BY JEANETTE LENOIR
Since 2010, a small group of people have been gathering at a local pub to celebrate a new tradition. It takes place on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, at The Green Onion in Utica, NY. Utica College Professor and Artist, Steven Specht, is a founding member of this new holiday and says it’s a time to reflect and be thoughtful about the world and the issues impacting its people, before moving on to the big feast of Thanksgiving. The new tradition, marking its 6th year this time around, is called Thoughtsgiving. Specht and his fellow co-founders, Brad Emmons and Jason Denman represent some of the rare individuals in central New York that are actively working to bridge the cultural and social gap that keeps many people that call this region home, segregated.
It’s no coincidence that CNY continues to be rated one of the most segregated areas in America by multiple organizations like the U.S. Census Bureau, Brookings Institute and CNY Fair Housing, Inc. A 2014 report by CNY Fair Housing found that when it comes to equality of opportunity based on race and ethnicity, the area is one of the worst in scoring in the country. The report also found that, “Access to community assets is unevenly distributed geographically and across racial and ethnic groups. There are significant disparities in median household income and poverty levels between residents of Syracuse and residents of the surrounding towns and, within the City of Syracuse, significant differences exist in median household income and poverty by race and ethnicity.”
Nonetheless, Specht and his supporters aren’t deterred by the figures that reflect the cultural and social status of CNY, or the uphill climb to bring about a more well-balanced and healthy community. The group, despite its small size, is making local head waves and inspiring others to reach across whatever divides them. To soften hearts and minds and build the bridges for that desperately needed human connection and thoughtfulness that seeks to heal a community still licking old and new racial wounds. Thoughtsgiving may be a new tradition and celebration of thoughtfulness with only a handful of members, but the mission behind it is tried and true. Showing consideration for the needs of other people never gets old.
1952 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Albert Schweitzer, captures the spirit behind Thoughtsgiving eloquently with this quote: “Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty, therefore, are not so much strong as widespread. But the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought. Let us work that this time may come.”