Hero Town, USA: An origin story

For Batman, it began in the dark alley where Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered. For Captain America, it consisted of the numerous rejections he received as he sought to serve his country. For Thor, it was the combination of being on the receiving end of an intergalactic timeout and his affinity for hardware of a different temper than those carried by your local Home Depot.

On September 19-20, I had the opportunity to be a part of a different kind of origin story, one born out from a truly amazing event, the Hero Round Table in Flint, Michigan.

Although this one-of-a-kind hero conference featured 26 captivating TED-style speakers (and performers) and 26 more small group breakout sessions (including The Power Button's "Call to adventure: We can be heroes"), the most remarkable part of the event may have been the collective strength, courage, and resolve demonstrated by the Flint community, including the organizers, the sponsors, and most of all, the participants.

As I boarded my flight back to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, I was ablaze with the inspiration of the past couple of days.

But of all of the images that had been imbedded in my mind over the weekend, the most persistent was that of the community leaders and event organizers who stood up at a dinner on Friday night and declared their fervent belief in and commitment to the city of Flint.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo confessed on stage that he was somewhat reluctant to come to Flint the previous year for the inaugural Hero Round Table, and I wondered how many of us who had never been to Michael Moore's hometown had shared those doubts.

Last week, every time I mentioned my then-upcoming trip, my family and friends would reply with some variation of, "Ugh. Why?"

However, after hearing the impassioned voices of a handful of community leaders and witnessing the firm resolve in their eyes, I have no doubts whatsoever about Flint's "comeback."

The city has forged a commitment to partner with the Heroic Imagination Project to develop its emerging leaders into "heroes in training," who will be empowered and equipped to stand up for the community's shared values. This partnership is truly a first of its kind in the United States of America, and represents the audacious thinking and bold action needed for such a long-suffering town.

Honestly, I found myself envious of the Heroic Imagination Project for the opportunity to work with people like those at the dinner Friday night.

I know this community is on the edge of something truly special.

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to perservere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
— Christopher Reeve

The enormity of this task, however, cannot be overstated. 

When an ordinary person commits and sacrifices herself for an extraordinary outcome, we call her a hero. When a community of heroes does the same, we call it, "Hero Town, USA."