- "Transcending Titles for Growth" originally appeared in the February 2024 relationship issue of COMO Magazine.
In January, we hosted the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration. It was lovely to see community members coming together to celebrate the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to honor the individuals and organizations in our community that put those teachings to work. This event reminded me of the importance of in-person interactions and real relationships, especially at a time when interactions on social media are increasingly polarizing.
It is paramount that we recognize the relationships that enrich our work, lives, and communities. I am lucky to have an eclectic group of friends who enrich my life, provide me with opportunities to laugh, and love my children as if they were their own. As mayor, I’ve had the privilege of growing my network to include a myriad of diverse relationships that help me foster communication, productivity, and understanding.
Since taking office, I have had the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with business owners, social service providers, community activists, and members of local, state, and federal government. These are the people who I call when I need to better understand what is happening in our community. By fostering these real relationships, I have developed a network of people who are always willing to take my call to discuss an issue. They help me make informed, not “gut,” decisions.
These relationships transcend titles and political affiliations and instead are grounded in a shared commitment to the well-being of Columbia. In many cases, I am meeting with people whose points of view or organizational goals do not align with my own. Take, for instance, Randy Minchew. Randy and I ran against each other in the 2022 election. Since the election, we’ve continued to have a relationship where we talk about local issues and potential solutions. By meeting face-to-face, we identify shared concerns and a common purpose.
These relationships help me gain insights that are missing from online interactions; meeting for a cup of coffee will always be more productive than reading someone’s posts on social media. While social media offers unprecedented connectivity, it can also perpetuate echo chambers and reinforce division. In contrast, face-to-face interactions foster dialogue and genuine connection.
In Columbia, we’re lucky to live in a community where you can directly communicate with your elected officials. You can call, email, and schedule a meeting with me and other city council members. We’re approachable when attending events and we always welcome an invite to a meeting, event, or neighborhood potluck. In-person conversations with us are always more effective than posts on social media.
Speaking of potlucks, several years ago, my neighborhood began hosting regular potlucks. These events allowed us to catch up on each others’ lives, not to complain about an issue. By building social capital, we became better prepared to discuss disagreements and more comfortable asking for help.
Initiatives like neighborhood potlucks, community forums, and other local events provide opportunities for residents to engage authentically with one another. These platforms cultivate empathy, deepen understanding, and nurture relationships that transcend screens and hashtags.
In Columbia, as in communities around the world, our collective resilience lies in our ability to bridge divides, embrace diversity, and nurture relationships that overcome boundaries. My journey as mayor has been enriched by the friendships I’ve formed with fellow community members. Through genuine communication and collaboration, we have tackled challenges and celebrated victories. I am proud of the work that I and the city have accomplished. I love where I live and am honored to serve where I love.
Barbara Buffaloe currently is serving her first term in office as the mayor of Columbia.