Can You Build a City on Compassion?

Greg fischer, the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, is trying to prove that compassion can heal political paralysis. The cynics think he’s crazy. But what if he’s right?

Louisville mayor Greg Fischer was on his way to a bourbon festival in nearby Bardstown when he got the call.

It was from Dr. Muhammad Babar, a prominent member of the Louisville Islamic Center, who was disturbed because earlier that day vandals had defaced the mosque with bright red anti-Islamic graffiti: “This Is for France,” “Nazis Speak Arabic,” “Moslems Leave Jews Alone.”

Some of the mosque’s members wanted todo a quick paintover of the graffiti, but Fischer advised against it, saying that the city—and the Muslim community, in particular—needed a chance to heal. So the next day they held a press conference at the mosque and invited the whole city to participate in the cleanup.

The response was overwhelming. More than 1,000 people of all ages, races, and creeds showed up for the cleanup, backing up traffic for miles. “It was probably the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had,” says Babar. “It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it. That’s the feeling I wish humanity could always have.”

For Fischer, it was a moment of confirmation. When he’d taken office three years earlier, he’d committed to making Louisville one of the most compassionate cities in the world. But he never…

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About the author

Hugh Delehanty

Hugh Delehanty is a former editor for Sports Illustrated, People, Utne Reader, and AARP The Magazine and the co-author with NBA coach Phil Jackson of the #1 New York Times bestseller Eleven Rings.