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Context Florida: Our special guest Clay Jenkinson on “Restoring the American republic, beginning in Tallahassee”

Jenkinson-outside The Village Square in Tallahassee hosted humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson on October 15th for a live audience taping of the nationally syndicated show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. To learn more about our program and listen to an audio of the program CLICK HERE. To look at pictures of the program CLICK HERE. The below piece by Mr. Jenkinson ran in ” Context Florida and the print edition of the Tallahassee Democrat.

As the 21st century finds its rhythm, and the 2016 presidential contest begins to take up most of our public space, it seems clear to me that we have two political parties in the United States, but they are both thoroughly Hamiltonian.We have what might be called the “greater Hamiltonian Party” and the “lesser Hamiltonian party.” The obscene dominance of money, political action committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, and unrestrained attack ads has essentially disenfranchised the vast majority of American citizens.

In a world where there is no longer any real accountability, our political discourse has spiraled down into the gutter. A citizen from Jupiter, or any rational American, forced to watch nothing but Fox and MSNBC 24 hours per day, would soon despair of the American experiment.

What is to be done?

My view is that we need a Jeffersonian party or (better yet) a Jeffersonian movement in America. Jefferson believed that a republic could not survive without a high level of civility. In his first inaugural address, after a hotly contested election, Jefferson wrote two passages that every American should stop to consider.

First he said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

In other words, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, there are more things about which you agree than disagree. Stop exaggerating your differences – to raise money from your most virulent supporters, to appease the most extreme elements in your caucus, to erect a pedestal of righteousness in your name.

Jefferson’s second passage is even more important. “Let us,” he wrote, “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

Think about what Jefferson is saying here. The ideal of a republic is social “harmony and affection.” We live in the freest country in history, on what Jefferson called a “wide and fruitful land” with “room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” We have every reason to rejoice, almost no reason to lament.

Who would not agree that the rancorous partisanship and political paralysis of the past dozen years have made our public life (the res-publica, as the Romans put it) dreary, tedious, dispiriting, degrading, demoralizing, and exceedingly frustrating?

National renewal begins with a new commitment to civility. The style of our national debates should be serious, at times pointed, but always respectful and civil. The whole spirit of the Enlightenment can be summed up in a statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:

“Madam, I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.

We need to bring down the temperature of our national debates. We need to listen more carefully to each other. We need to try to understand not only what the opposition is saying, but the set of American principles that underlie what they say. We need to refine our debates so that they begin again to be evidence-based, rational, sensible, and helpful. Demagoguery is telling people what you think they want to hear even if you know what you are saying could never be instituted in law.

Demagoguery is playing on the fears, the darker energies, the prejudices, and the uncivil desires of the people. Demagoguery is deliberately saying things that you know actually degrade the possibility of true resolution of our problems. By those definitions, the United States in 2015 is awash in demagoguery.

Jefferson believed we would only be a republic if we had a well-educated and well-informed public – a nation of people who could see beyond narrow self-interest to the health and happiness of the entire commonwealth. Jefferson famously said that in our system the will of the majority ought always to prevail, but “that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Here’s what we desperately need. More civil public discourse. A willingness to compromise. The ability to see the virtue of the opposition, and to realize that they feel passionately about what is good for America. A willingness to read – books, articles, websites, the classics, the Founding Fathers – and to inform ourselves before trotting out the usual talking points (from Rush or Rachel or Sean or Glenn).

We need more Village Square events. I’m so excited to be coming to Tallahassee in the persona of the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. I do the work that I do, portraying Jefferson (and other historical characters) across the country, and playing Jefferson 52 weeks per year on the Thomas Jefferson Hour, because I believe something vital is missing at the core of American life, and that Jefferson’s view of republican democracy is the answer to what has gone wrong in American life.

Not everything about Thomas Jefferson is admirable, but his understanding of how a republic works is as important today as it was when he first penned these thoughts two centuries ago.

If I can play a small role in restoring Jeffersonian values to our national discourse, I will say, to use one of Jefferson’s allusions, like the character in the Bible, nunc dimittis, now you may dismiss me, for my work is done.

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Clay S. Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, Rhodes Scholar, author and social commentator. He has lectured about and portrayed Thomas Jefferson in 49 states over a period of 15 years, before U.S. Supreme Court justices, presidents, 18 state legislatures, and countless public, corporate, student and television audiences. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

The Village Square will host Jenkinson for a special live audience taping of the The Thomas Jefferson Hour at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Goodwood Museum & Gardens. “Founding Ideals: A Conversation with President Thomas Jefferson” is a fundraiser for The Village Square. You may purchase tickets by clicking here. Questions? Email christine@tothevillagesquare.org or call 850-590-6646.



Leadership Florida: Leadership Florida honors The Village Square with the Florida Impact Award

LF logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Wendy Walker
Leadership Florida
850-521-1220 ext 103
wwalker@leadershipflorida.org

Leadership Florida® honors The Village Square
with the Florida Impact Award

Tallahassee, Fla. — On June 14, at its annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Leadership Florida presented the The Village Square Tallahassee with its 2015 Florida Impact Award, recognizing the organization’s efforts to bring together those with opposing viewpoints by using civil, respectful, fact-based discourse.

Leadership Florida established the Florida Impact Award to recognize a business or non-profit organization that has created a body of work whose impact is currently transforming the future of its region and has the potential to impact Florida as a whole. It was created to promote a heightened sense of appreciation for the possibilities available when Floridians work together as a single statewide community.

The Village Square was founded by Tallahassee leaders with differing political affiliations, but united in the belief that education and civil discourse on topics of public policy among our diverse citizenry is vitally important, particularly in a society that has become increasingly polarized. In a non-partisan fashion, The Village Square convenes discussions on matters of local, state and national importance, which create a myriad of opportunities for constructive conversations that build understanding and trust among those with disparate views.

The Village Square idea of differing perspectives leading to united goals is growing throughout the state and beyond. Already, it has “franchised” its model by establishing a Village Square in the Florida cities of St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, as well as the out of state cities of Sacramento, Kansas City and Salt Lake City.

Leadership Florida is proud to honor The Village Square as its 2015 Florida Impact Award winner.

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About Leadership Florida
For thirty-four years, Leadership Florida has developed a reputation as a builder of a stronger, diverse statewide sense of community. A respected non-partisan convener of committed individuals, Leadership Florida enhances the knowledge and leadership abilities of Florida’s leaders through educational programs and by encouraging collaborative work for the betterment of our state. Leadership Florida provides Floridians essential information and a meaningful forum for their opinions, and creates opportunities for shared experiences that are inviting, inspiring and of lasting value. Leadership Florida is a federally registered trademark.

Find Leadership Florida online at leadershipflorida.org

Village Square receives Leadership Florida award



Florence Snyder: Dexter Douglass

Dexter-DouglassWith the passing of Dexter Douglass, Florida has lost a lawyer who made friends out of clients, and left them in better condition than he found them.

Douglass hung out his shingle in an era when lawyers aspired to be the first person in town that everyone looked to as a wise counselor and community problem-solver. He held to that standard, even as the practice of law changed.

Douglass was a high priced gladiator in high stakes, high profile litigation and a master storyteller who could have made a lot of money without working hard as a cable news “legal analyst.”

Instead, and to the end of his life, he preferred helping real people with real problems, whether or not they could afford to pay.

Journalists old enough to remember a world in which professionals and public officials could think and speak for themselves appreciated Douglass’ accessibility, his love of language, and his ability to take his work a great deal more seriously than he took himself.

Reporters who know the difference between real and fake friends of the 1st amendment paid their respects in print and in person at his funeral Saturday at Tallahassee’s Faith Presbyterian Church.

“Sometimes he didn’t like what we wrote about him or his governor”[Lawton Chiles, in whose administration Douglass served as general counsel]legend in her own right Lucy Morgan told the Miami Herald. “Several times he and I had shouting matches over the phone,” said Morgan, who headed the St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee Bureau in years when Douglass was regularly making big news “but the next time I’d see him it was as though we had never argued.”

William Jablon, a 45 year friend, underscored the point in his eulogy.

“Dexter served as my mentor and lawyer for 35 years when I became headmaster of Maclay School,” Jablon said. “He always told me do the right thing….. He also told me that in speaking with the press tell them the truth; it always confuses them.”

Douglass took joy from the practice of law because he kept things simple. Get up in the morning. Don’t do anything stupid all day long. Don’t let your clients do anything stupid, either.

In 58 years as a working lawyer, Douglass had only two kinds of clients: those who took his advice and were glad they did, and those, like recount loser Al Gore, who listened to some other lawyer and wished they hadn’t.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com.



Get Local Tallahassee: Deadline to apply to be a KCCI Catalyst is Friday

Learn about it online at www.kccitallahassee.com

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We are big fans of KCCI. It’s an incredible opportunity afforded our community by the Knight Foundation that other communities simply don’t have. If you get chosen to be a catalyst, you join a cool group of local people to imagine and complete a project to make Tallahassee an even better place to live. Every year The Village Square’s OUR TOWN series features the cool work of KCCI catalyst projects in our Fast Forward Tallahassee program.

Surely, you want that to be you? Deadline to apply is Friday. Tick tock.



Florence Snyder: Surely it was inevitable that the boomers would create TGIO (thankfully, in Tallahassee)

There’s not much to smile about in this Summer of Tsuris. Governor Rick Scott has fled the jurisdiction as Dream Defenders occupy the Capitol. Deck chairs are being shuffled at the Department of Children & Families. The Agency for Health Care Administration is using the children it warehouses in geriatric nursing homes as an excuse to bash Obamacare. Obscene “compensation” pours into the pockets of shameless officers and directors at Florida Blue.

So it was a welcome and altogether unexpected surprise this weekend to see hundreds of old folks dancing down Broadsway at Florida State University’s Opperman Music Hall.

That’s not a typo. “Broadsway” Productions is the second act of self-described recovering lawyer Elise Judelle and Peggy Brady, who recently retired after a 21-year run as Executive Director of the local Council on Culture and Arts.

Judelle and Brady are in show business full time now, and this weekend was the world premiere of a cabaret they call TGIO (Thank God I’m Old). For two solid hours, Broadsway’s troupe of singer-actors took an unsparing musical look at all manner of unfinished business people contend with in the 4th quarter of their lives. The characters portrayed come from the songbooks of pop, rock, and country, as well as the Great White Way, and the stakes are high, because time on the clock is running low.

The Judelle-Brady spirit of “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” made for a great performance, but even more interesting was the audience.

The 442 seat venue was close to full of local retirees. Some of the faces were recognizable, but most were unsung heroes of generations of state workers, educators and journalists who served Florida in the decades before it was the world’s leading exporter of late night comedy.

The token young person in the room was cast member Kelly Staver Elliott, who sang the role of a beloved granddaughter in a reimagined version of “For Good,” a signature song from Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked.” More often, Elliott was camping it up as a sweet young thing who catches the eyes of over-the-hill men armed with high hopes and a few hits of Viagra.

Audience emotions were toyed with in ways not generally associated with attorneys like Judelle, who spent much of her career doing the mind-numbing work of a bond lawyer at Bryant Miller Olive, the firm founded by the late Gov. Farris Bryant.

Show-goers toggled between uproarious laughter and barely-muffled sobs. There was a relaxed camaraderie in the audience that one used to see in the halls of power back when public service was an end in itself, and not a pit stop on the path to a lucrative life of influence peddling and no-bid contracts.

At intermission, people who used to be bold-faced names worked the room. They recognized people who, long ago, did real work competently at metal desks far removed from the corner offices of agency heads and managing partners. Unlike today’s “executive leadership teams” who always have their eyes on the name tags, looking for someone more important to talk to, they greeted old subordinates as equals, and asked after their children.

Judelle and Brady’s Glee for Geezers seems destined for future performance on the road and on the Internet. But on opening night, it felt like it was the audience that should be taking the bow.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Tallahassee Democrat: Author addresses deepening partisan divide

Tuesday’s dinner program is sold out, but you can still add your name to the waiting list HERE, hear Dr. Haidt speak at FSU HERE or listen to the program on WFSU 88.9 FM at 7pm on Friday, September 21 (or when it goes up online HERE).

From the Tallahassee Democrat:

Know anyone who reacts violently to political agendas of the “other side”?

They probably have a long list of reasons for their feelings: the other side is rude, selfish, has tunnel vision and is steering the nation to ruin.

Social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., thinks those very attitudes are destructive to America.

He’ll be speaking Tuesday night on the morality that “binds and blinds” our nation’s biggest political parties. Haidt will follow the ticketed, seated dinner and speech, “Polarization, Demonization and Paralysis in American Politics,” with a free, broader talk, “The Righteous Mind,” at Florida State University’s Student Life Cinema. Read the entire article in the Tallahassee Democrat.



Tallahassee Democrat: Village Square nonprofit expands to St. Pete

From today’s Tallahassee Democrat:

After six years in operation, The Village Square — a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that pushes for community engagement — is expanding Tuesday with the help of former Gov. Bob Graham.

The plan, which has developed over the past year, will make the St. Petersburg College in Pinellas County the location for the first offshoot of The Village Square. The organization draws from community members and aims to open dialogue about local, state and national matters that affect communities.

Liz Joyner, executive director of The Village Square Tallahassee, said she is excited about seeing the original idea expand to another city and practice the ability to talk about national issues.

“It’s really about neighbors connecting with neighbors, regardless of their ideology,” Joyner said. She added the local town hall meeting is what built America and that is what The Village Square aims to continue.

Bryan Desloge, The Village Square co-chair and Leon County Commisioner, said the organization is “trying to create a venue and a way for people to solve community issues without all the rancor and visceral debate and the spiteful back fighting you see in politics today. It doesn’t mean it’s not full contact, it doesn’t mean you don’t have spirited debates, it just means you talk about the facts.”

David Klement, executive director of the Institute of Strategic Policy Solutions at SPC, said the movement in St. Pete was initiated by himself and St. Petersburg College President Bill Law. Law was a co-founder of the Tallahassee Chapter of the Village Square and the former president of Tallahassee Community College.

Klement attended events in Tallahassee in 2009 and 2010 and said that he wanted to bring that kind of public discussion to his region.

“I would hope that we could emulate the Tallahassee chapter,” said Klement. “We’re learning from them, and we’ll learn hopefully from their mistakes and can get up to their speed quickly.”

Graham is expected to speak about renewing interest in civic duty in education. He was the choice as the keynote speaker because he “is respected across the state, on both sides of the aisle. He was never into the bipartisanship that exists now in many areas,” Klement said.

Sen. Dennis L. Jones (R-Seminole), who oversees the Economic Development and Innovative Projects at SPC, said the goal of the forum is to bring public, not political, issues to the forefront of discussion.

Topics that the group will discuss include a seminar in September on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 on what Americans have learned since the event, said both Jones and Klement.



Village Square Expands to St. Petersburg, Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 21, 2012

THE VILLAGE SQUARE EXPANDS TO SECOND FLORIDA CITY
St. Petersburg College launches bipartisan non-profit founded by Tallahassee leaders

(TALLAHASSEE, FL) – May 21, 2012 – Tomorrow night, The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College becomes the first spinoff of Tallahassee-based nonprofit The Village Square as it hosts former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham.

The Village Square, founded by a group of Tallahassee leaders who enjoyed friendships despite their divergent political views, is dedicated to growing constructive, civil dialogue on matters of local, state and national importance. In its 6 years, the organization has hosted thousands of residents at over 50 programs on topics that range from Florida constitutional amendments to energy to the challenging intersection of faith and politics. The Village Square was the recipient of the highly nationally competitive Knight Community Information Challenge grant in 2009 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to grow informed and engaged communities.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with St. Petersburg College as we grow beyond Tallahassee,” said The Village Square Board Co-chair, County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. “The College’s unique reach into their community is a great match for the neighborly spirit that has contributed to our success in Tallahassee.”

David Klement is the Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions. He reflects on the launch, in planning for over a year: “I am honored to have the Institute chosen to be the first ‘clone’ of The Village Square Tallahassee. It is a powerful concept for raising the level of public discourse, and we are excited at the prospect of sharing it with the Pinellas County community. The success of The Village Square Tallahassee is proof that people really do want to have meaningful conversations about the pressing issues of the day in a non-partisan, non-hostile atmosphere.”

Governor Graham was chosen to kick off The Village Square in St. Petersburg because he epitomizes its spirit. He is regarded as one of the nation’s senior statesmen, respected on both sides of the political aisle for his collaborative leadership style and for his 38-year career of public service. He will speak Tuesday night on the topic of “Restoring Civics Education and Renewing Our Democracy.”

For more information about the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, go online to www.spcollege.edu/solutions or call (727) 394-6933. For more information on The Village Square, go to www.tothevillagesquare.org, or call (850) 264-8785.

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Maira Kalman: So Moved



This unique New York Times blog by Maira Kalman makes me tear up a bit every time I re-read it. America is such a Big Idea. And our country’s greatness really is fundamentally located in our communities, with our humble town hall or wherever it is we manage to make civic connections to our neighbors.



Ed Morrison: Civility grows the economy

Read the whole article HERE. Here’s a snip:

“Incivility destroys a community’s capacity to generate wealth.

Here’s why.

In a networked, knowledge-driven economy, collaboration drives wealth creation. And collaboration can only thrive in a stable environment of trust. The corrosion of our civil society –– the alarming growth of incivility and pervasive lying –– undercuts our economy’s productivity and our capacity to innovate.

Incivility — fraudulent concealment (“hiding the ball”), lying, manipulation, and associated behaviors — can work well to redistribute wealth. We see almost endless examples from MF Global to the subprime mess. Yet, these behaviors do not generate wealth. Indeed, they erode capitalism’s capacity to generate wealth. That’s why corruption slows economic growth and why trust is associated with higher rates of economic growth.”
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Thanks to Tony for the heads up on this great article.



Katz discusses diplomatic life in Portugal

Allan Katz was welcomed back to Tallahassee with open arms and lots of “your Excellency” jokes Monday night as he spoke about his work as United States Ambassador to Portugal, a job he took on in early 2010. The hour-and-a-half presentation was a fundraiser for The Village Square, an organization focused on building constructive dialogue and founded by Katz and Bill Law. “One of the things that makes the job so good is there are very few typical days,” said Katz, responding to a question by Read all »



Big Sort Dinner at the Square slideshow



Community Foundation and Village Square Benefit from a Knight Foundation Challenge Grant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Joy Watkins, President
Community Foundation of North Florida
(850) 222-2899 ext. 104
jwatkins@cfnf.org
www.cfnf.org

COMMUNITY FOUNDATION AND VILLAGE SQUARE BENEFIT FROM A KNIGHT FOUNDATION CHALLENGE GRANT

Tallahassee, Fla., January 13, 2010 – In a highly competitive national grant contest, the Community Foundation of North Florida is one of 24 community and place-based foundations recently selected to receive a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant was awarded as a part of The Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, $24 million initiative to help community and place-based foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged.

The Community Foundation, in partnership with The Village Square, received a $72,000 challenge grant to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents around community issues. The project entitled “We the People” will create a 21st century virtual and face-to-face public square by offering unique town hall forums in addition to constructive online engagement through a community problem-solving Wiki. The project’s aim is to renew Tallahassee’s marketplace of ideas where good solutions rise from an informed citizenship, and where abundant information can be channeled into constructive results. The grant requires a $50,000 match from our community making the total project budget $122,000.

“We thank the Knight Foundation for recognizing that access to information is essential for the quality of life in our community and for providing resources to help increase access for all citizens. Through this challenge grant contest, Knight is challenging communities across the country to respond to the changing media landscape in our communities and ensure that residents have access to information. We are pleased to be able to support Knight’s work in our community, strengthen The Village Square’s work and increase access to information for citizens in our community.” – Joy Watkins, President of the Community Foundation of North Florida.

“The Village Square is thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the Community Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The Village Square’s mission is to encourage civil dialogue about community issues and to ensure the people of our community receive factual information about those issues. Our work is right in line with what the Knight Foundation is trying to accomplish. This grant will enhance our work by allowing us to get more information to a broader audience.” Liz Joyner, Executive Director of The Village Square.

Allen Katz co-founded The Village Square in 2006, along with Tallahassee Community College President Dr. Bill Law. “Rapid changes in the way we communicate with each other and the hyper-partisan environment nationally have left communities less able to deal with local and state issues constructively,” says Katz, a former Tallahassee City Commissioner who has been nominated by President Obama to become U.S. Ambassador to Portugal. “The best ideas in a democracy come from engaged and informed citizenship,” says Law. “This project will bring more light and less heat to problems ahead of us.”

“The social glue of communities has changed substantially over the last 40 years,” according to Joyner. “Civic clubs and service organizations used to knit us together to form a geographical community whose bond was greater than political difference. But ideology-based groups are on the rise and as a result our unique made-in-America social fabric is fraying,” says Joyner.

“We the People” will expand The Village Square programming on local and state issues through varying formats like “Dinner at the Square,” “Take-out Tuesday,” “Politics, Partisans & A Pint” and “Sunday Night Supper Club,” intentionally reviving community between people with diverse perspectives.

To compliment these face-to-face forums, the project will have an online component: A Wiki-based online problem solving tool, where neighbors can collaborate to assemble relevant facts and resources for addressing local, state and national issues. “We hope to create an online community that defies the trend toward angry likeminded groups; where people will treat each other with the same respect as they do when they see neighbors at the grocery store or at their mailbox,” says Joyner.

“This grant presents a great opportunity for our organization and our community”, says Joyner. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to raise the $50,000 match and to implement the details of the project. Our hope is that the community will rally with us to raise the matching funds and help us improve the vitality of our community by increasing access to civil and factual information in our community.”

To learn more about the project or to get involved with The Village Square, please go to www.tothevillagesquare.org or contact Liz Joyner at liz@tothevillagesquare.org or (850) 264-8785.

About the Community Foundation of North Florida
The Community Foundation of North Florida is a nonprofit public charity serving the 10 county Big Bend area by facilitating and promoting charitable giving and strengthening nonprofit organizations. The Foundation helps people give in perpetuity to their favorite charities and helps nonprofit organizations with grants, education and endowment building expertise. For more information, contact Joy Watkins, President, at jwatkins@cfnf.org or 850-222-2899 ext. 104.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

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