My favorite examples of “being proximate” — a term introduced to me by Annie Jean-Baptiste and popularized by MacArthur winner Professor Bryan Stevenson — are the following:
- The Spy Who Came Home: a former CIA operative who chose to switch his career to joining the police force in his local community.
- Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? Because junk food is the only indulgence they can afford: how data around junk food consumption by the underprivileged was easily miscorrelated with neglect.
- Interrogating Institutional Practices in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: coming to the conclusion that museums that serve their local communities don’t mirror the communities proximate to the museum’s location.
As for the importance of being proximate, Professor Stevenson makes these important points:
- “You cannot be an effective problem-solver from a distance. There are details and nuances to problems that you will miss unless you are close enough to observe those details.” —Carnegie Foundation speech
- “I got proximate [to the prisoners]. In proximity to the condemned, everything changed for me. I found a calling.” —Bates commencement speech
- “Find ways to get proximate to the poor and vulnerable. Many of us have been taught that if there’s a bad part of town, you don’t put your business there. But I am persuaded that we need to do the opposite. We need to engage and invest and position ourselves in the places where there is despair.” —Fortune