The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding

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Ron Barber Recounts:
Benefit for The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding

The January 8th Tucson Shootings
The Healing

By Mariah Fleming
Images by R. A. Bowen

Concert finale - Click for the full image

"Maybe now people will use their kind words" responded Ron Barber's four year old granddaughter Ailsa when his wife Nancy tried to explain the January 8th Tucson shootings to her. And as Barber, who is Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' District Director, began the process of learning to walk again after being shot in his leg and face, he thought "There must be a way to bring some good from this horrid event."

Barber had an idea but he didn't have a name for what he wanted to do. When he was finally released from the hospital, Barber and his wife had a family meeting. "Our family sat around the dinner table as we do every Sunday and thought about what we should call the project. My wife Nancy, my daughters, my sons-in-law and I knew we wanted a name that focused on common ground and that struck a chord no matter what a person's politics might be." The family decided the best description for what they are trying to accomplish is “The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding.”

Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup strongly agrees with Barber about the need for a commitment to civility in the wake of the shootings. Mayor Walkup has been tremendously impressed with the powerful way Ron Barber has dealt with the tragic events of January 8th. The mayor told me, "Ron came to within an inch of losing his life. And this experience sent him signals to create a new life for himself, and to help the community in positive ways."

Ron Barber & Family

Mayor Walkup said President Obama had also inspired him. At the mayor's first meeting with Obama at the airport, prior to President Obama's January 12th Memorial Speech, he said Obama had appeared very somber and concerned. At the Memorial Service, Mayor Walkup was most impressed with how President Obama "turned a memorial speech into a positive celebration of healing." President Obama brought up the subject of civility at the Memorial Service. Obama said America must move beyond finger pointing to healing and constructive conversation. Seeing that spirit in Obama motivated Mayor Walkup to create a "Civility Accord" for the mayors in the United States, and within a week, Mayor Walkup went to meet with many mayors in Washington. "There are now some 300 United States mayors who have signed the Civility Accord," he said. "This affects over 40 million US citizens in 300 states."

In signing the Civility Accord, mayors pledge to:

Walkup and Barber both seek to encourage common ground among people. Barber is proud that the seed money for his own project, The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, came from people without regard to politics. "One of Tucson's staunchest Republicans, [auto dealership owner] Jim Click, has a big heart. He said he liked what we were doing and donated $50,000 to the fund!" Barber exclaimed. Another $25,000 donation was received. The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona released a donation from the fund for the up front costs of the concert. This was an outstanding start, but Barber knew it would take much more to accomplish his dream.

"Music is unifying and healing," Barber remarked. From his home in Tucson, Barber told me that's how the idea for the benefit concert evolved. "People came out from all over Arizona to wish us well. The state and national good will has been phenomenal. It has helped the victims' healing process tremendously!" he explained.

Jackson BrowneBarber said they wanted to find artists who were socially conscious, and the first person who came to mind was Jackson Browne. Barber first encountered Browne through the Verde Valley benefits Browne sponsored until 2001. Browne had also done fundraising work for the Tucson Center for Biodiversity, and Barber was acquainted with him through that. So he reached out to see if Browne was interested in helping The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding.

"Jackson Browne's manager, Cree Miller, contacted me to say that Jackson Browne was interested," Barber explained. "Cree wanted to know who we wanted, and when we wanted to put it on." They chose March 10th, which gave them less than a month to put it all together. Browne and Miller suggested long time Valley promoter Danny Zelisko would be the ideal promoter for the event. Zelisko had just started his new venture, Danny Zelisko Presents. He didn't need to think twice about helping and jumped on board.

Things started happening at lightning speed. Within two weeks the venue was lined up. Zelisko contacted Alice Cooper and together with Jackson Browne they recruited all the performers. "The performers were all socially conscious, like Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash. "Crosby is one of my all time favorites," Barber said. "My wife knows that someday, when the time comes for my memorial, I want my song to be "Almost Cut My Hair"!

Other iconic musicians signed on, like the great Sam Moore, and Arizona favorite Jerry Riopelle. Among others, Barber specifically asked for Dar Williams and Keb' Mo'. "Not one person hesitated. I was very touched by what all of the artists did. Each artist was there because they wanted to be there. Ozomatli even dropped their boycott of Arizona over SB 1070 to play at the benefit concert."

Dan Zelisko & Alice Cooper

Calexico, a Tucson favorite, has done many benefits for the community. Barber first heard them play two years ago with a mariachi band. He asked them to bring the mariachi band Luz De Luna along for the concert. Barber said, "Luz De Luna's leader was so honored to be able to play for this. I found out that every night he brought different mariachi groups to play and pray at the memorial that was set up outside the hospital where the victims were being treated."

From start to finish the event was flawless. When I told Barber how impressed I was that the performers sang songs that were specifically tied to the idea of the fund, he said the music was very carefully chosen. "For two days before the show, people who never worked together before learned each other's songs." Songs were planned to fit powerfully and seamlessly with each aspect of the event. "It was an incredible group effort," Barber explained. "Cree Miller was very collaborative with me. She staged it really well. So much credit for how it all worked goes to her. We sold 5200 tickets and underwriters even paid for the comps. Cree did that."

When I asked Cree Miller if she had any comments about the benefit, she told me, "It was a complete pleasure working with Ron. His spirit is what led the entire event, and is what made it easy for me to work as hard as we all did to put this event on." She went on to say, "It was really one of the best benefit events, from top to bottom, that I have ever been involved in, and Ron set the tone for that to happen. He is inspiring. And I feel like I've made a lifelong friend."

Miller elaborated on the work their artists do: "We do a lot of benefit work on behalf of our artists. It's always a pleasure to know the end result is helping some common good. Being of service is something that comes naturally to me, and I am honored to have been able to work with so many dedicated people who are striving to make this world a better place."

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