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Opinion: Michigan residents need to believe in each other, solve problems

Doug DeVos

I’ve never seen Michigan so divided. The challenges of 2020 have caused a lot conflict among our fellow citizens. The coronavirus pandemic. Racial injustice. The election. As we start looking to 2021 and beyond, it’s time to ask: Is there any chance to restore a sense of unity?

Of course we can!

I’ve found renewed optimism in a new book — "Believe In People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World." Written by Charles Koch, one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs, and Brian Hooks, the head of the country’s most innovative philanthropic community, the book lays out the path for people of all backgrounds to come together to tackle the serious challenges that surround us. At a time when a lot of folks are blaming each other for society’s ills, the book points out that people aren’t problems. Just the opposite — people are the solution. 

You can see the lack of belief in each other in the political disagreements that have turned into brawls, DeVos writes.

Ultimately, the book has a call to action that needs to be heard: Let’s look for places to partner and make a positive difference on the issues that matter most. I think it’s a message that every Michigan resident can get behind.

The book title gets to the heart of what we’re missing in Michigan right now — a belief in people. You can see the lack of belief in each other in the political disagreements that have turned into brawls, the way that some friends and family and neighbors no longer trust each other. Rebuilding that trust and belief is key to restoring a sense of unity in our state. And a sense of unity is essential to solving the serious problems we face.

Where can we start? By reaching out to family, friends and neighbors, finding areas of agreement — even if it’s just one or two — and then searching for solutions that unite instead of divide.

For instance: We all agree that something needs to be done about poverty. Around 14% of Michigan residents were living in poverty before the pandemic, and now it’s likely much worse. Instead of looking for policy solutions, let’s look within our communities for innovative ideas and inspiring leaders. Then let’s support them to help them help people in need.

I’ve been inspired by the Family Independence Initiative, a national anti-poverty group that works in Detroit. Its community-based model helps people increase their income, and during the pandemic it has helped nearly 200,000 households. We can all come together to support these kinds of much-needed efforts.

Similarly, we all agree that people who’ve lost jobs during the pandemic need support. So let’s work together to find creative ways to help them get back on their feet. Urge your employer to participate in programs like SkillUp, which is helping people who’ve been laid off find new and better work. About 1,000 people are signing up every day, and with more support the program could do even more good. There are many opportunities to collaborate to help those who’ve been hurt in this economic climate.

Finally, we all agree that everyone deserves the chance to succeed. Over the past decade, Michigan residents united to support criminal justice reform at the state level, giving people who’ve run afoul of the law a second chance. We then came together in 2018 to back similar criminal justice reforms at the federal level, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Let’s look for more opportunities to cut through the partisan divide and find places to enact common-sense policies that empower people to thrive.

There’s much we can do if we believe in people and unite to help them. We don’t need to look to city hall or the statehouse for answers — we can collaborate in our communities to move forward. Let’s look for areas of agreement and then get to work. Bringing people together is the best way to bring Michigan through this difficult year, and into the future.

Doug DeVos is a co-chairman of Amway. He is a member of the Stand Together philanthropic community. Learn how you can get involved at www.standtogether.org.