A River Runs through John

Cormac Russell Note: The following is a guest blog written by Al Etmanski (aletmanski.com) [for my blog Nurture Development]. Al is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. John McKnight is his friend. Al’s new book is Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.

There is a warm line between you, your heroes and their mentors that unites memory and imagination. I witnessed this in 1995 at the first gathering of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. John McKnight opened the gathering providing an overview of ABCD bedrock – asset focused; internally reliant and relationship driven. 

Then he paused, looked each one of us in the eye and said. “That’s what I’ve learned. I give these concepts to you. I trust you to take them to the next step.”

Aside from a few polite comments 20 of us left the room in silence. Perhaps we were tired. It was late and many of us had travelled long distances. In fact we were stunned. We woke the next morning and realized we had been blessed. John, the man we dearly admired, had just handed everything over to us. The division between him and us had dissolved.

In retrospect this was classic John – open hearted and generous. When he was offered money to create an institutional centre for his ABCD work he declined. Instead, he and his co-founder Jody Kretzmanninvited a number of community organizers from across North America to join them.

Asset-Based Community Development has never gone out of style but it has never been more relevant. Indeed it is the only way it has ever been done. Today it curates an international movement that nurtures the capacity of citizens, families, neighbourhoods and communities to resolve their challenges. 

That’s why Cormac Russell’s new book, Looking Back to Look Forward, is such a gift. As one of the newest members of the ABCD network he immersed himself in its roots by visiting John at his Chicago home. Cormac is from Ireland, which must have fired up John’s Celtic roots. I imagine their conversation flowing over concepts as pure as time and as fresh as tomorrow. How I wish I’d been a drop of water in their whisky glasses. 

Thanks to Cormac’s pilgrimage our conceptual ancestry has risen to the surface in this highly readable and essential book. Some of them we know – some we should. Judith Snow, Saul Alinsky, Ivan Illich, Robert Rodale, Frank Haiman, Robert Mendelsohn, Jerome Miller, Stan Hallet and Peter Block. Their wisdom is ennobling. Linking our humble efforts to theirs and yours.

Looking Back to Look Forward is the river running through John McKnight. It reminds us that when we are in flow, our activities and those of others, past and future merge into one. The world is made fresh and we are no longer as alone as we thought. 

Now it really is up to us.




Re-posted by permission from Nuture Development. Home page image: Sara Biljana

About the Lead Author

Al Etmanski
Al Etmanskihttp://www.aletmanski.com/
Al Etmanski is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. (www.aletmanski.com) (@aletmanski ) His latest books are Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation and The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World. He is a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD), an Ashoka fellow, senior fellow Social Innovation Generation and Co-Chair of BC Partners for Social Impact. Al is co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a family run social enterprise assisting families address the financial and social well-being of their relative with a disability, particularly after their parents die. He proposed and led the successful campaign to establish the world’s first savings plan for people with disabilities, the Registered Disability Savings Plan. John McKnight endorsed Al's book Impact by saying: Impact is a chronicle of the wisdom Etmanski has gained in exploring the keys to long-term social change. His findings lead us out of the past and onto a pathway for progress in the 21st century. Once describing Al as an Abundant Community Pioneer, Peter Block wrote: Al Etmanski is one of North America's best social inventors. He has looked beyond traditional institituions and their failures to create new means of achieving a better life. His analysis of the forms of organization that enable local communities while avoiding rigid hierarchies is groundbreaking. His book A Good Life is a wonderful and practical guide to the potential for neighbors to grow strong through the power of hospitality. Michael J. Fox said of Al's latest book, The Power of Disability: This book reminds us of what we have in common: the power to create a good life for ourselves and for others, no matter what the world has in store for us.

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