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When the tide comes in, all the boats in the bay – regardless of who they belong to – are lifted. It doesn’t matter if the boat is small or large, lavish, or modest, they are lifted in unison. The relation of each boat to the next doesn’t matter – they all rise together and no boat is left behind.


Though not the originator of this popular aphorism, John F. Kennedy is often credited with popularizing this phrase. President Kennedy used the phrase to argue that a dam being built in Arkansas was not a pork barrel project—meaning he wasn’t directing federal dollars to a local initiative for the sake of political gain. He argued that the dam represented “an investment by the people of the United States in the United States,” and that the dam would benefit many people even outside of Arkansas. It was an investment that would benefit the entire country.


The phrase is used by economists to explain that general improvements made to the economy benefit all the participants of said economy. The phrase is also used to justify policy/legislation that initially may seem to be hyper focused on a small pocket of the population, but that ultimately has a positive impact on the entire population.


For example, if your local government decides to invest a large portion of public funds to effectively end homelessness in your community, you’re sure to hear some cynical opinion questioning why the community needs to pay to "fix other people's problems with my tax dollars." What these cynics fail to understand is that an investment in helping folks experiencing homelessness is ultimately good for everyone in that community. Ending homelessness means adding housing, creating jobs, increasing access to healthcare, and introducing more people into the economy. In this case, the rising tide of addressing homelessness lifted all the boats, not just those who were aground.


Imagine a world where individuals, organizations, and institutions make a significant investment of time, energy, and resources in diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Imagine what benefits will come to the entire community as the tide of social justice raises all the boats in our bay.


A rising tide may not be enough, though. The system is so steeped in racism, classism, and every other ism you can imagine that a tide may not be enough to lift us all. What we may need is a wave. Our only hope for true institutional change is a wave of equity. That wave starts with you. It starts with exploring your identity. It starts with learning the history. It starts with investigating why things are the way they are. It starts with asking questions. The system that we live in is not your fault or my fault. We inherited this system. But as the heirs of this society, we can change it for the better. We can challenge the problem, and we can be part of the solution. It can be intimidating. It may be difficult to even know where to start. The first step is deciding to explore, to learn, to ask questions. Are you ready to ride the wave?

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