Mayor Dean engages with Divinity students on community service

Mayor Karl Dean addresses Vanderbilt Divinity students at the April 8 forum. (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)
Mayor Karl Dean addresses Vanderbilt Divinity students at the April 8 forum. (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

The strong value placed on community volunteerism is among the reasons Nashville has received extensive national press for its enviable quality of life, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean recently told Vanderbilt Divinity students.

Dean, who is a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, was the featured speaker for the Divinity School’s April 8 Monday Forum. He encouraged Divinity students to consider launching their careers in Nashville as they look for ways to combine their leadership skills and compassion for others into meaningful service.

“I came to Nashville, sight unseen, in 1978 to go to law school and fell in love with the quality of life and the friendliness of the people,’ Dean said. “This is true now more than ever.”

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service’s 2012 Volunteering and Civic Life in America report, Nashville ranked 14th out of the nation’s 51 largest metro areas in terms of volunteerism. “I would like us to move even further up into the top 10,” Dean said.

The devastating 2010 flood provided an excellent example of Nashvillians’ willingness to help those in distress, Dean noted. “As I would walk around affected areas just a couple of days after it had stopped raining, I would see the debris already piled relatively neatly by the street,” Dean said. “It was the people of Nashville who got this accomplished.”

Dean also said that he did not see a need to declare a curfew during the flood’s rescue and clean-up operations. “Everyone seemed to be doing what we asked them to do, such as not interfering with the work of the first responders,” he said. “The only people on the street were those helping others. To me, that has been one of the great moments for Nashville.”

The mayor’s overall priorities for Nashville are public education, public safety and economic development. He cited the successful grassroots campaign to defeat the English Only proposal for Nashville in 2009 as an excellent example of citizen involvement with lasting impact. English Only would have made English the official language of Metro while also stating individuals had no right to services in other languages. Some Vanderbilt Divinity students were among those who worked to defeat English Only.

“The city came together in an amazing way with a great coalition that included religious leaders, unions, businesses, Democrats and Republicans,” Dean said. “It was an awful message and its defeat was a great affirmation of our Nashville values.”

Dean took questions from students after his remarks. In response to a question about how volunteers can work effectively within public schools, the mayor pointed to Hands on Nashville and Pencil Project as among those organizations that help “break down the barriers” so students benefit. He noted that Metro has been aggressive in starting more after-school programs. “The program helps with academics, offers cultural enrichment and provides a safe place for children.”

The mayor’s talk was organized by Community Engagement Fellows Terrance Dean, Lindsey Krinks, Andrea Folds, Lauren Rigsby and Asher Kolieboi and the advisory committee. The committee is chaired by Graham Reside, executive director, Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, and assistant professor of ethics and society.