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Cultivating 'habits of the heart'

Published September 28, 2005

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, best-selling author Clifton L. Taulbert donated money to the relief efforts.

Then he drove from his Tulsa, Okla., home to the hurricane-ravaged area with so many supplies he had trouble seeing out of the back of his sport utility vehicle.

But it wasn't enough.

Taulbert said he couldn't be satisfied until his efforts personally touched a hurricane victim. He reached his goal when he and his wife, Barbara, held a dinner for evacuees who had fled to Oklahoma.

Barbara cooked for days, and Clifton pulled out their finest china and their best crystal for the guests. There would be no paper plates, no plastic cups.

"We had to give our hearts to somebody because somebody gave their heart to me," Taulbert said, referring to his youth.

Taulbert offered this message of community Tuesday at the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa's annual luncheon, where I served as emcee.

In speaking about "The Power of Community," Taulbert drew largely from his book, Eight Habits of the Heart. And what is a habit of the heart?

"A habit of the heart is a caring deed of words or acts that is directed toward another person or persons on a routine basis without provocation from the affected."

USA Today called the 1997 bestseller a "year-end book to enrich our minds." The book helped Taulbert earn a personal invitation from Sandra Day O'Connor to address members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the book is 8 years old, its relevance is even greater after Katrina. Taulbert's call to action about embracing community certainly is compelling when combined with the unforgettable images of the tragedy.

Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville and the biblical King David, Taulbert laid a framework about the importance of community and how we must "share a piece of our heart" to ensure this democracy.

He challenged the audience to consider impoverished neighborhoods as the other end of your house, not an area to avoid. Think of every citizen as kin, not strangers.

Part of Taulbert's philosophies comes from his rural upbringing on the Mississippi Delta. He was raised by his grandparents and then a great aunt, but it was a cadre of folks who offered guidance because they saw their future in him.

They made sure he got to school, even though it was a 100-mile round trip during those segregated days. They inspired him with wisdom and looked out for his well-being.

Taulbert called the helpful folks from his childhood the "porch people," and he challenged the audience to be the "porch people of the 21st century."

"When we see our future intricately tied to others, then we begin to understand our responsibility," Taulbert explained.

Taulbert's words had to resonate with the friends and family of three Tampa girls who were killed in a car accident earlier this month.

Surely, so many of the girls' supporters saw their future in Alana Williams, Andromeda Spencer and Viquilla Troupe, who were returning to Florida State University when the car they were traveling in crashed on Interstate 75 in Pasco County.

Spencer and Troupe wanted to be doctors, Williams wanted to be an accountant. The girls met through the corporation's Youth Opportunity Movement program at the Audrey Spotford Youth Center.

Although their futures were cut short, their deaths will help the future of others. Reports of the tragedy brought attention to the fact that the Youth Opportunity program had lost its federal funding and was ending. Don and Erika Wallace responded by donating $50,000, and last week, the Hillsborough County Commission pledged $200,000 to the program. The City Council will consider matching the pledge on Thursday.

In honor of the girls, the corporation's chief executive officer, Chloe Coney, presented the Champions Award during the luncheon to philanthropists John and Susan Sykes, whose initial donation helped convert an old bar into the Spotford Center. Coney and family members of the three girls fought back tears as they made the presentation to the Sykes.

The scene embodied the power of community. Taulbert said the CDC should not stand for Corporation to Develop Communities, but Caring Devoted Citizens.

That's all I'm saying.

--Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or

[Last modified September 28, 2005, 02:30:38]

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