Imagine, for the moment, the world’s information highway, an always-changing, fast-moving, and remarkably noisy freeway of all things communications. It’s a complex ecosystem with a broad universe of disciplines in the communications toolbox. With Public relations, advertising, and marketing merging onto the social, digital, radio, print, and broadcast media speedway. An electric race where everyone is competing for lane position to grab the attention of the already overwhelmed, fatigued, and fragmented audience. The distribution channels (the on/off ramps) for narrative framing are equally vast, complex, and ever-changing. Here, information-design, production, and curation take center stage.
I understand how the power of influence and its close relationship with words can reshape our reality. I also know the catastrophic consequences of a failed communications ecosystem. We need not look further than our elected leaders whose absence of credibility and a unified messaging strategy to combat the global pandemic, the social injustice and political violence crippling our resolve, and the bigotry igniting the flames of hate. With turbulence an everyday occurrence, confusion blanketing our decision making, and divisiveness authorized, we have successfully eroded trust in our institutions, governments, and global society by injecting into our veins, lies as truth. All of which has amplified extraordinary fractures in our democracy and our country’s failed promises. This negligence has openly greeted the intrusion of mis/disinformation, creating delusions of truth and furthering the polarization we currently inhabit. So impactful, it has dramatically altered how we consume and share information—creating pockets of a varying set of facts and beliefs.
As we near the end of the month of celebration, let’s also honor the historical animosities bestowed upon black people in America. I am acutely aware of the challenges before us. Despite the menu of pain on the buffet of prejudice towards a race of people, I must also acknowledge black folks’ resilience and perseverance. For many, being black in America has been a nauseating, painful, exhausting, and disorienting death sentence. My framing meant to reflect the unrelenting squeeze and the assault on our humanity wrapped in a bow disguised as policy; it has and is continuing to have dizzying side effects with inadequate recognition of the trauma it delivers.
As a black man in America, I am often racially profiled. I have been pulled over for driving while black, harassed, and physically harmed by law enforcement. I have been accused of cheating because my work was too good. Cheered and adored for scoring touchdowns, hitting home runs, and breaking track and field records. However, some of those same folks in the stands discarded my request to break bread as an equal with my white brothers and sisters. The undercurrent of these injustices hurt, bequeathing generations of folks who look like me to wonder about our purpose and usefulness. It pains me to know that we live in a society where I need to march in the proclamation that #BlackLivesMatter, notwithstanding, knowing that my black life is #Valued disproportionally less. Should hatred be your poison of choice for disseminating malice, might you bestow it upon me for reasons other than my race, for I had no choice in the matter.
As a lifetime subscriber to inclusivity, I can validate the advantages of implementing an open-door policy where all walks of life are welcome. I am an efficacious listener with a natural affinity for cultivating relationships and building consensus with diverse perspectives. I aim to advance a fair, balanced, prosperous, and just society. My rebuke of the hatred and injustice outlined above is not a unilateral condemnation against the white race, yet reserved for those who gaze upon my skin’s hue with the hatred I have yet to earn. In parallel, some of my most vocal advocates, supporters, friends, and loved ones see not my pigment with disapproval but the humanity within my beating heart. They see a loving, caring, committed, optimistic, introspective, accepting, forgiving, and welcoming soul.
Interestingly, I see Rural America just the same. The loving, caring, committed, optimistic, introspective, accepting, forgiving, and welcoming backbone of this country. Often finding themselves being brushed aside, overlooked, underestimated, marginalized, and undervalued—a place to send the leftovers. Based on my lived experiences and having lived in the rural west for many years, I saw pride and a genuine appreciation for community—people working tirelessly to be elevated to a higher plateau so they may be seen and valued.
As with social justice, intentionality is more profound in advocating for a more equitable playing field for rural folks. Among them, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), where I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors. RCAP and its six regional partners have cemented their commitment to creating a more vibrant and thriving rural America.
To everyone designing solutions for a more balanced and just society, I applaud your courage and appreciate your generosity!
“Bursting at the seams to be all that I can be; however, all I can be is what I am, uniquely tangled with how I am; a wandering soul searching to elevate hope into closer proximity. An enigma pondering all that matters, opposing the gravitational force of nothing matters. Yet I still search for what’s possible in a world where I’m told anything is possible; however, facing a reality that nothing seems possible in my honest and humble request to be elevated to a more visible plateau so I can be seen, my value realized and to put on display the who I am.”
Have you ever known or met a person that grew up with the odds stacked against them and wondered – how is that person going to make it? Perhaps a person that grew up in a poor, single parent home? Or perhaps a person who was left to defend themselves as a child, plus had to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of a younger sibling?
Today, I’d like to share a special journey with you. This is the life journey of Hope Florence Anastasia Davis Cupit. That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Ms. Hope, as many lovingly call her, was born in the late 1960s to a teenage mother. Ms. Hope is an African American who grew up in Virginia. The odds were stacked against her: poor black woman, single-parent home, and responsible for taking care of a younger sibling.
Ms. Hope’s father was not a part of her life. In fact, he enlisted in the military and moved to Germany. He would reappear in Ms. Hope’s life every decade to say hello, and then would disappear again. Not having a father made Ms. Hope feel half-empty and depressed as a child. She realized that if she is going to make her life better, she needed to make peace with the past and focus on her future. Happily, at the age of 12 her life turned around when she was finally introduced to her paternal grandparents. They were wealthy, and took their “new” granddaughter under their wings and introduced her to the worlds of music, private schools, travel, and many other luxuries in life. They opened her eyes to a world she had never experienced before.
Ms. Hope didn’t forget those loved ones that had been with her since childhood, and they too played a major role in her development and self-drive. She always wanted to advocate for those without a voice or a platform, and she started learning how to be a voice for others at a young age. Now that she had a support system to help catapult her onto a path of success, she didn’t want to be sucked into the repeat cycle of living in poverty like some of her relatives. The rite of passage she had witnessed most of childhood was to 1) have a baby, 2) get a free check, and 3) live in the projects. That was not the life for her. She was going to college and wanted to become a registered nurse. Ms. Hope was to first person in her immediate family to attend college.
Let’s fast-forward to the campus of James Madison University, whereupon arrival Ms. Hope knew this would be the place that would lay the foundation for her future success. Ms. Hope actually did not earn a nursing degree but found her true calling in accounting. After graduation, she landed a job with a regional CPA firm located in Roanoke, Virginia, where her main task was completing audits. She audited many nonprofit organizations throughout the state of Virginia. One such nonprofit was Virginia Water Project. This particular client was one of intrigue because the books were so complicated. She always remembered that about this organization.
Ms. Hope was so talented in the accounting field, that one of her clients approached her about working for them, and she accepted the position. Later, she became a financial analyst for a major nonprofit hospital system, and that is where she realized not all nonprofits are the same. She eventually left the hospital and landed a job at the Virginia Water Project, her former intriguing client, now known as Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP, Inc).
She was SERCAP’s Controller, and later became the President & CEO for the organization. Her various roles at SERCAP brought Ms. Hope back to her roots and fulfilled her dream of helping those that needed a voice and a platform. She has now been with SERCAP, Inc. for over 14 years. She loves her job, working with people that remind her of how she grew up, and having the blessings of a hand up and not a handout. At SERCAP, Ms. Hope is an advocate for those without a voice.
As President & CEO of SERCAP, Ms. Hope also sits on the Board of Directors for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). When Ms. Hope arrived in 2009 as an RCAP board member she was fortunate to be among many experienced and worldly people with a wealth of knowledge. At that time Robert Stewart was the Executive Director of RCAP. The mission of RCAP is to “Improve the quality of life in rural America.” Serving on the RCAP board is very important to Ms. Hope. She lives in a rural area and can relate to many of the issues facing the people served by RCAP. The RCAP Board of Directors strategically plans how to improve the lives of rural Americans. Some of the most prominent issues currently being served by the RCAP board are the lack of water/wastewater infrastructure in rural America, economic development, and broadband internet service. Ms. Hope’s involvement with RCAP has expanded her skill sets, as she learns from those around her doing great work. It is here where she has grown the most and seen the greatest success in her career.
As you may have realized by now, this story is about me: Mrs. Hope F. Cupit, President & CEO of SERCAP. I am Hope Florence Anastasia Davis Cupit. Again, isn’t that a mouthful? During the month of February, as we celebrate Black History Month, it is an honor to share my life experiences and successes with you. I want to leave you with the parable below. If it were not for my safety net, which comprised members of my family, my neighbors, and volunteers who took an interest in me, I would not be where I am today. Enjoy the parable and also please know you too can make a difference in a person’s life. I encourage you to study all history, especially black history. Please remember that history should be read and studied every day of the year so that we do not repeat mistakes from the past.
The Farmer Parable
There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So is with our lives…Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…