Lynette Thrower on Building Community & Your Sense of Self

Community and identity were at the forefront of Lynette Thrower’s session at the Arkansas Business Women’s Leadership Summit in Fort Smith. Her interactive session “I Am My Community” centered around the innate value we bring to the table when we strip away titles and affiliations.

She began by reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many lost jobs, social lives and routines.

“The pandemic snatched many of us out of our professional and social identities and communities as we knew them, and sunk us into isolation,” Thrower said.

This loss of identity and interaction pushed many to get creative because, as Thrower pointed out, “humans want community.” And while many were coming together over shared hobbies and interests, the pandemic was also a time rife with ideological division.

Upon discovering artist Hank Willis Thomas’ work “I Am. Amen.” on a visit to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Thrower reflected on her own sense of identity and community. 

“This is my pivot. This is my turning point,” she said.

She then quoted actor Donnie Yen in saying, “People ask what you do for a living so they can calculate the level of respect to give you.”

Without these titles, who are we innately? Thrower argues that we, at our core, are greater than these fleeting constructs. We are more than our professional achievements. Instead, our sense of self could be shaped by how we relate to one another.

“I submit that we are our community with all our innate gifts and the coalition thereof,” Thrower said. “We establish communities that are empowered, resilient, enduring and sustainable.” 

Outside of the workplace, these innate gifts are portable and extend to every area of our lives. And in order to build a strong community, Thrower says, certain characteristics are necessary:

  • Strong communities have a significant sense of purpose.

  • People’s talents and roles must have meaning.

  • Each member understands how their role adds value to the whole.

  • Members of the community don’t just want to lay bricks; they want to build a cathedral.

In 2022, Thrower worked as a guest artist with Crystal Bridges Mobile Art Lab, launching the “I Am My Community” art project, in which participants were given a canvas to paint and prompted to consider who they are as it pertains to their community. During her WLS session, Thrower used Jenga blocks for her exercise, asking members of the audience to write their “I Am” trait on a block and build a structure with their table, symbolizing the unique gifts we all bring to our community both in and out of work.

“The power of ‘I Am’,” Thrower said, “rests in its enduring portability, its potential, its possibilities.” 


Lynnette Thrower is a poet and short story writer, as well as the assistant vice chancellor for enrollment and student affairs at UA Fort Smith. She is also the 2018 grant recipient of the Artists 360 Project. 


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