Monthly Archives: September 2014

Gratitude Challenge, Day 4: JCI Scholars Program

I’ve been called to the gratitude challenge, but rather than follow the rules I’ll be posting each day about an organization whose work I am grateful for.

***

I am grateful for the work of the Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) Scholars Program. If you feel so moved, you can support this work here.

Through the hard work of area faculty members, the JCI Scholars Program offers college-level classes free of charge to people at the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland.

It is no secret the the prison system in America is broken. Nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons. Black men are heavily over represented in this sample, and almost 9% of Black men in their late 20s are behind bars.

There is strong evidence to demonstrate that social and institutional racism drive these grim statistics: every second and a half, a public school student is suspended, primarily students of color. 70% of students involved in “in-school” arrests or referred to law enforcement are Black and Latino; 40% of students expelled from U.S. schools each year are black.

Intentionally or not, our system carefully shepherds Black men through a path of increasing dysfunction and punishment. A path which leads to incarceration for many.

Many far wiser than me have written eloquently on the school to prison pipeline, and I could not hope to match their expertise here.

But it is clear that the system is broken. It is clear there is much work to be done.

There are many social justice and legal advocacy organizations engaged in this work, documenting the problems, raising awareness, fighting for solutions.

But I find the work of the JCI Scholar’s Program particularly powerful.

First, as a practical matter, education is a valuable tool. How can we hope to reform the prison system without the voices and the agency of those who have been incarcerated? I could fight for this cause, but, really, I know nothing, nothing about this issue.

I could be an advocate and an ally, and I’d like to do what I can, but ultimately, the people most effected need to be empowered to speak and to act.

Education can be the key to that.

But more deeply, education isn’t just a collection of facts and figures. It is whole ways of thinking, whole approaches to problems. The education I have benefited from has fundamentally shaped and changed me as a person. It has made me who I am.

Everyone should have access to that.

Everyone should have an opportunity to ponder the deep questions, to face the dark challenges, to reflect on their life, their society, and their role in it. Everyone, as the JCI Scholars Program states, should have access to ideas.

Perhaps some of those who benefit from the program may some day return to life on the outside and face the harsh reintegration into society. Perhaps their participation in this program will make them a little different, a little better.

But as the program clearly states, most of their students are lifers. Most have committed violent crimes.

But all of them are people.

All of them.

So while we talk about the intrenched injustice that shaped their experience, while we determine what punishment is best suited for their crime and debate the merits of various carceral approaches.

We should remember – they are all of them people. And all people should have access to ideas. All people should have a voice.

Please consider supporting this work.

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Gratitude Challenge, Day 3: Somerville Local First

I’ve been called to the gratitude challenge, but rather than follow the rules I’ll be posting each day about an organization whose work I am grateful for.

***

I am grateful for the work of Somerville Local First. You can support their work here or purchase tickets to their upcoming fundraiser if you feel so moved.

Somerville Local First is my chapter of the local movement. They provide technical assistance to help locally-owned, independent businesses, they build awareness of the local movement, and they serve as a gathering place for all things Somerville-local.

I have served on the board for about three years.

So why is the “local” movement important?

For me, the local movement is based on a simple premise: our communities are better when our businesses are part of the community.

To be fair, I do my share of corporate shopping. Sometimes, there’s not a locally-sourced alternative. Sometimes…well, sometimes that’s just how it goes.

But it kind of creeps me out that when I go to a Target in Somerville, MA its exactly the same as the Target in Oakland, CA. And it kind of creeps me out that they’ve expanded their grocery section so what used to be a dangerous sinkhole is now a total black hole – or am I the only one who goes in looking for one specific thing and comes out with a dozen things, which maybe I need but which really I don’t need.

And the whole time I’m there I don’t really have a human interaction. I just fall into a soporific daze where suddenly I really need an awkward-print blouse and a dorm-room organizer.

I mean. Not there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s gotta be more to life.

I prefer shopping local because I get to know the business owners and they get to know me. Because local shopping is a whole different experience – a happy slice of the ’50s without everything wrong with the ’50s.

Because local business owners are weird and they express the weird character of the community.

I could give you all sorts of figures about how shopping local is better for the environment, how shopping local creates more local jobs and puts more money into the local economy.

These are important, but that’s not what moves me.

What moves me about the local movement is that – when I look out on the landscape of businesses and companies I interact with, I know that some will be cold and distant, some will be carefully crafted brands with complex shelf-placement strategies designed to target core consumers.

But some businesses will just be people with an idea. People who think they have something to contribute. Who want to be part of the community and who try to make the community better through their work.

And with all the money, planning and resources those big businesses leverage to get my consumer dollars…it takes a thoughtful effort as a person to remember to shop local. To support the kinds of businesses I want in my community.

To support the kind of community I want in my life.

Please consider supporting this work or joining us at our HarvestFest, our fun, local beer festival!

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Gratitude Challenge, Day 2: The Welcome Project

I’ve been called to the gratitude challenge, but rather than follow the rules I’ll be posting each day about an organization whose work I am grateful for.

***

I am grateful for the work of The Welcome Project. You can support their work here if you feel so moved.

I serve on the board of this organization which builds the collective power of Somerville immigrants to participate in and shape community decisions.

Someone asked me today why I care about this work, and I found myself rattling off a very practical list of programs.

The Welcome Project offers ESOL classes for adults. They train bilingual high school students as interpreters. They organize a summer “culture camp” which brings together youth from immigrant families to explore their cultural backgrounds.

And all that is just great.

But a list of programs doesn’t capture why I’m grateful for this work.

Much of the work of The Welcome Project has a very practical, skill-building component. Language classes. Interpreter training. These are useful, good things.

But at its heart, the work of The Welcome Project is all about advocacy.

Interpreters increase access at public meetings. Advanced levels of language classes include a social justice component, engaging students in local issues and helping them develop the vocabulary to talk about those issues.

So, yes, on one level, The Welcome Project works to help acclimate immigrants to Somerville, but really, The Welcome Project works to acclimate Somerville to immigrants.

That is to say – everyone living within our community is part of our community.

But that state doesn’t come about on its own. Power structures favor some people over others. Power structures which are deep, long standing, and influenced by a much broader social context.

The only way to change these power structures, to build institutions which are capable of flexibly responding to a shifting citizenry, is to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

That everyone’s voice is heard.

That everyone’s voice is understood.

I am grateful for The Welcome Project because they work to ensure that all my neighbors’ voices are heard. That everyone is in a position to speak their mind, influence policy, and engage in the shared work of making our communities better.

I am grateful for The Welcome Project because we can’t have a Good Society without having just society, and we can’t have a just society without everyone passionately involved.

Please consider supporting this work.

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Gratitude Challenge, Day 1: Somerville Homeless Coalition

I’ve been called to the gratitude challenge, but rather than follow the rules I’ll be posting each day about an organization whose work I am grateful for.

***

I am grateful for the work of the Somerville Homeless Coalition. If you are so moved, you can donate to their efforts. If you’re not local to Somerville, I’m sure you can find a comparable organization in your community.

Homelessness, you see, is far too prevalent.

There’s an estimated 610,042 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness‘ report of HUD statistics.

A 2005 United Nations Commission on Human Rights found that 100 million people are homeless worldwide.

The Somerville Homeless Coalition supports homeless and near homeless individuals and families in my immediate community. They operate several shelters, provide resources and support, and work to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.

You see, it costs the state about $36,000 a year to put a family in a family shelter, but the average cost to prevent a family from becoming homeless is $833.

People become homeless for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s often the case that an unexpected crisis – a medical bill, a car repair, a lost job – makes all the difference. Minimal support in a crisis can change people’s lives and prevent them from becoming homeless.

The health outcomes for people living in poverty are grim, and these issues are only compounded for those who experience homelessness.

I am grateful for the work of the Somerville Homeless Coalition because too many people in our communities face these challenges. Too many lose their homes, their health, their livelihoods. Too many hit rock bottom and have nowhere to turn for support.

And I am grateful for the work of the Somerville Homeless Coalition because too often these people are invisible.

Social skills are hard enough, and as members of society we are never taught how to interact with homeless people. Perhaps worse, we’re taught to be scared of them, to be disguised with them, perhaps to distrust them. To “other” them.

So when we pass our homeless neighbors, rather than a nod and a friendly hi, we’re likely to shuffle silently past. We keep our eyes down. Hold our breath. Hope they don’t ask for change. We hurry on by.

Then we forget they ever existed.

Because life is so much easier, so much less painful, so much less awkward that way.

If we pretend they don’t exist, perhaps the problem will go away.

So, the work of the Somerville Homeless Coalition is important, but perhaps what I am most grateful for is best articulated in their values statement: We treat all people with dignity and respect, always with the understanding that we are part of one community.

I am grateful for the Somerville Homeless Coalition because we are all part of one community. Because all people should be treated with dignity and respect.

Please consider supporting this work.

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Gratitude Challenge: Accepted(ish)

So. I was called out for the “Gratitude Challenge” – one of these memes where you spend five days posting three things you are grateful for.

Since I’m a terrible person who is in favor of hopelessness and opposed to happiness, you can imagine how I might feel about something like this. Just like the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are, I roll my terrible eyes and gnash my terrible teeth.

I’m just too much a cynic, skeptic, and snark to embrace this exercise as it’s meant to be embraced.

To be honest, I do love the little things in life. I am grateful for the rustle of leaves, the smell of air, the taste of ice cream cake. But nobody wants to hear about those things.

Or, at least, I don’t want to hear about these things. I just annoyed myself already.

Not to judge people who are into that kind of thing – you do you, man – but that’s just not how I roll. It’s just not.

But, if you do want to know, there is one thing which I am truly grateful for – that despite all the world’s problems, despite all the hardship, injustice, and misery we face as a society – I am grateful that there are people working every day to make our communities better.

Most of you reading this probably are those people.

So, thanks for that.

Never one to turn down a challenge, I will, of course, accept this call. But being a rebel and a wild woman, in accepting the challenge I will do so entirely by my own rules.

Over the next five blogging days, I’ll post about an organization whose work moves me. Whose efforts I am grateful for.

I’ll tell you about their work. I’ll tell you why I care. And I’ll make a donation in an amount which is meaningful to me.

I won’t tag people each day, though the rules say I should. Instead, my challenge to all of you, and to myself, is this:

Do the best you can. Do the most good you can. And do it in the way which is most meaningful to you and has the most positive impact possible.

Gratitude challenge accepted.

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The Accidental Creeper

I don’t mean to be creepy, I’m just naturally good at it.

I mean – and perhaps it’s just because I work in communications – but it’s not uncommon for me to meet people whom I am familiar with, but who don’t know me. I have read about them, heard about them, or, perhaps even written about them.

This provides for awkward social situations.

I try to play it cool – asking conversational questions I already know the answers to – but sometimes I slip and start telling a complete stranger all about their work.

Then I have to apologize and explain that I am, in fact, not a stalker. Awkward.

This penchant is made worse by the fact that I tend to be detail-oriented, with, as I like to say, a creepy memory.

If you ask me where someone is, rather than give a simple answer, I’m too liable to respond with, “I don’t know, but – I saw them going that way X amount of time ago, and given the fact that they said Y yesterday and that I overheard Z, I would infer that they are in such-and-such location.

…And then I have to apologize and explain that I am, in fact, not a stalker. Still awkward.

In some ways, this goes back to my earlier observation about the fine line between being crazy and being thoughtful.

That is to say, what is it, really, that makes it awkward that I have information about people?

In many ways, I think, it feels like I’m not supposed to have this information because I’m not supposed to care that much about other people.

Certainly not about people I’ve never met – I should properly no nothing about them. Colleagues and acquaintances I should have a passing familiarity with, but there’s definitely a line where…past that you seem like a creeper.

But what’s funny is I’m pretty sure most people are accidental creepers.

While some people try to edge away politely when I try to explain that I’m not a stalker most people just laugh, sigh, and share – ah, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

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William Shakespeare’s Second Best Bed

Among nerds of a certain flavor, it’s a well known fact that in his will, Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed.

That is, in fact, the only mention of his wife in his will.

What’s particularly fun about this fact is that, like much of Shakespeare’s history, it’s a matter of some contention open to interpretation.

There is strong evidence that Shakespeare and his wife didn’t get along.

Perhaps the second best bed was intended as a rude gesture, intended to show just how little he cared.

Shakespeare’s defenders, of course, bristle at the notion that their champion could have been any less than a gentleman.

The second best bed is endearing, they argue. First off, under English Common Law the widow Anne Shakespeare was entitled to a third of her late husband’s estate. Shakespeare didn’t mention this because there was no need to mention it. At the time, it was obvious and implied.

Further still, some scholars have referenced other wills of the time – “the will of Sir Thomas Lucy, in 1600,” for example, “gives his son his second-best horse.” So, it’s fine. It’s just one of those things that made total sense at the time but sounds a little crazy now.

But, of course, Shakespeare loved his wife.

Well, to be honest, I don’t really care why Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed.

But I find the process of interpreting this action fascinating.

Shakespeare is such a intriguing figure – a man of whom we know so much and yet, of whom we know so little. So many aspects of his life are open for debate – did Shakespeare really write Shakespeare? Was Shakespeare gay?

To start asking these question is to dive down a rabbit hole of strong scholarly opinions and arguments. Of people with deep opinion who will never be swayed. They’ll dig up mountains of documentation to support their point of view and even more evidence to refute all dissenters. They will argue for hours – argue endlessly – and never consider ceding any ground.

This is, I suppose, not much different from other forms of scholarly exercise, and yet, I can’t help but notice, all this fuss is over a bed.

Well, a second best bed.

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Short Weeks are the Worst

Long weekends are great, but, man, those short weeks really make you pay for it.

I suppose the problem is that while there’s only 4 days of time, there’s still 5 days of work.

And even though you know it’s coming, somehow, it’s always surprising.

The week before, you’re working away, cranking things out, doing your thing, whatever. Then suddenly, around Thursday, you find yourself saying, oh man. I guess that’s not going to get done on Monday.

And maybe you feel like you should panic about that, but, you know, it’s hard to panic because there’s a nice, long weekend coming up.

So then you go and enjoy your weekend. You relax a bit and roll in Tuesday morning feeling pretty darn good about the world.

And things go okay for the first few days. But about half way through the week – on Wednesday, no I mean Thursday, because Wednesday is Tuesday in a short week – you realize you don’t know what day it is and there’s a ton of stuff to do.Maybe then you panic, I don’t know.They say that taking time off helps you be more productive. And I can believe that. I’ve had more than one bout of staring dead-eyed at a screen trying to will productivity from my zombified form. Not a great use of time.And as much as I enjoy relaxing over the long weekend, by end of day Friday on a short week, I find myself thinking, man, that was a long week……If only there was a long weekend coming up so I could recover.

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Terrible People

Earlier this week, someone told me she worried that she was a horrible person. Some minor thing had gone wrong. So she thought she might be horrible.

Don’t worry, I told her. Everyone is terrible.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the answer I was supposed to give, but…well, I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t think she was prepared for my unusual brand of support.

But, seriously, though – while everything, of course, is a matter of definition it’s fairly simple to argue that everyone is terrible, or at the very least, that the vast majority of people are terrible and that, should any non-terrible people exist, there numbers are so small as to be negligible.

What, you may ask, is a terrible person?

Well, by other definitions a terrible person is just a person. A terrible person has imperfections. A terrible person makes mistakes, A terrible person makes choices they know they shouldn’t make and a terrible person has a litany of regrets.

But, really, everyone does that.Everyone being terrible would certainly explain why these self-complaints are so common. I regularly call myself a terrible person. And I know I’m not alone in this challenge. On a daily basis, I hear several people use variations of the expression, sometimes electing to modify a different aspect of their identity.Apparently, everyone I know is a terrible mother.Some of them might even be the world’s worst mother, but they’ll clearly need to fight for the honor as so many of them seem ready to claim it.The problem, you see, is that for one moment these women did any less than dote on their child with the sickening love only found in a doped-up ’50s housewife. Perhaps they were worn down from the fact they hadn’t slept in years or showered for days. Perhaps it was just a helping of day-old mac and cheese not siting well. One may never know. But they are clearly terrible mothers. Indeed.I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.The so-called proper response to the concern of being horrible is to reassure someone that they are, in fact, not horrible. That they are being too hard on themselves.And yet this answer seems unsatisfying.Just because it’s normal or natural to do something, doesn’t mean that it’s an okay thing to do. How much historic racism and sexism have sought refuge behind these terms?Even assuming something less inflammatory – is it okay to lie just because that’s a reasonable impulsive reaction?Maybe or maybe not, but it seems like a healthy question to debate.And that’s where the challenge in this self-loathing terrible comes from. Everyone makes mistakes, but writing your mistakes off as something that’s okay because everyone’s doing it…doesn’t really work.So, yes, I suppose, you are a terrible person.But that’s okay because we are all terrible people. Striving every day to be just a little less terrible than the day before. Some days we’re a lot more terrible, and other days we find our better selves.But we’re all pretty much terrible.So, next time you call yourself terrible or horrible or some other presumably self-deprecating term, ask yourself this – what do you wish you could have done instead? What strategies and tactics could you employ to change the way things played out? Would you, really, like to do anything differently next time?And, of course, remember, you will always be a terrible person. Try your best to be better, but you will continue to fail. You will always be imperfect.You will never be a doped-up, TV sitcom, ’50s housewife. And that’s okay, because you probably don’t really want to be that person anyway. I know I don’t.Just be your terrible self. Your terrible, wonderful, broken, strong, challenged and struggling self.And then try again tomorrow.

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Fall Events!

It’s going to be a busy and exciting fall! With many of my colleagues, I’ve been working on a great line up of fall events – many of which are open to the public.

For those of you who are local, you may want to check some of these out!

September 3 – Congresswoman Katherine Clark
Alumnae Lounge, 7:00 p.m.

Congresswoman Clark and Tisch College will host a panel discussion on gun control policy. The second in a series of monthly policy discussions that Clark is holding in the district, the event will feature four guest panelists and an engaging discussion moderated by the Congresswoman. Free and open to the public. RSVP for this event here

September 8 – Wes Moore Lecture and Book Signing
Cohen Auditorium, Medford Campus 8:00 p.m.

Wes Moore is the author of this year’s Common Reading Book, recommended by Tisch College to all incoming first-year undergraduates: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. The book tells the true story of two kids named Wes Moore, born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. Free and unticketed.

September 9 – So You Wanna Be a Social Entrepreneur?
Sackler Building, Room 114 (145 Harrison Avenue, Boston), 6:30 p.m.

The new Tufts alumni Social Impact Network will host an evening of networking and innovative insights with two of the country’s leading social entrepreneurs: Vanessa Kirsch, J87, and Alan Khazei. This dynamic duo was recently named among the “World’s Greatest Leaders” by Fortune Magazine and has pioneered some of the most sweeping advances in social innovation over the past three decades. The discussion will be moderated by Alan D. Solomont, Dean of Tisch College. The event is free and open to the public. Please register here.

September 12 – AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Celebration
Gantcher Center, 10:30 a.m.

Tisch College is proud to host the Massachusetts celebration of the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. The program will include a keynote address from Robert L. Gordon III, President of Be the Change, Inc. There will also be a National Swearing-In & Re-Commitment-to-Service Ceremony for AmeriCorps Members and Alumni in conjunction with a simulcast from the White House. The event is free and open to the public. Please register here.

September 15 – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
Cohen Auditorium, noon

Join Tisch College as we launch the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series with an engaging talk from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who will deliver the third Alan D. Solomont Lecture on Citizenship and Public Service. Senator Warren is a fearless consumer advocate who has made the fight for middle class families her life’s work. Tickets are free and available to the Tufts community starting Monday, September 8, at the Cohen Box Office. Members of the public may reserve free tickets by calling 888-320-4103.

October 6 – Rishi Manchanda, A97, M03
Sackler Auditorium (145 Harrison Avenue, Boston), 4:00 p.m.

Tufts alumni Rishi Manchanda is the author of The Upstream Doctors: Medical Innovators Track Sickness to Its Source, the 2014 Common Reading Book for first-year Tufts medical students. In the book, Manchanda argues that the future of our health and our healthcare system depends on growing and supporting a new generation of healthcare practitioners who look upstream for the sources of our problems, rather than simply go for quick-hit symptom relief.

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