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One perception changing conference session that people need to understand

Avatar photo by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | April 7, 2023
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I’m more of an evidence based thinker. I am willing to change my mind or stance on an issue if there is data to back up a shift, so it’s rare that I’m exposed to a viewpoint that makes me immediately reconsider a perception. I had one of those rare moments at the closing plenary session at the recent Main Street NOW! Conference. Liz Ogbu’s statement that “we must hold ourselves accountable to moving beyond simple transactions of “doing good“” was important.

I wasn’t looking for yet another piece of inspiration. We found a lot of new techniques, funding sources, data, and contacts to push forward progress in the region, and by the time the closing session rolled around we were all exhausted with information overload. Truth be told, if a good friend of mine and former Emporia Main Street Director Mary (Helmer) Wirth wouldn’t have been announcing that her state (Alabama) was the host of next year’s conference, I might have spent the time compiling notes. That would have been a shame, because the closing had a simple lesson that differentiated between doing good and doing right.

Those two words (“good” and “right”) sound like synonyms, but they really aren’t. “Doing good” often is wrapped up in an internal feeling with immediate gratification baked into the concept. “Doing right” is an intentional strategy that creates sustainable positive change. Ironically, doing good with it’s lack of strategic thought and sustainability can often act in opposition of “doing right”. This thought process is VERY important for businesses, organizations, communities, volunteers, patrons, and activists. I don’t normally add this to an article, but PLEASE KEEP READING as we go through some examples and communicate how to make things better.


  • We recently saw a property related piece of legislation pass both the Kansas House and Senate that makes dealing with vacant properties more difficult for municipalities. During discussions the proponents talked about the “good (likeable) people” that were supporting the process (Doing Good), while others talked about the nuances of the situation and the danger chronically vacant properties could pose to citizens and local economies. They suggested working collaboratively to address vacancy issues in ways that sustainably supported communities, health & safety, and regional economies (Doing Right).
  • During the early days of working with HOTT on events, there were well meaning people that wanted to plaster the Mexican Flag on all sorts of things for events to show a welcoming community (Doing Good), but the celebration of Latino culture in the local area is a celebration of people from a variety of nations that we need to welcome, and symbolism used extends to support the larger population, and HOTT has done a great job in recognizing and celebrating that diversity (Doing Right).
  • During Kansas’ history as a Free State, and the post Civil War Era, there were people that thought giving minority populations “their own” schools, communities, areas, etc. was Doing Good, but I think we can all agree that segregation through the “two communities” approach adopted through many areas was not Doing Right, and that regardless of the minority group we need to accommodate, not segregate.
  • In the world of business development, we are often put in a position to assist businesses or organizational startups by pointing out issues that may negatively impact their sustainability. Cheerleading through “positivity” regardless of the consequences to the business or organization could be construed as Doing Good, but I don’t think we would be Doing Right.
  • In a divisive world, it’s really easy (and unfortunately common) for people to talk around issues of the day through divisive rhetoric without actually doing anything to solve the root causes of the problem. As they rally and yell, I’m sure they believe they are Doing Good through communication and visible support, but as problems remain and systems are unchanged are we Doing Right?
  • Through social media channels we see people videoed as they give money or support to an individual in crisis (Doing Good), but there seems to be a personal gain component and the lack of use within platforms to change the systemic issues that often lead to the crisis (Doing Right).
  • We often see people in communities offering their voices to articulate what they want other people to do (what businesses to open, amenities to build, structures to develop, etc.). The act of communication is Doing Good. The act of investing in a business that fills a local need, creating sustainable amenities, or building the structures we need developed is Doing Right.

After the session, I remember looking at another attendee from Emporia and we both had the “that was awesome” look on our face. The entire travel time home, I couldn’t get the message out of my head. I am reviewing what I’m doing to make sure I’m firmly in the Doing Right camp. I encourage you to work collaboratively with us to do those difficult and sustainable things that change our region for the better. Do Right with us.

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.