The Kansas Health Foundation Symposium in Wichita last week was a thought-provoking experience for 200 area residents, which allowed attendees to examine the state’s future in health. The event featured several nationally-known speakers.

I was not surprised to learn 70 percent of Kansans live in metropolitan areas. Coincidentally, the only places increasing in population are those in the metropolitan areas, as well as communities that are home to feedlots and packing plants.

Eighty-two of the state’s 105 counties have lost population since 2000 which, as a speaker pointed out, means those areas have fewer taxpayers to fund services needed in the communities.

Although the event studied Kansas issues, the speakers spoke about how other parts of the nation succeeded in efforts to revitalize their communities.

Geoffrey Canada knocked it out of the ballpark with a speech on the Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada and a group of activists launched the Children’s Zone in 1997, which serves children in a 100 block area of Harlem. The project starts at birth and follows children through college. As stated in his bio, Canada’s objective is to create a safety net woven over an entire neighborhood.

He reports that Harlem has been transformed into a community of thriving businesses with kids aspiring to attend college. To paraphrase what has happened, he called the successful venture the “Harlem resurgence.” Thousands of students are now graduating from college.

“People leave an area when they know things are going down,” Canada said. These days, people are returning to Harlem to become a part of a success story.

“If kids don’t show up for school, we go find them,” Canada said. “Along the way, the children are learning how to solve conflict without being violent.”

Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Schools in Topeka is a think-outside-the-box educator as was evidenced in the comments she made during her participation in a panel discussion. After assuming her current position, she authorized the purchase of a washing machine, which parents are allowed to use weekly to wash a single load of clothes in return for volunteering the same amount of time for the school district. From all accounts, the program is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

One speaker mentioned that being an Eagle Scout is something Fortune 500 companies look for when reviewing resumes searching for the highest caliber employee.

Former presidential speechwriter Eric Liu said our democracy, as he put it, is under assault but the problems didn’t arise overnight. Liu resides in Seattle, a city swimming in prosperity, thanks in no small part to Amazon. At the same time, Seattle is dealing with a record number of homeless residents.

Increasing the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 per hour has, according to Liu, set in motion a cycle of increasing demand.

“We are all better off when we are all better off,” Liu pointed out.

Liu said that founding father Benjamin Franklin was one of the first to organize a club to promote his point of view, a trend that continues to this day with groups such as the Tea Party.

Meetings of this type usually produce a few quotes worth repeating. Two that come to mind are “If you are not at the table, you could be on the menu” and “a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

It was great to reconnect with Steve Hartman who travels the highways and byways of the nation in search of a good story on “caring” people. He was a smash hit in a presentation to the Dillon Lecture Series earlier this year and wrapped up the Wichita meeting in similar fashion. Listening to Steve a second time provided more reassurance that there remains a lot of good people in this nation who awaken every day to serve others.

On another note, retired Hutchinson News Editor/Publisher Dick Buzbee died last week. I first met Dick in 1988 while relocating to Hutchinson and was impressed from the outset with his class and integrity. He often sent handwritten notes to express appreciation for simple acts of kindness.

In dealing with Dick on news releases regarding the telecommunications wars that were springing up in the early 1990s, I found him to be fair to all sides of any issue.

In the 25 years since his retirement, he was a regular at Rotary or for lunch with old friends at the Town Club, always meticulously dressed in a suit and his trademark bowtie. Dick represented the best in the newspaper business from his era and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

 Richard Shank is a retired AT&T manager, is employed in the healthcare industry and has farming interests in Saline County. Email him at