A Compassion Movement & the Community Read

young girl reading book in the High Point Library in High Point, NC

Words have the power to change a community. It’s something we firmly believe (and the reason we do what we do!). It’s also something that Patrick Harman and Mary Sizemore firmly believe, which is why they have joined forces to bring the 2021 Community Read, Trust First by Bruce Deel, to our city.  

“In the time that I’ve been at the library, we’ve done two community reads before this… But this one is different,” says Mary Sizemore, Library Director for the City of High Point.  

In the past, High Point Public Library has offered activities, author visits, and events with each community read, but eventually, the program comes to an end.  

“But the way Patrick has envisioned it, this community read will be just the beginning,” Mary says.  

“I ran across the book, Trust First when I was shopping for a Christmas present, and I was intrigued by it,” says Patrick Harman, Executive Director of the Hayden-Harman Foundation. He purchased the book back in 2019, not knowing how valuable its message would be for our world in the coming years. 

The book, written by Pastor Bruce Deel, recounts his journey to pastoring a church in an Atlanta neighborhood known for having the highest crime, poverty, and incarceration rates in Georgia. Mr. Deel eventually founded the organization, City of Refuge, built on the idea that radical trust is the single best tool for improving the lives of marginalized and disenfranchised individuals. City of Refuge has now helped more than 20,000 people in Atlanta escape cycles of homelessness, joblessness, and substance abuse. 

“It’s a book about empathy and compassion, which is empathy in action,” Patrick says. “We have an empathy deficit in this country, so I want us to have a conversation about this book to engender more understanding in the community for some of the issues folks are facing.” 

In January of 2020, Patrick approached Mary about partnering with the library to use Trust First as the community read, and Mary agreed that the messages of the book were compelling and convicting.  

“If you really carefully read this book, it will make you stop and think before you respond to someone who is different from you or who you don’t necessarily agree with,” Mary adds. “But you trust them because they’re a human being, and we all have things going on that make us the way we are. Just start with compassion and empathy.” 

Together, the High Point Public Library and the Hayden-Harman Foundation decided the Community Read needed to be more than just a few weeks of programming at the library; it needed to be a movement in the city of High Point. And the name of that movement is compassion 

In 2020, a Compassion Charter was formed by another organization, Resilience High Point. As part of the Hayden-Harman Foundation, Resilience High Point is a group that first formed out of concern for the impact of adverse childhood experiences and stress on families. Through connection to resources and collaboration across the city, Resilience High Point seeks to foster a culture of compassion and collaboration when it comes to solving systemic issues in our city. Resilience High Point founded the Compassion Charter as a call to be actively involved in solving problems in our community. 

Photo of Patrick Harman standing outside by a garage door.

Patrick Harman, Executive Director at Hayden-Harman Foundation

“It’s a call to be engaged in the community with some humility,” Patrick says. “We want folks to be actively involved in thinking about how to solve some of the issues in a systemic way and then seeking to be innovative and creative in addressing our problems, finding out what assets High Point has, and capitalizing on those.”  

The Compassion Charter is open to businesses, organizations, and individuals to sign as a pledge to set a course for a more compassionate, empathetic, and engaged community. And since the Community Read was delayed until 2021, Mary and Patrick felt there was no better overlap than to mix the purpose of the Community Read with the call of the Compassion Charter.  

Because even though the Community Read timeline was pushed back from 2020 to 2021 due to COVID-19, the messages of Trust First are more timely now than ever.  

“Before COVID came about, Mary and I talked about when do we want to do this community read,” Patrick mentions. With the impending election and the divisive nature of our nation, the lack of empathy had been on Patrick’s mind for a while.  

“The lack of empathy is going to kill us, and frankly, it’s going to kill our country,” Patrick says. “We need to stop all the rage and discouraging.”  

“We’re trying to emphasize kindness, empathy, trusting others, and community engagement,” Mary adds. “Instead of having a lot of individual programs, we tried to come up with ways to help people see that simple acts of kindness in their everyday lives can make a huge impact.”  

To make this happen, the library has organized a “kindness contest” that gives people a list of simple, everyday ways to demonstrate kindness. After eight activities are checked off, folks can be entered to win a prize from the kindness content. Staff and patrons of the library are encouraged to write down acts of kindness they perform or observe and add them to the “kindness chain” to display how far the reach of kindness can go.  

A photo of High Point Public library in High Point, NC.

In addition to these activities, community leaders will gather on August 28 at 10 AM at the High Point Public Library to discuss the question: “How can radical trust change an individual – and a community?” On September 14 at 7 PM, the author, Bruce Deel, will be speaking at the High Point Museum on the topic of compassion and how he has seen trust, empathy, and compassion changes lives. But as Mary said, all of these events and activities should be just the beginning of the compassion movement in High Point.  

“We want everyday folks to be activated, feeling empowered that they can actually make a difference. That comes from understanding and listening,” says Patrick. “We needed to join hands… You just need some understanding and compassion to get on with the work. That’s what it’s all about.” 

To join in the compassion movement and the Community Read in High Point, you can pick up your free copy of Trust First the High Point Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. One way you can participate in the compassion movement is through hosting a Trust First book club, through the book club kits and discussion guides provided through High Point Public Library. You can also keep up with all of the Community Read events at Compassionate High Point 

Discover our High Points,  

The HPD Team  

Photography by Maria West Photography