I was so terrible about writing last week! It was so incredibly busy, I felt like I was triaging my way through each day, trying not to fall behind. It was exciting, though – in the past that would have made me feel stressed and frenetic, but this was more a top-down, open highway, driving-too-fast-but-who-cares feeling.
If I may, I’d like to just share my week in review with you, since things are moving along in interesting ways I’d love to hear your thoughts on! I’d also love to hear – what was the most memorable part of your last week?
On a rainy dribbly morning I dragged myself up to YouthBuild Charter School, and met with the instructor of the Urban Roots workshop I helped to design and run. We gave the students a final survey to ask their opinion about various components of the workshop. Some questions were:
- What is an experience you had during these workshops that you think you will remember in five years?
- Has your thinking about the word “gentrification” changed since the first day of our workshops? If so, how?
- Based on what you know about city planning, what do yo uthink the greatest challenges will be for the Ralph Brooks Tot Lot? What suggestions do you have for how we can work around these challenges?
I now have a table full of about 30 surveys to pull together. I’m going to go through and create one document, summarizing the patterns of take-aways expressed by the students. Once I stop being terrified of this huge pile. Which should be soon.
Here are some of my favorite responses so far:
“Finally – now I can define what I’ve known.” (in response to gentrification question)
“My favorite experience was cleaning up Point Breeze on MLK Day”
“In five years I will remember learning about the Navy Yard. Touring the vacant space reading the blueprits was memorable. Actually participating with the production team on the work site would be an awesome opportunity.”
“In observing the past, I hope this project isn’t an insidious photo op, and or Greek Trojan Horse, in an attempt to offer a park as a trade off for the coming gentrification.”
(WOAH! Me too!)
At 5:30pm, the moon already puncturing a black sky, and the frustrated ululations of rush hour traffic honking on Broad Street puncturing the air, I waddled across the synagogue parking lot with posterboard and markers weighing me down, on my way to the P.O.W.E.R. meeting I was talking about – and folks agreed to my proposal for mobilizing the troops for the event on April 21st!
I created this bonkers chart to show them how our contacting ten people who lead our affinity groups would result in bringing 120 people to the April 21st event:
I also created a website, which you can take a look at here, to help us keep the volunteers signing up for the April 21st event organized. What do you think? Anything I need to add, or change, to make it easier to read?
Back to the meeting. After sharing the above proposal, I led us through an activity in order to collaboratively draft an “Elevator Speech” together, that would allow us to all quickly – and coordinatedly – tell others what the purpose of the event is. I brought pieces of paper cut into thick strips, and colorful markers. First, I had them read the P.O.W.E.R. manifesto and circle words that resonated with them.
Then, I asked them to write an explanation of the event on April 21st, based on those circled terms, in 25 words or less. I gave them three “sentence starters” in case they got stuck.
We then lay all the strips on a table, and looked at them together.
“So,” I asked nervously. ” Are there any patterns that we notice? Any words or ideas repeated?”
To my deep relief, they started right in.
“I really like the use of ‘urge’ in this one.”
“I think the term ‘accountable,’ up there in the first one, is an excellent word to use.”
“I agree – I like ‘accountable’ as well.”
“This one – it mentions the three areas, the jobs, the immigration, the education – I like that one.”
“OK ” I interjected, pad of paper in hand taking notes on their impressions. ” Anything else that we see that we would definitely want to include in our message?”
“I think mentioning that 5,000 people will be there – that this is an exceptional event, the time is now – that’s really essential.”
” This one uses the P.O.W.E.R. tagline, ‘creating a city of opportunity that works for all,’ which I think is important for us to include.”
After ten minutes of pointing out words and phrases, the group chose to go with one gentleman’s sentence, which they felt was able to capture everything they wanted to say. So, while the exercise went differently than I thought it would, and we didn’t co-draft something new, everyone seemed to agree on a phrase they felt represented what they wanted to say, which was my main goal – especially for a group that has been asked to be the messengers of ideas they haven’t had a hand in scripting for a long time now.
As we were leaving, one of the chairs of the group turned to me.
“Nice work, Justine.”
I looked up from packing my markers and smiled.
“Thank you! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this.”
“I can tell you were a good teacher.”
She patted my shoulder and walked off, leaving me thinking about something I’ve noticed a lot recently, which fascinates me:
A few weeks ago, the President of the Civic Association told me, after a meeting I ran, that he was shocked to see that people were engaged and not offended by the task I’d put in front of them – which was essentially a high-level worksheet – because had I given him that childlike task, he would have thought, “who the hell do you think I am?!” But what I’m learning is that adults really enjoy these activities just as much as children and teenagers do – they aren’t seen as belittling or demeaning. I think because the content is engaging and appropriate for the group, they simply enjoy doing something different, and getting a tangible product made.
I planned this activity the same way I would plan my classes for 6th or 9th graders – I had manipulatives, fun colorful markers (which folks in their seventies were scrambling for), sentence starters for those who felt stuck, and then at the end I got everyone out of their seats to stay engaged in the work.
And I, personally, have found I love teaching again! I was cringing the other day remembering the post I wrote a few months ago titled, “I Maybe Hate Teaching.” Because I think I actually love it – but who knew it would be with a bunch of Jews in their fifties in a synagogue basement?!
It also makes me ask the question – what is the difference between teaching, and community organizing? Is there a difference? If so, where does it begin and end?
I got a new freelance job! Check it out! Here is the job description. I am SO excited to be working with YIP – an organization you know I’m obsessed with – and this is just thrilling to me! I’m a little nervous because I really want to do a bang-up job for them, but it is such a great, vibrant, kind group of people, I know it will be incredibly fun to work with them, too. And I can’t even imagine how much I’m going to learn from this. I start the project next Monday, so here goes nothing!
On Thursday night we went to the InLiquid Valentine’s Day Young Professionals Preview of their art auction. The Young Friends group had their own table! Husband printed materials for us, and we set ourselves up nestled between two other great organizations – CultureWorks, and the National Museum of American Jewish History. Husband canoodled, which he does with enviable ease, brought me back salted caramel vegan ice cream from one of the sponsor tables, and perused the artwork while I manned the booth and passed out flyers to the few folks who wandered by. We got four new sign-ups – which isn’t much, but is better than none!
So that was a little bit of how I spent my time last week. What was the most memorable activity of your week last week, and why?