Photo: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect

Who Else Cares About This? With Gratitude to our Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect Partners in Phoenix and Reading

Posted on January 17, 2024 by Andrew Spector, TPF Fellow 2023/24

Editor's Note: Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect inspires the audience to reflect on shared aspirations, authenticity, and the common good. The play launches meaningful thought and dialogue about connecting and communicating despite our differences. Click here to register for the next showing on Monday, February 5, 2024, co-sponsored by Venice Interfaith and The Patterson Foundation.

 

At The Patterson Foundation (TPF), when an idea for community impact emerges, we always first ask, “Who else cares about this?” This helps ensure that we 1) don’t reinvent the wheel, 2) learn from existing efforts, and 3) find ways to collaborate with or strengthen existing efforts.

Asking, “who else cares?” is even more important for an initiative like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect, which uses the historical example of Lincoln and Douglass putting aside their differences to work together around shared aspirations to inspire us to do the same. In other words, collaboration is key for a play about collaboration.

In February 2023, we brought Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect to the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for two shows in front of hundreds of attendees. One of those attendees was Lois Savage, the President of The Lodestar Foundation in Phoenix, AZ, and a longtime professional colleague of TPF’s President and CEO, Debra Jacobs. Lois and her husband, Steve, were two of the four co-chairs for the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy Annual History Dinner in November 2023…honoring Frederick Douglass.

When it comes to “who else cares about this?” the O’Connor Institute is a slam dunk. Their mission is “to continue the distinguished legacy and lifetime work of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to advance American democracy through multigenerational civics education, civil discourse, and civic engagement.” What better way to inspire civil discourse and civic engagement than the historical example of Lincoln and Douglass?

Over the next several months, The Patterson Foundation and the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy partnered to organize performances of the play in Phoenix, with TPF as the producer, responsible for bringing the show, and the O’Connor Institute as the presenting partner, responsible for marketing and gathering an audience.

Fast forward to November 2023 – the cast and crew of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect are on stage at The Phoenician in front of nearly a thousand Arizonans performing an excerpt of the play. Even from that short vignette, attendees of the O’Connor Institute’s Annual History Dinner were inspired. The next day, two full performances for the public at The Salvation Army Kroc Center. The following day, one more full performance for students, supported by Act One, a nonprofit that helps connect students from Title I schools with arts field trips. Attendees at all the performances were deeply moved. The talkbacks following each performance at the Kroc Center revealed deep reflection and enthusiasm for sharing the play with more people.

There are also the people that care about this in Reading, PA. A longtime partner of TPF is The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Through the Harwood Circle of Catalytic Funders, Karen Rightmire, Former President and current Chief Strategy Officer for the Wyomissing Foundation, and Tammy White, President of United Way of Berks County, learned from Debra Jacobs about the opportunity to bring Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect to Reading, PA. Because of their Harwood work, which aims to catalyze a chain reaction of impact through community conversations, the United Way and the Wyomissing Foundation were enthusiastic about the opportunity to bring people together for a play that inspires civil discourse and civic engagement. Both organizations were presenting partners for the Reading performances.

Again, fast forward to November 2023 – the cast and crew of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect are on stage, now at the Reading Area Community College’s Miller Center for the Arts. Through two performances, hundreds of residents across Berks County were inspired. Like in Phoenix, the talkbacks revealed deep reflection and enthusiasm for sharing the play with more people. Moreover, the Wyomissing Foundation and the United Way’s Harwood work is bolstered.

Sharing this play isn’t possible without partners. We’re so grateful for the countless people and organizations in Phoenix and Reading that made it possible for us to share Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect with hundreds of residents in their communities. Following the success of these performances, we’re enthusiastic about continuing to ask: who else cares about this?


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