Does your organization exist of, by and for the community it calls home? 

For too long, we at Cuyahoga Community College, like many colleges, saw ourselves as a destination, an insulated place the community had to seek out. Yet any institution or business that is more concerned for its own benefit than the community outside its doors will not be long remembered. Or at least, it will not be remembered fondly. 

Abraham Lincoln, in his famous address dedicating the Gettysburg cemetery during the Civil War, summed up the character of our government as existing “of the people, by the people, for the people.” As a nation, we have often fallen short of that ideal, but it is still an ideal worth striving for. 

This ideal has given birth to many noble ventures in our history. Among these was the community college movement in the middle of the 20th century, with the creation of our own Cuyahoga Community College 100 years after Lincoln’s speech. The concept — higher education that was principally local in its focus, supported by the community and open to everyone — revolutionized the way Americans thought about college.

And this should be an ideal not only in the public sphere but in the private sector as well. The organization you lead may have its offices in Ohio City, or your company headquarters may be in Solon. You may even be proud of the interstate or international character of your firm. But where is your center? Does your organization exist of, by and for the community it calls home? 

We are committed to being an inclusive college that reflects the diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences of our community. We must continue to listen to one another so we can ensure that a brighter future is truly open to everyone. 

Our new Access Centers are just the first step of a future in which we more deeply engage in the lives of our neighbors, in which we develop a new generation of leaders committed not only to civic engagement but also to community development. We have seen a future in which we go out into the community, rather than requiring the community to come to us. 

That future will not become a reality without vision, involvement and hard work. But I am grateful for the role of my many colleagues at Tri-C and our community partners in bringing us to this point. And I am grateful for the support our entire community has shown for that vision, including the passage of Issue 3 in November to continue to fund Tri-C’s operations for years to come.

What about you? As you lead, do you set that outward vision for your organization? Are you intentional about listening to community voices, about including in your workforce people from the neighborhoods around your headquarters, about lifting up not only your immediate stakeholders but the community as a whole? How is the success of the community tied to your own success?

Because it is only when the community is our center that we will all truly thrive.

Alex Johnson, Ph.D. is president at Cuyahoga Community College.