According to Robert Putnam, friendships, religious congregations or neighborhood associations are clear indicators of civic well-being, a term he defines as "social capital."
Apparently, the more diverse the community, the less "social capital" exists.
I'm not going to claim I know the answers to why this is. I also won't pretend to have an answer to alleviate the situation. I do believe strongly, however, that attitudes reflect the leadership.
Last week the events in Jena, Louisiana rocked our nation, thrusting race and ethnicity issues back into the forefront of American concepts of community. Closer to home, tensions continue to mount in Port Richmond, here on Staten Island, between the Mexican and African American communities.
Immigration issues evoke intense debate in the presidential election, while promoting ethnic understanding seems to have been pushed to the side. Politicians rant about Iraq, the environment, healthcare and many other hot button issues. They're important issues, too, but our communities are being ripped apart through 'fear of thy neighbor.'
The United States is referred to as the "melting pot" but it takes strong leadership to stir us together into a society of acceptance and tolerance. The Administration of our country, present and future, must do more to promote education through interaction.
Increasing social capital will also take the attention of local organizations and civic leadership.
The Mosaic Coalition members are all Staten Islanders who come from different backgrounds and who share a desire to improve the community. As local leaders, we need to consider what more we can do to offset the turtle effect of diversity.
On Sunday, November 4th, the Mosaic Coalition will orchestrate our 5th Celebrate Diversity 2007 event. Last year over 1,000 people learned about their neighbors interactively through workshops, performances, and games. Each year, our focus has been on the attributes that make the honored cultures wonderful and unique.
This year, in response to Robert Putnam's provocative and telling research, we will do more to highlight our similarities as well.