Paul Harrison

My day job is development director for Access Community Health Centers. We are a non-profit organization that started in 1982 with 2500 patients. Today we provide medical, dental and behavioral health services to more than 26,000 people in the community who face barriers to care.

 My most memorable caffeine revolves around excess. I have two great examples. One is the memory of my mother drinking too much coffee. I grew up in Richland Center, which is a small community about 60 miles west of Madison. When I was a child, the American Cancer Society asked for volunteers to go door to door and ask for donations. My mother was always “doing good” and knew everyone. I remember going with her as a child as she made the rounds with the envelope. Because she knew so many of our neighbors, she’d inevitably be invited in for a cup of coffee. My mother, who typically drank about a half cup of coffee a day, ended up consuming about 15 cups of coffee out of politeness. You can imagine the results.

My other memory is about me. I came late to coffee and have never really been a big coffee drinker. When I went to one of my first funerals as an adult—one of my grandmother’s friends had died—I found myself on the receiving end of many large cups of black coffee poured out by the ladies of the church. The results were predictable—I literally talked to everyone, at length and with great speed, and was the “life of the wakes,” so to speak.

 My current caffeine of choice is a skim latte.

My favorite place for caffeine is the Cargo on Park Street. I love the cross-section of people: there’s typically a police officer on the beat, a non-profit having a meeting and people from the neighborhood. Plus, they know my order and they have a punch card for free coffee. I feel irrationally jubilant (and fiscally prudent) when I’ve earned that free coffee.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Dorothy Day. She was a passionate advocate for peace and social justice and committed to caring for those whom society had left behind. I don’t agree with her orthodoxy, but I do agree with her goals. I’ve been reading a lot of her work lately and it’s striking that the radical ideas she held 60 and 70 years ago are unusually timely today. Day was disturbed by the idea that “the poor will always be with us”—that wasn’t good enough as far as she was concerned—and she fought passionately against the evil of poverty. I’m sure she would give you a hell of a cup of coffee and force you to challenge your assumptions.

 World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: The rifts that exist in our country.

The problems we’re talking about today related to race, income, education, gender and so much more have always been part of our story—they’re nothing new. And while we’ve seen some encouraging advances, we certainly have a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of healing that needs to occur.

Our country has always been a great experiment. I love the idea that our work is never done and we’re constantly trying to determine what our country means; that we’re constitutionally engaged and working to create a better and stronger country. But we need to come together and discuss what it means to be “we the people.” I salute our efforts to embrace diversity, but that doesn’t preclude having common actions and goals. Especially because I believe that most of us want the same things: dignity, security and opportunity.

Perhaps if we could sit down over a cup of coffee—without prejudice or judgment—and commit ourselves to listening we could start to work toward a more peaceful and just society.