The Power of One

Published July 3, 2013

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell

Kennedy Cousar’s birthday party was unlike like that of most 9-year-old girls. She invited her friends, her schoolmates, even members from church, but instead of birthday gifts she asked her guests to participate in a fun run, a fund-raiser for homeless people.

It began on the way home from church, when Kennedy noticed a group of men and women sitting on a wall in Raleigh’s Moore Square. When she asked about them her parents informed Kennedy they were homeless people. After several Sundays of Kennedy’s questions her mother explained these were people who, unlike her, didn’t have a bed with clean sheets to sleep on each night.

Kennedy couldn’t get the “people without homes” off her mind. One day, near one of Raleigh’s most upscale hotels, Kennedy proclaimed the homeless people should sleep in a nice bed in that hotel and have a hot shower, prompting her mother to inquire what she planned to do about it. You can imagine the surprise when the hotel manager received the request from this young girl and, because of her insistence, arranged to let some homeless people sleep there overnight in exchange for working a day at the hotel.

That wasn’t enough. Instead of the traditional birthday party where guests bring presents, Kennedy asked her guests to bring money to help the homeless. Her birthday party raised one thousand dollars for the Wake County Salvation Army homeless program.

There’s an important lesson for us as we celebrate the birthday of our nation. On that July 4th, when we declared our independence, we also pledged to be mutually dependent on each other for our freedom, for the common good. We treasured our independence but we also became the most generous and caring nation of individuals in history.

If a neighbor’s barn burned, people came together to build a new one. If a family had sickness, hardships or disaster the community responded with needed help. It was who we were and what we did for one another. But somewhere we lost this spirit. True, we give more dollars to charity than any other nation but it’s not the same.

Perhaps it is because people moved to take jobs in other cities and in many instances didn’t know their neighbors. Maybe we got so busy providing for our own families we didn’t see or have time for others. Some believe that when we started paying more taxes and government assumed more of the role of caring for others we felt less obligated.

The major movement in this country today is to dismantle government programs designed to help others, to reduce the role of government and the amount paid in taxes. If people have more money, the theory goes, they will give more to others. We don’t question that many of the government assistance programs have not performed as desired but we wonder whether we have strayed so far from our neighbor-helping-neighbor philosophy that we won’t respond and fill in the gaps left when government stops.

As we celebrate this nation’s birthday a little girl’s caring and actions offer us a wonderful example of the American spirit and give us hope. Let us never forget we are independent but also interdependent. It’s the power of one. Our founders said it best: “E Pluribus Unum.”