In a time when our national leadership is glaringly, terrifyingly absent–and in fact, has made a horrific situation even worse, if that’s possible–I’ve been most impressed with the abundance of natural leaders emerging all around us…
- Chefs like Cleveland’s Michael Symon, who is offering free cooking lessons on the Food Network’s Facebook feed every day at 5pm. He’s focusing on teaching viewers how to make tasty, nutritious meals using ingredients from the pantry, and is doing so with humor, grace, and humanity. Symon’s restaurants are great, but he’s an even better human being, and this shines through in these videos.
I watched his first video last night, and beyond learning how to make a lovely new dish with stuff I have already in the house, I found Chef Symon’s down-to-earth, authentic presence so calming–it was one of the first times since this crisis started that I felt a modicum of relaxation, and that maybe…just maybe…things might be ok at some point. Symon has a clearly visible sense of natural empathy which just bursts through the screen. It’s obvious that he’s doing this not only because he wants to share his knowledge about food and cooking with viewers, but that he cares–deeply–about his fellow human beings, knows they are frightened and hurting, and wants to do something to help. And if you tune in today at 5, you’ll see that he is.
- Chef Jose Andre is another national treasure. He has a long history now of social justice activism around food, and has become a true leader for his passion and vision. As with all true leaders, his contributions go well beyond his professional acumen, which is enormous. Andre is sincere and fearless, and is a bulldog about doing what needs to be done in a time of emergency.
Most recently, Chef Andre has converted all of his restaurants into “community kitchens,” offering free meals to those in need:
While the to-go only meals cost $7 for guests who can afford it, volunteers running the community kitchens will be flexible with patrons who may be out of work or financially constrained due to a near shutdown of daily life. There’s also an option to donate a meal to someone else who might need it.
“Those who cannot afford to pay we will welcome as well,” Andrés said in a statement, adding that many of his restaurants will otherwise be closed.
Andre and Symon are important role models for the hospitality industry, which is facing the most daunting challenge of our lifetimes. Both of these men are using their notoriety and resources to provide much-needed services to their communities, while offering hope for all.
- I’ve also been impressed with the efforts of so many teachers around the country to crowdsource ideas and strategies for helping their students keep learning and growing in a radically new and unknown set of circumstances. From experienced veterans to current student teachers, these educators are gathering lesson plans, experiments, and distance-learning tips to share with their colleagues.
In addition to the academic side of things, many teachers have also shown their concern for the health, safety, and well-being of their students and their families. Close to home in East Lansing, I’ve been following with great admiration the organizing efforts of my Michigan State University colleague, Professor of History Erin Graham. Graham, who also serves as President of the Board of Education for the East Lansing Public Schools, has put together a Facebook group dedicated to providing food, books, and other essentials for the children of East Lansing while the schools are shut down.
So far, thanks to an outpouring of generosity from the community, this group of volunteers has purchased and distributed nearly 500 ten dollar gift cards, food, and hundreds of books to children and families in East Lansing. Working with the district’s superintendent, Graham and her colleagues are identifying needs in the school community, and generating tangible ways to address these needs.
They are also providing a virtual “town hall” of sorts for all of us in East Lansing, sharing news updates on the state’s efforts to address the coronavirus crisis, parenting strategies for folks marooned at home for an undetermined period of time with homes full of anxious kids, and a place to vent, ask questions, and generate ideas to help their community. During a frightening health emergency, when public gatherings are discouraged and unwise, Graham and her team of volunteers is showing how to build a virtual community of engaged activists dedicated to supporting their friends and neighbors in a time of need. I can’t think of a better definition of “leadership” for this moment.
- I’ve also found an inordinate amount of comfort lately in the daily observations of so many comedians, including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee, to name just a few. The news around us can be exceedingly dark these days, with terrifying medical details and warnings of a dystopian future. Like many, I find myself struggling on a daily basis to find a healthy balance between wanting to stay well-informed about what’s happening in the world, and falling down portentous rabbit holes of doom and gloom.
For me, these comedians offer a rare ray of sunshine in an increasingly frightening world. Their insights are surprisingly profound, their wit biting, and they work their magic in such a way that I’m left with a smile on my face, and feeling ever so slightly more hopeful to face the next day’s events.
Perhaps it should not come as a surprise in a time of uncertainty and worry, when we are worried about bars, restaurants, and schools closing for an unknown amount of time, that we look for guidance and leadership to the “nurturers”–those who feed us, teach us, and make us laugh.
We should be grateful for these leaders, who give us a reason to look forward to tomorrow.