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September 12, 2016 Other Voices

Hartford must dare to think ‘greatly,’ again

Jay Sloves 

Hartford has been a town that has dared greatly for 400 years.

We were founded by those who dared greatly to seek religious freedom and who dared greatly in the formation of our great American experiment — in the face of tyranny committing to paper, and perhaps signing their own death warrants, the first written constitution. And when slavery dared to divide our nation and the freedom for all, Hartford dared in words and deeds to help bind us together through the words of a daring little Hartford woman: Harriet Beecher Stowe.

We were a town that dared in arts, business and innovation, too. Mark Twain's “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” were both penned in Hartford. America's first public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and first publicly financed public park, Bushnell Park, were both daring ideas that became the cornerstones of how cities can serve the greater good.

Our city's business leaders dared by creating an entire new industry — insurance. Samuel Colt dared with his use of interchangeable parts creating “The Colt Peacemaker” that helped our nation grow and prosper.

We even dared to leave our earthly bonds with the building of another new industry — aviation. We pioneered air travel; the legendary WASP engine was built right on Capitol Avenue in Hartford. The industry that engine helped create later lifted us even higher with the fashioning of a special suit for perhaps one of the most daring achievements of the 20th century — Neil Armstrong's first walk on the moon. There were also those who dared greatly to bring the NHL to Hartford. Who would have thought it at the time?

Every Hartford century has shown us what daring greatly can accomplish.

But sometimes daring greatly comes at a cost. There are those who build roadblocks instead of bridges. There are those who don't want to take that step because they fear the look of failure instead of embracing the face of success.

I'm reminded of a story when the Connecticut Children's Medical Center and LEGO came together to create a unique fundraiser — the LEGO Walk of Fame on the Riverfront Plaza in downtown Hartford. The Walk of Fame, built out of 500,000 LEGO bricks, would showcase life-sized statues of those who dared to make Hartford great — Mark Twain and Coach Jim Calhoun among them.

But instead of welcoming this wonderful program with open arms, there were those who actually wanted to knock it down before the statues were even built. “What happens if the statues are vandalized? That wouldn't make us look good,” they said.

But Riverfront Recapture took a chance, and in reality it wasn't a chance at all, as not a single brick out of 500,000 was ever disturbed. “It was a homerun,” said Joe Marfuggi, the former head of Riverfront Recapture. While there were skeptics, there was a valuable lesson from this simple child's toy, noted Marfuggi: “We must dare to trust ourselves and our neighbors to do the right thing. Great things are built even when done one small brick at a time.”

So herein lies the truth of Hartford looking forward. Like those LEGO statues, the building blocks are already here. All we need to do is dare greatly, again.

Jay Sloves is the president of Elkinson + Sloves Inc., a Farmington-based marketing and advertising firm.

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