives, is key to our collective future. To find the common ground from which we can then proclaim the common good, we as leaders must show respect to others, and we must respect the reality that our individual and collective decisions impact those we serve.
As I close out my time as GMA president, I’d like to leave you with these words I shared when I took office last June. I believe they describe how we can best model the respect that the people we serve deserve.
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
It’s been an honor to serve you as GMA president. Thank you. Remember that I love you, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it!
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.