Policy Walking: Why I Wrote This Book

As American folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger once said, “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

"Rather than X-ray these [city] programs as clinical case studies, I share with the reader the passionate voices of those who designed or currently run the interventions and those who are the beneficiaries – those who have been helped." (Getty Images)

“Rather than X-ray these [city] programs as clinical case studies, I share with the reader the passionate voices of those who designed or currently run the interventions and those who are the beneficiaries – those who have been helped.” (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by NLC Senior Consultant Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

A few days ago I met the grandmother of a very dear friend who was visiting her granddaughter here in Northern Virginia. Gerie, a woman with a cap of curled white hair, alert blue eyes and a welcoming smile rose to greet me. She extended her hand, giving me a warm, firm handshake, saying, “I am so happy to meet you! I just finished your book. You inspired me! I want to do something! I’m looking for ways to help – and I’m 80 years old!”

This was totally unexpected. I wrote Policy Walking: Lighting the Path to Safer Communities, Stronger Families and Thriving Youth to spotlight programs from across the nation that promised better futures for vulnerable children, youth and families and the fragile communities in which they live. The programs – ranging from those for the smallest children to returning offenders, from policies to renewal of communities – proclaim real, proven hope.

But rather than X-ray these programs as clinical case studies, I share with the reader the passionate voices of those who designed or currently run the interventions and those who are the beneficiaries – those who have been helped. And I write about the leadership it takes to get this necessary work done.

I also explore why I took my path, what kept and keeps me on it – from those who have gone before, travel companions from whom I learn and who continue to inspire me to values given me by others along with a deep belief in social justice. My path began with youth and community development work in Boston, to running two non-profit organizations through to two governmental appointments, one by a governor and another by a president.

Policy Walking strives to convey that policies are more than paper and politics – that at their heart, policies are of people – made by people to help people. For those who are tired, I aim to reignite the spark that put you on your path. And for those just starting out, I want to fill you with hope.

If I’ve done nothing else, I want you to feel a surge, or a re-surge, of optimism. I want you to look up from Policy Walking saying, “Yes, I can do that! I should do that!”

Pete Seeger, the renowned folk singer and social justice advocate, remained determinedly optimistic throughout his life.  “The key to the future of the world,” he said, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” I have tried to do this, and I owe the people in my book a debt of gratitude for the lives they have changed – including mine – and the policies they have helped to generate.

I originally intended my book for those who make policy, those who run programs (policy walkers) and the academics who teach leadership, public policy and social or counseling work (and even theology).

My ultimate goals: provide information; inspire action.

But never, ever did I imagine that an 80-year-old woman would say to me, “You have inspired me to act.”

If your reaction is but a fraction of Gerie’s, then Policy Walking will have done its job.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally-renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and is the founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding president of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.