By Curt Yeomans
Sylvia Lovely remembers giving a speech to residents of Flagstaff, Ariz., when a woman in the audience asked how she could communicate with her "stupid" mayor about homeless people in the city.
"I said to myself 'Well, I think we know what the problem is,' " Lovely, president of the NewCities Institute, an organization designed by the Kentucky League of Cities to promote economic and social vitality, told a packed house of students on Monday at Clayton State University.
Lovely visited the university to speak about communication and leadership at the keynote event of the university's week-long celebration of the United States Constitution's 220th birthday. This marks Clayton State's third year of celebrating the anniversary of the Constitution's signing, which took place on Sept., 17, 1787.
She specifically addressed the issue of how people talk to each other about problems in their community, using the woman from Flagstaff as an example. One of the problems with the way people speak to each other about issues, she said, is a growing tendency to use aggressive and insulting language. When people use such language, it can result in a breakdown of communication and cooperation, she added.
She urged the students to rise above that tendency, and re-learn how to communicate with each other, so both sides can work together and reach a mutually appealing compromise to society's problems.
"We don't know how to speak with each other anymore," she said. "We don't how to engage in conversation with each other. We don't know how to lead."
She talked about how the current generation of college students is going to be called on to contribute to society and help make a difference as it goes into the workforce.
After her speech, Lovely said society is in a unique position, in which three generations are in the workforce at the same time. The "Baby Boomers" are approaching retirement age, while the earliest members of "Generation X" are in their 40s, and the generation sometimes referred to as "Generation Y" or "Generation Next" is entering the workforce.
She added that people between the ages of 25 and 35, who came of age as the Internet started to become a part of society, are going to be the ones who redefine the American workforce. "They are the most technologically savvy at this point."
Some of the issues current students and recent graduates will have to face include, health care; immigration; drug abuse; city-wide disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and shifting responsibility from the federal government back to local governments.
She added that a Katrina-type event is an issue that has to be dealt with, since it has proven to be a problem that has left city-planning experts scratching their heads, because no one has enough expertise on rebuilding an entire town the size of New Orleans. "What we found out from Katrina is that the cavalry isn't coming," Lovely said. "We have to rely on our own resources."
Gene Hatfield, head of the university's social science department, who is organizing the university's Constitution Week activities, said he chose Lovely to kick off the celebration after he heard her speak at the American Democracy Project National Conference over the summer in Philadelphia.
He said he believed she would be a natural to speak on democracy, since Constitution Week is designed to encourage students to become more involved in society.
In addition to presentations on the role of women in America, and the Patriot Act, the university is sponsoring a voter registration drive every day of the week, in the James M. Baker University Center. The culminating event for Constitution Week is the annual reading of the Constitution, which will take place at 12:30 p.m., on Thursday, at the university center.