COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL
Welcome to Week Four at Chautauqua. As I write this message to you, we are completing the first third of our Summer Assembly — a most remarkable one that is flying by!
It seems like the perfect transition to complete a week on “Trust, Society and Democracy” and move to a week in which we acknowledge that we have work to do to create the America we want to see now and for the future. In this week, we explore “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides.” We are many geographies, many economies, many cultures, many beliefs. We are a nation of differences and divides, and in a summer following a presidential election and a devastating pandemic that has thrown those divides into stark relief, we look to better understand those many Americas, the barriers — real or perceived — that keep us apart, and together consider how we navigate our differences in charting a future for our nation.
Our guides this week couldn’t be more perfect. On a personal note, I’m elated to welcome my friend and colleague Amanda Ripley to frame our week. Amanda and I worked together when I served as president and CEO of Youth For Understanding. Her ground-breaking book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, chronicled the journey of several exchange students as a way to shine a light on the world’s education disparities. Her new book, High Conflict: Why We Got Trapped and How We Get Out, starts our week on “divides” from a frame of how to unify. She will be joined by editor and author David French on Tuesday, scholar and author Katherine Cramer on Wednesday, and one of our nation’s preeminent public intellectuals, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., on Thursday to close the week.
In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore “The Evolving Religious Narrative of America.” In this week we explore the evolving American religious narrative and identity, and to continue the theme of “Michael’s favorite thinkers,” we start the week with my very dear friend Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. Eboo is a Chautauqua favorite, having been here many times, challenging our assumptions and showing us an enlightened path toward a “more perfect union.” He is joined on the platform by Michael Martin, executive director of the Native American Community Services in Erie and Niagara counties, exploring the ways in which the American quest impacts native peoples, on Tuesday; and Gary Phillip Zola, bringing us a perspective from the Jewish tradition in this important evolving narrative of religion in America, on Wednesday.
Friday morning brings a special Meet the Filmmaker opportunity to Chautauqua Cinema: “A Reckoning in Boston” will be presented at 10 a.m. with the filmmaker James Rutenbeck and producer and film subject Kafi Dixon engaging with the audience following the film. We give thanks to Cinema operator Billy Schmidt for his collaboration on this and several other events this summer.
While there are countless things to be excited about in a Chautauqua week, I’m delighted that our Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will bring us a relatively new tradition as they provide the exquisite soundtrack to Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Saturday night in the Amphitheater. With all of the serious exploration we do around our themes, it’s great to be reminded to have some fun, all while celebrating the incredible artistry of our very own CSO.
Week Three, from my perspective, was a great example of the balance we always strive for in our lecture platforms, sharing perspectives from left, right and center on an important topic of trust and democracy. I look forward to all we’ll learn together in Week Four, and may we use the wisdom of our speakers, preachers, teachers and artists — and one another — to close the gap on our divides.
Have a great week, Chautauqua! I know I will, because you’re here.