Words to Inspire: Robert Kennedy

Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest of walls of resistance.

Robert Kennedy

Words to Inspire: Miss Julia Coleman

When I was a young boy in Plains, Georgia, a beloved teacher, Miss Julia Coleman, introduced me to Leo Tolstoy’s novel, War and Peace. She interpreted that powerful narrative as a reminder that

the simple human attributes of goodness and truth can overcome great power.

She also taught us that

an individual is not swept along on a tide of inevitability but can influence even the greatest human events.

Jimmy Carter, from his Nobel Lecture given in Oslo, December 10, 2002

Peter’s Perspective: Obstacle to Citizen Leadership – “The Ends Justify the Means”

The Ends Justify the Means

While we do not lack for role models who share and demonstrate what it means to consistently live by guiding principles, there is also a fair share of public personalities whose demonstrate the opposite – whose primary guiding principle seems to be the ends justify the means (whatever it takes, or whatever I can get away with). Too often, these personalities seem to be lauded and rewarded, or at the very least, they seem to encounter few and feeble consequences for behaving and speaking in ways that reflect and reinforce that value.

The external pressures of fierce competition and the rush to results, along with our internal drive to win or a focus on personal gain (to the detriment of personal integrity) also pose as obstacles to citizen leadership. They can prompt individuals to adopt the attitude that the ends justify the means – and put them in a position of ignoring their own principles.

But in the end, we are the final arbiters of our actions.

Peter’s Perspective: Citizen Leadership is the Prerequisite to Engaging Leadership

Q.  What exactly is a citizen leader? 

A.  A person who brings their character and courage to making a contribution on behalf of the community and the common good. 

Look closely at the people around you who are in positions of leadership or who aspire to positions of leadership.

Character: What are their guiding principles? Are their values ones that inspire you to want to follow their lead? Do those individuals regularly speak and act in ways that reflect the qualities they profess (or is it lip service)? Which individuals do have the qualities of character that would engage your enthusiasm?

Courage: Which individuals do have the courage of character to live by their values? 

Contribution to one’s community and the common good: Do the man and women who aspire to leadership positions participate in or champion efforts to better their world and create great places for us all to live, work and play? or conversely, Are their efforts regularly or largely self-serving?

Now, with the responses to these questions in hand, which of the individuals would you want to follow?

If you hope to be an engaging leader — that is, if you hope to have anyone want to follow your lead – then you need to be a person that others would want to follow.

And by extension, if companies or communities or churches or schools or civic and social organizations hope to grow their cadre of leaders – they need to insist that their men and women be people whom others would want to follow.

It starts with citizen leadership.

Words to Inspire: Christopher Evans

In college, during the summer months, I was employed as a forestry firefighter. On wildfires, working with hand tools like shovels, heavy rakes and axe-like hoes, we formed up in lines to cut firebreaks before the advancing fires. We were always told by out growling boss to “take a swipe, kid,” at the vegetation with your tools and leave the rest for the person behind you, When you looked back down the mountain at the end of our line of workers, you’d see a clear, clean line of firebreak. We learned that everyone doing a harmonious small act creates big effect. Many of us never lost the feeling that came with that understanding.

–Christopher J. Evans, Esq., Former Executive Director, Surfrider Foundation, Making Waves, August 2004

Words to Inspire: Steve Jobs

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Excerpt from Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address “You’ve Got to Find What You Love” at Stanford University, June 2005

Citizen Leaders: The Six Founding Members of FoodCorps

FoodCorps is a nationwide network of volunteers combating our country’s childhood obesity epidemic by organizing and recruiting volunteers to develop and coordinate:

  • School nutrition programs that teach kids what healthy food is
  • School gardens that engage kids in learning about the food they eat and how to grow healthy produce
  • Farm to School programs that put locally grown foods in school lunches

The FoodCorps mission and organization emerged from hundreds of hours of conversations with the input of thousands of individuals in the many communities it now serves.

For their effort both in identifying and inviting the many voices that contributed to its formation, and in orchestrating the activities that led to the creation and launch of FoodCorps this year, I applaud the network’s six founding members who each brought their passion and their unique experience to the project. 

The renown American Anthropologist Margaret Meade observed, as a result of her prolonged and profound study of human beings and societies across the globe:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Let me introduce to all of you these dedicated citizens leaders by way of their short bios that appear on the FoodCorps website.

Crissie McMullan pioneered a model for our work when she founded Montana FoodCorps in 2006. An initiative of the Grow Montana Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the state-level VISTA program continues to thrive under her leadership today.

Cecily Upton worked to give young people a voice in the food and agriculture conversation as Director of Youth Programs at Slow Food USA. She facilitated school garden projects and initiated the Slow Food on Campus program before joining the staff of FoodCorps.

Debra Eschmeyer brought her background in farming and passion for school food to the National Farm to School Network and the Food and Community Fellowship program. A go-to expert among policymakers and the press, Debra now continues her work at FoodCorps.

Ian Cheney helped start the Yale Sustainable Food Project and co-created the Peabody-winning documentary King Corn and the mobile garden project Truck Farm. He contributed his unique skills to the team through his Brooklyn-based media company, Wicked Delicate.

 Jerusha Klemperer created high-impact communication and action campaigns in her post as Associate Director of National Programs at Slow Food USA. Her strategy and social media work fueled their initiatives Time for Lunch, Dig In and Farmarazzi.

Curt Ellis co-created the documentaries King Corn and Big River and served as a Food and Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. In April 2009, he convened the group’s first meeting to discuss a national AmeriCorps initiative related to “Good Food.”

Peter’s Perspective: What is Citizen Leadership and Why is it Important Today?

Citizen Leadership is:

Character and courage: Men, women, young adults and teens getting clear on who they are and how they want to be in the world, so they act and speak with authenticity and with the courage of their convictions day in and day out, in private and public – at home, in school, at work, in their club, in church and temple, on a team, in a troop, in the support group, in the neighborhood.

Contribution to the community: Men, women, young adults and teenagers applying the qualities of their character as they participate in or champion efforts to better their world and create great places for us all to live, work and play.


We live among circumstances that test our character every day. We live in an era during that barrages from all sides and online by forces — whether psychological, physical, spiritual or other — that can leave us struggling to know: What is the right thing to do? How is the right way to be? To act? What is the right thing to say? Pressure from peers, parents, partners, teachers, bosses; professional pressure, social pressure, popular culture, and social media; prospects for personal gain, power, profit, prestige and position; noxious preachers and pundits, prejudice and fear mongering — they fog up our minds, and sicken our hearts.

I believe these forces are particularly treacherous for those who have not yet developed a personally meaningful set of guiding principles and who are struggling to hang on to a clear, steady sense of who they are in the face of a daily assault by these forces. I think, in particular, of younger people, just starting out, just trying to find their way and figure out the rules of engagement in our culture, in their world.

They, and we, all risk falling prey to the influence of those who would manipulate us for self-serving purposes. This is especially true in our culture in which the dominant forces – at least the very public dominant forces – seem to be profit/wealth, power, prestige and personal gain. These are amoral forces. They are not necessarily bad or good.

What is good is when the men, women and young adults who find themselves in the throws of these forces hold constant to their personal principles and act in ways that reflect those principles. That is the foundation of citizen leadership.

Words to Inspire: Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man (or woman) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends him or herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910