Creating Living Legacies

By Tyler Norris, MDiv, Chief Executive, Well Being Trust

Emmet and Eliza Norris in the Shirkent National Park, Republic of Tajikistan, August, 2018.

In July, Well Being Trust convened the inaugural gathering of Well Being Legacy in Oakland, California. With our co-hosts and partners, we brought together 180 youth, community, and national leaders to advance a nation-wide conversation on creating the conditions for intergenerational well-being for all.

Among the underlying questions: What needs to be asked of each generation to leave a legacy of well-being for future generations? How can we best ensure benefits accrue equitably to all? What are the implications for leaders to contribute to “living legacies” worthy of our lives and roles?

Over three days, we explored what it could mean for the nation if every person had the opportunity to realize their fullest potential f or well-being — mentally, physically, spiritually, socio-culturally, and economically. Rooted in the lived experience of the attendees, the learnings of diverse communities across the nation, and the growing evidence base on what works in advancing comprehensive strategies for well-being, we addressed impactful ways to increase equitable access to living wage jobs; affordable housing and active mobility; lifelong learning opportunities; healthy environments and safe places to live, work, and play; and meaningful ways to engage in our democracy.

Building on findings from 18 months of listening to the nation, the Oakland event unpacked the seven vital conditions for intergenerational well-being, examined the legacies of past decisions, and explored what it will take to create new living legacies.

This legacy work is at the core of the community transformation focus of Well Being Trust. As our most “upstream” strategy, it complements our portfolio of other more “downstream” investments in clinical transformation for whole person care; policy advocacy for increasing affordable access to quality mental health services; and social engagement with tweens, teens, and their families to “normalize the conversation” and build well-being and resilience skills.

Just ten days after closing the Well Being Legacy gathering, which coincided with my 59th birthday, I boarded a flight to Moscow. After a delightful week with my daughter in Russia, we journeyed to Tajikistan in Central Asia to meet up with my son. The spark for this trip: to celebrate a living legacy milestone in my own life in the 25th anniversary of the Tajik National Park System.

In my early 30’s, while working at the National Civic League in Denver in the early days of the U.S. Healthy Communities movement, I led the organizing and funding of four years of youth and expert fieldwork that culminated in 1993 with the establishment of the Shirkent Historical National Park and the Tajik National Park System. Our global team back then (which included Community Initiatives CEO Monte Roulier) also co-created the Kuhiston Foundation in Dushanbe, which became the first international NGO in newly-independent (from the Soviet Union) Tajikistan.

We also helped build micro-finance and women’s borrowing circles in regions of the country devastated by Civil War, and invested in the legal work that informed the elements of Tajikistan’s new constitution governing international NGOs. Kuhiston went on to do many years of work ranging from helping establish nature reserves to stemming the brain-drain of the nation’s scientific and academic leadership.

It was a bold and courageous era and effort — whose impacts are now visible a generation later.

To be back in Tajikistan this summer, this time with Eliza and Emmet, was especially poignant for me. Both to re-immerse in the rich and timeless hospitality culture of the Tajik and Pamiri people, and to re-experience the beauty of this fabled Central Asian region.

I was also there with new eyes. There was the hindsight of 25 years passed, but also the fresh eyes of my two adult children. Eliza and Emmet were not born when all this started, but a quarter century later they were able to witness first-hand its fruits. What a joy it was to hear our friends tell stories of what we did back then, but, more importantly, all that has been done to benefit lives long since our US team departed.

It is my great hope that what we’re advancing together with Well Being Legacy can grow the relationships, capacities, and civic infrastructure necessary to leave a living legacy of intergenerational well-being for all in our nation. And as with Tajikistan, that the legacy becomes visible and tangibly beneficial to human lives.

While a world apart, my experience in Tajikistan reminds me what is possible when we bring together bold vision, courageous and diverse people, an asset-based approach, and a willingness to be humble and learn as you go.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States and Senior Fellow, Well Being Trust. Oakland, July 2018

Indeed, comprehensive work to create intergenerational well-being is already happening: North, South, East, West, heartland, urban, rural, conservative, and progressive — communities like Allen County, Kansas, and King County, Washington.

As we come to terms with the legacies we’ve inherited from our predecessors, we have the opportunity to leave healthier, more equitably prosperous legacies for all the generations to come.

This will take all of us.

So, let us continue to turn to one another and rise to the significance of the call.

Join us!