I am a Houstonian through and through: I’ve lived here for almost all of my life. I adore Houston and all of its steamy-aired, concreted sprawl with the kind of love a person has for a scruffy old mutt. Houston is not an aesthetic wonder; it’s the product of boom-and-bust cycles of wealth and a blending of many cultural backgrounds, a mixture of Texan traditions and big city sophistication, and all of that makes a richness of personality that, in my opinion, you can’t help but love.
It is a successful city in many ways—a booming economy and job market, a world-class arts scene, a top medical center—but the foundation of that success is the people we have living here: those who are working tirelessly on behalf of the communities that make up the whole of Houston. Because I grew up here, almost every inch of the city is stitched with memories. When I drive down tree-lined Main Street, between the Medical Center and Rice University, heading toward the Museum of Fine Arts and curving around Mecom Fountain, my mind flashes back to Sunday mornings when I was growing up. Just ahead lies St. Paul’s Church, where I attended pre-school and where my family belongs to the congregation, and which, for me, what epitomizes Houston. At the junction of tradition and modernity, the congregation is made up of people who believe in something together, yet are open to change.
When I think of Houston’s success, I also think of groups like Interfaith Ministries, an organization that encourages community among people of all faiths and emphasizes the importance of service through their programs. Or the KIPP Schools, founded here in Houston, and their enormous success in educating kids from underserved communities and supporting their path to college. In the arts, I think of the Menil Collection, which Dominique and John de Menil created so art could be free and accessible to the public on a regular basis.
It comes as no surprise that servant leadership, a management style “that focuses on people, work and community spirit, with a deep understanding of identity, vision and environment” initially made popular by Robert K. Greenleaf, has found such traction in Houston. Larry Payne, a local champion of this philosophy, dedicates his work to encouraging people to make servant leadership the foundation of the way they live and work, a part of which was his most recent compilation of contributed essays, Heart of HoUSton: Lessons in Servant Leadership.
This August 30th, as the City of Houston turns 178 years old, Heart of HoUSton contributors Valerie Jackson, Andrea White, Robert Houston, Gordon Quan and Vern Swisher will be participating in a roundtable discussion about what it means to be a servant leader. As a part of the World Cafe public forum sponsored by the Houston Public Library and the United Nations Association, this discussion is sure to be inspiring and thought-provoking. Meet us at the Julia Ideson Building of the downtown public library to hear from some of the people who exemplify the philosophy of servant leadership and the community-building spirit of Houston.