Founder and CEO of Aegis Living Dwayne Clark (center) walks with his employees and thousands of others during the March for Civility event in Washington D.C. on Sept. 23. Photo courtesy of Meeghan Black/Aegis Living

I was a dreamer too | Guest Column

By Dwayne Clark

Special to the Reporter

Ever look back on your childhood and recall an indelible moment that shaped your life path? I do. As a boy in the 1970s, an encounter in a nursing home left a lasting impression. As I meandered down white-tiled hallways, braving unpleasant smells, I heard an elderly gentleman crying. He was alone and uncomfortable. What I witnessed next was — nothing. No one responded to his cries. There seemed to be an absence of empathy for this vulnerable human being.

Fast forward and I found myself following an unlikely career path working for senior housing companies. Day to day, I dreamed of building a more compassionate and innovative company. The memory of that lonely old man continued to haunt me.

To an outside observer, it seemed unlikely that this low-income kid from Idaho would amount to much. But my family’s struggles and my life path have taught me anything is possible. My mother taught me that the American Dream was real. I seized every opportunity.

But I sit back now and watch the dreams of hundreds of thousands in this country fade. It pains me to see the divisiveness tear us apart. As the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, I have 2,200 employees from 50 different countries. Some are fearful, distressed and anxiety ridden — thinking they, their friends or relatives could be tossed out of this country of dreams and dreamers.

As a symbol of solidarity with my team, I joined peace activist Ken Nwadike, known as the Free Hugs Guy, to “Restore Civility.” Ken enters fiery protests promoting peace by offering free hugs. I joined him in the March for Civility in Washington D.C. on Sept. 23 with nearly 100 of my employees and thousands of others to unite in peace and love. It was a non-partisan and inclusive demonstration. Why is this important?

Today’s caustic political discourse creates radical separation between people. It’s so toxic we can no longer civilly disagree. Our differences are dividing us. I strongly feel our culture will be poisoned if we make our differences a barrier. Where has our civility gone? We need to get it back, cherish it and share it.

The word civility means many things — but is most importantly it’s about listening to understand and mediating differences with an open mind.

No matter what your age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation or homeland, we have a lot in common as one human race. I recently commissioned a series of short stories called “Wisdom Diaries” to explore that notion. Part one captures real emotion from Aegis Living employees and residents sharing their diverse life experiences. The stories exemplify how we are more alike than different. When you know some of a person’s story, you open the door to empathy, which leads to civility.

Please, join the cause to restore civility. Treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of their point of view. Join the movement at www.RestoreCivility.org.

Dwayne Clark is founder and CEO of Bellevue-based Aegis Living.