A highly valued educational partner, Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, is a practicing primary care pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, a university professor, and a parent of three. As the founding director of the Vital Village Community Engagement Network, she supports human thriving in Boston by amplifying community-based strategies to promote child well-being. She expands this work through NOW and The Boston University Center for AntiRacist Research to support peer learning, promote resilience and improve child health care by advancing the adoption of key strategies needed for equitable and family-centered wellness practices.
Worldmaker is dedicated to supporting each person’s right to thrive and believes that this promise can only be fulfilled within community. Our Community Weaver Award is presented to a community-based collaborator who is fostering social trust by celebrating diversity, promoting inclusion, and cultivating a sense of mattering for all.
This process must go beyond providing safety nets to helping communities actively weave a tapestry that supports every. To paraphrase Renée:
“Intentional community weaving allows everyone to bring their gifts, everyone to feel a sense of belonging, everyone to see that together, collaboratively, we can all make a contribution. The power and beauty of a tapestry is that it allows us to embrace different colors, different textures, different styles, different ways of leading and showing up, different cultural backgrounds and beliefs. If we make a space for belonging – where everyone can feel as though they have something important to offer and that they have something important to learn – that mutuality, that space of belonging, allows us to expand.”
Focus on Strengths
At the core of Renée’s work is a belief that each community holds powerful assets, strengths, wisdom and solutions that can help people better prepare for, adapt to and grow through adversity. She emphasizes that these resilience factors within communities are often ignored by telling one story about them when that story is one of deficit.
“Building community resilience is about amplifying the existing solutions within the community. There are many things that caregivers and community-based institutions and organizations have figured out. We need to shine a spotlight on that work!”
Growing up in the midst of a desegregation battle, Renée felt a call as a young person to personally contribute what she could to a society that invests in every child and does not see any child as disposable or able to slip through the cracks. She quickly realized that this objective takes a village – and that this village work begins with listening to all voices:
“The diversity of opinions and ways of thinking is really important to allowing a village to take on a task of investing in every child. It can’t just be one way or just one model or just one idea. There has to be a space for discussion, exchange and embracing of many different types of ideas.”
She says that this process is one of creating a network and an environment that welcomes, expects, and hopes to see and learn from those strengths. The goal then becomes scaling and sustaining community strengths, helping to align and integrate them in intentional, meaningful ways that reduce silos.
Honor Human Dignity
Above all else, it is Renée’s focus on human dignity as the anchor for her work that most deeply refuels dedication to my own life’s work of supporting human thriving for all. I share her belief that this is the key to reducing harm and promoting wellbeing.
How can we anchor human dignity? By trusting and acknowledging that each person has something important to express and contribute and to provide pathways to welcome these contributions. Renée emphasizes that in order to change individual behavior, our society must move beyond patterns that neglect, avoid protecting or fail to truly support the promise of each individual. This is a process of going beyond equality and beyond equity to fully anchor human dignity as our north star and to commit to understanding how such mutual dignity allows all of us to thrive.
“If you can, from the earliest moments of life, invest, promote, respect the dignity of each person – their social connections, their attachments, their contributions – imagine the ways in which they will continue to connect with others, the ways that those cycles can happen…. It becomes powerfully important to think beyond what just individuals can do differently, what parents and caregivers can do differently, to what can we as a society do to support healthy communities where everyone can thrive – where everyone has the resources and opportunities accessible to them to really thrive and contribute.”
There are many hard-earned lessons available to us from our Covid-19 pandemic experiences — from uplifting innovative ways to maintain and expand social connections to justly allocating resources during times of scarcity to welcoming deeper conversations about who is included and excluded from decision making processes. As Renée emphasizes:
“We have not focused enough or spoken enough around the local leadership and successes. There have been a tremendous number of innovative ideas and strategies to expand and maintain social connections, to build and support families amidst numerous hardships.”
In order to fuel collective recovery worthy of humanity in the 21st century, we must lean into and mine these lessons… with humility.
Hold a Bold Vision
The process of worldmaking is one of helping to create a world that provides a sense of safety, belonging, meaningful contribution and collective thriving for all. You – me – each of us has an important part to play in sewing the tapestry of community resilience.
Dr. Renée envisions this world vividly. She says that her personal fuel is a commitment “to a deeply held belief in the marrow of my bones that every child has so much to offer and it is our society that is really responsible for creating conditions that allow a village to support every child’s promise and potential.”
How might you help shape and build this world that we dream of so that it becomes a reality for all of our children to fulfill their promise and potential?
How might you help create a world where all are supported to thrive — one community, one adult, and one child at a time?
We at Worldmaker and Vital Village welcome your input!