October 17, 2012

Dear Editor,

We are all past and current co-chairs of the Wildacres Leadership Initiative (WLI), the organization that sponsors the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations. Looking towards Bill Friday as the role model, the Friday Fellowship was launched in 1994 to develop a new, diverse generation of leaders in North Carolina who could embrace the challenges of our state and solve these challenges with civility and grace. Since that time, there have been 165 Friday Fellows from many different backgrounds, races, and professions. Through the Friday Fellowship program, these leaders have each experienced a two year, intensive program in which they learn leadership in the context of deepening their ability to engage in real human relations dialogue with leaders different from themselves.

With William Friday's passing on Friday, we feel called to remember his legacy and honor the mission of the Friday Fellowship by encouraging us all to strive towards a more civil society. Mr. Friday led during a different era, one typified by collaboration and compromise. The fruits of this collaborative atmosphere are obvious – one of the best public universities in the United States, a forward-looking economy built on the foundation of excellence in education, and a quality of life typified by arts, culture, and beauty. Bill Friday's leadership style, his ability to listen, and his approach to building consensus were, no doubt, key contributors to our State's ability to move forward. He helped to cultivate a broader environment that was fertile for solving problems together.

Today's political and social environment is significantly different than it was during Friday's time. Technological and other developments along with the lure of instant results make it more difficult to focus on the time demanding strategies of collaboration and compromise. In spite of this, the mission that Bill Friday supported of the Friday Fellowship has never been more relevant. We want to encourage our leaders to follow Dr. Friday's example – listen to one another and build consensus. Cross the aisle, street, county or district and work across issues of difference. Most problems in our state are complex and have multiple valid points of view. We would like to encourage our political and social leaders to take the time and have the patience required to find shared solutions that work for the common good.

We find that today's media environment has changed fundamentally as well. The rise of social media has led to a 20-minute news cycle. Because the pace was slower in Friday’s era, he could take the time to fully understand all of the dynamics of an issue before he had to take a public stand. Today, our journalists understandably feel more pressure than ever to get the immediate "scoop." While the media’s role of holding leaders accountable is as crucial as ever, the fast pace and aggressive style can have the appearance of "snooping.” We would like to encourage the media to slow down and let our leaders take the time to fully understand the issues in the way Bill Friday did.

Today's population has changed since the days of Bill Friday. Many more immigrants, gender diversity in leadership, changes in social norms and attitudes, and the barrage of internet information have brought change in how we as citizens experience our state. With change, comes fear of difference. Our encouragement is that we all find the time and space to interact with people who are not like us. Do as Bill Friday would. Listen. Build consensus. Serve your neighbor. With community engagement, we the citizens of our state can lead our public leaders and our media to join with us in building a civil society.

A changed approach amongst our political leaders, a softer tone from our media, and a more engaged and more understanding public can move us forward as a state towards solving the great challenges of our future. Together, we can share Bill Friday’s legacy, not only in what we do as a state but how we do it together.

Sincerely,

Donna Chavis, Virginia D. Hardy, Katy Harriger

Anthony T. Lathrop, James Y. Preston, Clay B. Thorp

Current and Past Co-Chairs, Wildacres Leadership Initiative,

The Sponsor of the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations