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Reflections from Liz —

Fifteen years ago, my oldest son got married in Busan, South Korea, giving us an opportunity to visit, meet new extended family, and explore an amazing country. My two teenage (at the time) sons noticed people walking holding hands on every street corner, and wondered why.

My daughter-in-law explained that in elementary school, children take philosophy classes and learn the importance of care for the community. There is a strong sense of being responsible for the people next to you and around you. If you take care of the person next to you, this ensures that everyone has someone looking out for them. This could be part of the reason that South Korea has managed COVID so well, even in densely populated cities, and this idea has been on my mind as we navigate a fragile vaccine distribution strategy.

As North Sound ACH explores a framework of equitable well-being, I wonder if South Korea, with that shared commitment to each other, has a different capacity to address unforeseen challenges we could learn from as we explore strategies to advance equitable well-being.  

In the past several months, local partners have stepped in to set up mobile COVID testing sites, assuring evening and weekend hours were available, and worked to support multiple language access needs with communications collateral to make community members feel welcome and supported. And now many partners are working to do the same with vaccine distribution strategies. 

But what do we do when we our efforts fall short? How do we publicly acknowledge a mistake or misstep that perhaps caused harm, and learn from it, determining what next step to take? How do we intentionally ‘bridge’ rather than ‘break’ our relationships when decisions and actions negatively impact others around us? 

Our team adopted a term in 2017 – ‘failing forward’ – during a learning session which also introduced us to targeted universalism and opened the door to work with john a. powell and the Othering and Belonging Institute.  But ‘failing forward’ means acknowledging that we (or our partners) have made a mistake or misstepped.  At North Sound ACH we are definitely still learning how to hold true to our commitment to equity and well-being, while trying to create a space where all belong. We know we will make mistakes. What comes after the mistake? 
 
Our team has struggled, and so have I personally. A recent sweep of a homeless encampment in Bellingham was painful for our team, bringing forth discussions on chronic homelessness, people with behavioral health issues, and when cities and counties should or shouldn’t use police and sheriffs to respond. As one of our colleagues, Greg Winter from the Opportunity Council, stated:  “I am frustrated that an effort designed to empower people who are disenfranchised led to a situation that endangered both those who were temporarily camped there and the service professionals who were there to help. However, the source of my underlying outrage is our lack of true courage as a nation. The kind of courage that would actually stop the perpetual “othering” of unsheltered people, the kind of courage that would result in access to decent housing with all the protection from human suffering that housing provides.”
 
How do we model the behavior we want to see in others? 
The North Sound Board voted in December on our ‘reason to exist’, moving from a 6-year old mission focused on improving health, to a restating our purpose: “to create a just and inclusive culture and the necessary conditions for all community members to thrive.”
 
We see injustices every day, and while the incident in Bellingham hit close to home, it is but one of many injustices happening in our midst. We’ll be in some unsettling conversations, both with people who agree and disagree with us on strategies to be used. 
 
I wish it was simpler, that there was a clear and bright light shining over the ‘right’ strategy. Instead, we face messy, often inadequate solutions. However, one thing resonates throughout: If we are to build a community where all feel that they belong, we have to make room for ourselves, with our imperfections as we make mistakes, and remain committed to do better next time. We have to find common ground and values with those who aren’t yet on the same journey. Otherwise, we risk narrowing the community who belongs, rather than expanding it. 
 
We hope you will join us in co-creating the future state we hope to see; it will be harder without you.

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