A refugium is an area where populations can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions. For instance, after a volcanic eruption, there are islands of life that survive the path of destruction. This archipelago connect and birth a new ecosystem stronger and more resilient than the one before the eruption.
The same is true after wildfires, the refugium in the forest creates seeds for new growth and regeneration. It is a natural part of our ecosystems — from green spaces to glaciers — and is a perfect analogy for the climate of our country. Though our society is on fire, what will emerge afterwards is an evolution that makes society stronger and more resilient.
Our country is on fire—it’s becoming increasingly more divided. We all know this even through our own personal experiences. Beyond the political rift, there’s chasms that exist between faiths, urban-rural locales and race. There’s also conflict within our own relationships, which some of us try to bridge with great difficulty. Others choose to just walk away from people who disagree with them completely. After the Trump election, some researchers say that one in six family members are no longer on speaking terms.
This month, my life completely changed. Up until that point, I had a comfortable and stable life in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was surrounded by a wonderful community of friends. I was working at IDEO (a design firm), one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I was growing in tremendous ways. I explored the world and worked on several creative projects.
Through this time, though, there was a calling inside of me. I was witnessing the division in our country — in the news, in conversations and in random interactions walking around the city. I felt like I needed to act. I couldn’t sit around and just hope the country was going to change.
So to the surprise of many, I left it all. I quit my job, left my house, and gave almost everything away. I packed everything into my Prius to take the next year or so off to travel the United States by car. I’m on the search to share stories of people who are bridging across difference in our country.
While our media spends most of its time focusing on our country’s division — which earns them more eyeballs and advertising dollars — I’m more interested in covering the stories of our country’s unification. People around the country — from small towns to big cities — are coming together and learning to get along despite their differences.
It’s only been a month but I’ve already connected with people doing this important work. I’m realizing that I wasn’t alone in my desire to do something. There’s a growing movement of everyday people who are bridging division in their schools, churches, workplaces and neighborhoods. Organizations are shifting their missions to meet this unmet need. New enterprises are starting every day to focus on this issue. Funders are seeing this effort as an important part of strengthening our democracy and society.
Narrative has a big role to play. Research says that the media we’re exposed to changes the way we think and act. If we’re constantly bombarded with messages of division, that does more harm than help. What if we shifted the public narrative from division to unity?
That’s where Refugium comes in. Throughout my travels across the USA, I will write about the everyday people who are bridging across difference in their communities. I hope these stories will:
- Inspire people to get involved with unification efforts
- Inform those who are already engaged with a new set of skills & strategies to use in their work and lives
- Invite new, courageous and radical responses to bridge across difference
Please join me by “following” the publication as I write dispatches from the road. If you know of any bridge builders I should connect with, please let me know — I’d love to drive their way and meet them.
Scott Keoni Shigeoka is on a multi-year road trip across the United States to uncover the stories of people who are bridging across social and political difference. His writing is catalogued on Refugium, a digital blog about these bright spots of unity across the country.