Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Meaning and Personification of Grit

“Grit” is a word often used to describe my adopted home, Durham NC. When place-branding expert and author Bill Baker used hundreds of individual interviews and scores of inclusively-balanced “focused groups” and generalizable research to help Durham distill its “overarching” brand,” he joked with the community-wide brand advisory group that he’d never heard so many people use the same traits and values to describe a place, including in a positive sense, the word “gritty.”

The term was also frequently used to describe me in a back-handed sort of way by people who resisted and often tried to undermine the team I spearheaded in the successful two-decade turn around of the negative perception of Durham’s in nearby communities, now vigilantly sustained even after my retirement back in 2009 by “the defenders of Durham’s image and brand and the guardians of its unique sense of place.”

It is a word I’ve often used myself to describe friend and colleague Bill Kalkhof who, over a decade and a half, has been spearheading the physical revitalization of downtown Durham and my neighbor Kevin McDonald who during the same period has built T.R.O.S.A, a beehive of social entrepreneurship and Commissioner and environmental activist Becky Heron and many others here. I could easily tick off hundreds of names from every gender, ethnicity and era.Capture

But as concise as I’d like to be I’ve never been good at describing what I meant by the term.

Then while reading through the magazines that stacked up at the Post Office during my just-concluded and most recent three-week cross-country road trip, I came across a Next Strategy column in Fast Company magazine about “grit.

During the same span when a team of us were turning Durham perceptions around, Sally Herndon Malek’s team at North Carolina Project ASSIST, faced down the seemingly insurmountable tobacco lobby, culminating in a ban in restaurants that took effect in 2009.

To the authors, grit is “defined as endurance in pursuit of long-term goals and an ability to persist in the face of adversity” and they cite studies and research showing it is a key element in what makes people successful including one at West Point that explains the success of another Durham example of grit, Coach K.

I had the honor of working briefly with Sally from the tourism side of things during the final years of that campaign and I agree that she definitely personifies “grit” and yup, she also lives in Durham.

The biggest victories truly are won an inch at a time! And for those fighting to free North Carolina of outdoor billboards and their latest desperate strategy to strip local communities of the right to regulate them? The tobacco lobby tried the same thing in 1993.

Keep the faith.

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