Geoffrey Canada at NYU

Reducing poverty? “It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Harder than Rocket Science.”

Geoffrey Canada, very charismatic, threw away his notes at the beginning of the talk. Notes may comfort the audience, but this speaker didn’t need them.

His topic? “Changing Lives, Changing Communities.” It was my NYU college reunion on Saturday (25 years since undergrad, and 20 years since grad).

I’m interested in what makes for community and how to uplift people caught in the multi-tentacled beast of poverty.

Canada is the genius behind the Harlem Children’s Zone. Their slogan? “Whatever It Takes.” The zone is a 100 block radius to lift about 15,000 Harlem kids socially, educationally, medically. The zone promises to stick with a child through college.

Goals for Children

“We have to have the same goals for poor children, as for our own children. We aspire for college, not technical schools or the military, for our children. Because, at different times, people have break-throughs,” Canada said. The one kid that no one thought would amount to anything continues through college and earned their Master’s degree in education. “So, we don’t know.”

Do Lots of Things

“The U.S. is a rogue nation. We lock up more people than any other country. There’s a school to prison pipeline… You believe that children are our future and you love America.” So do something. But, Canada said, we have to do lots of things.

“Growing up in the ’60s, we always thought there was a conspiracy. The government had a plan. I’ve talked to presidents. There is no plan. There is no answer…. We keep thinking we can do one thing. We have to do everything,” Canada said.

The cure for poverty is like the current treatment for AIDS, he said. You can’t give one pill – like better schools – you have to provide many antidotes – “hold people’s egos in tact while getting them to work harder.” What you need is an AIDS cocktail of pills, not just one anti-viral.

How We Talk to Children

“Poor parents use far more negatives when talking to kids. ‘Stop. Don’t. How dare you!'” Canada acted out an example of this. When a child with educated parents, dumps his juice on the floor, the parent gently corrects, coddles, maybe even uses the spillage as a teaching moment about gravity. When a poor child does the same thing, the family yells, “Stop that!”

The guy is engaging. The speech was a part of NYU Silver School of Social Work as it kicks off the new McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy, Practice and Research in a week or two.

At NYU, I attended the English department for grad and undergrad. I believe writing is a form of advocacy and social work. In college, I loved abnormal psych, anthropology, drama, literature, and writing.

Having written about reducing poverty through my work for Global Ministries, I like to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what the average person can do to help dig another person out of poverty. The Harlem Children’s Zone is digging deep to reduce entrenched poverty.

This post is a slight rewrite from a post from October, ’09. I am posting every day of October 2014, but am going to recycle my early blog posts a little bit. Today’s the day I have:

  • a college planning meeting at my kids’ school,
  • flowers for the wedding,
  • a deadline for a writing project.

    A photograph of educator Geoffrey Canada.
    A photograph of educator Geoffrey Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Girl Power

It was 9 am and I was a little behind schedule. I had gotten up early to finish and submit two freelance stories, one a day late. Got them in. Then I hopped on my bike to rush to my art handling job. Wait. First. I had to stop at the private school where I’ve been substitute teaching to get my paycheck on track.

Having to talk about money and getting paid makes me uncomfortable.

Like with my freelance jobs — I worry that I accept too little. And then I worry that I charge too much. Whaaaa! Whatever I do, I want them to like me. I live to be liked!

When I got to the school, I dashed up the stairs, two at a time. Then, I slowed down. Wait. What’s this? Yup. A ton of cool signage in the stairwell about the Day of the Girl. (This is a United Nations movement on October 11, which aims to educate and end child marriage, stop sexualized media images of girls, and celebrate girls as athletes, students, artists! Check their link to find out about more.)

Seeing these signs made me drop my insecurity. I felt empowered. it’s important I’m paid well and fairly. I want to be a good model for the girls.

IMG_7007.JPG

IMG_7005.JPG

IMG_7006.JPG

 

Girl power!IMG_7004.JPGI started a Pinterest Board, Girls Can Be Anything, with images of girls doing fun girl stuff — climbing trees, playing superheroes, making art. I hate when the only option for a girl is princess. I prefer president. Girls can aspire to that. They can be anything.

In fact one of my daughters ran for student council today. I don’t even care if she wins. I’m just proud of her for writing a speech, delivering it, and throwing her hat in the ring.

On my bike ride from the school to the art job, the chain came off my bike. But I put it back on and kept riding. Got my hands dirty. But yup, girls can fix their bikes too. Girls can do anything. IMG_7003.JPG

Try Enthusiasm

When I am enthusiastic about a subject I’m teaching, my students are too. If I tell the little ones, “You’re going to like this drama game!” They do. It may be a drama game they’ve played before, like the mirror game. (The mirror game is when you stand across from a partner and mirror their movements. And then your partner mirrors yours.)

When my kids get fresh, I tell them, “Hey, your attitude is contagious. Try enthusiasm.”

We live in a snarky culture. For sure, I can be sarcastic. Because I’m witty. But sarcasm seems the opposite of enthusiasm. Sarcasm stands back in judgment. Enthusiasm jumps all-in, without a care for consequence.

Well, there is the consequence that you may be made fun of. As I am by my children. Regularly. (For my bike, zipcar, business, enthusiasm, whatever.) But then, they’re teens. I think sarcasm’s wired in teens.

I tell my kids, Most people are naturally shy. When you meet someone new, if you’re just a little bit out-going, you put people at ease. Enthusiasm is charismatic, fun and entertaining.

Me at the Climate March. (photo credz Pamela Cooper)
Me at the Climate March. (photo credz Pamela Cooper)

Here’s an enthusiastic picture of me. As you can see, I’m enthusiastic about the whole world.

On a side note, I like to think I came up with the hashtag #yellowpants Whenever I see someone wearing yellow pants, I think to myself “hashtag yellow pants.” I’m enthusiastic about my yellow pants. Because they were one of my last purchases at Loehmann’s. But that’s another story.

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” — Allen Ginsberg via the daily post  

Do you follow Ginsberg’s advice — in your writing and/or in your everyday life?

People’s Climate March – Wordless Wednesday

Joined hundreds of thousands on Sunday after church to march.IMG_6877.JPG

These ladies from Code Pink were there — looking awesome and fiesty femininsty gorgeous. Their message? War is not green. Yes. IMG_6876.JPGAnd tons of kids. And patient parents. We had to wait on 72nd Street for about an hour before we could feed in to the march. IMG_6849.JPGHere we are passing by Columbus Circle. It felt like the march opened up here and we could look around. All the humanity. IMG_6854.JPGI like their sign that said, “We have solutions.” It wasn’t just a march where people pointed out the problems. Although there was some of that. Vegans educated us on the reality that cows are a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. IMG_6842.JPGThere was a lot of music. But, as in any march, my favorite is “We shall overcome!” I melt when I hear that at a march. IMG_6857.JPG

There were a lot of young people. We all walked for hours. So fun. IMG_6859.JPG

Be Disruptive

Yesterday I was at the awesome NYU Entrepreneurial Festival. A highlight for me was Luke Williams’ class on disruptive thinking. Here’s what I got out of it.

In your biz and in your life, chose the scary route. In this picture, look at the dude on the left, “Who is he? I don’t know — just the happiest guy I could find on the internet,” Williams said. “Why is he so happy? He’s complacent. He’s the face of all the companies we know. Doing what he’s always done, making small incremental changes.”

Luke Williams at the NYU Entrepreneurial Festival.
Luke Williams at the NYU Entrepreneurial Festival.

Like Kodak, everyone saw that Kodak’s biz was going down when digital cameras came along, but the CEO of Kodak basically said, “Why stick your hand in an engine that’s running?” If you’re the mechanic, you don’t reinvent the car while you’re supposed to fix it. Right? Williams is smart.

Now look at Janet Leigh. This is how your client or company should look — scared. And ready for change.

Hitchcock killed off his leading lady in the first 30 minutes of Psycho. No one had ever done that. Be like Hitchcock. Be counter-intuitive.

How do you do that? If sodas are supposed to be inexpensive, sweet, and aspirational; make them expensive, sour, and real.

Look for cliches — “widespread beliefs that govern the way people think and do business.” And then disrupt the cliches. Be like Little Mismatched, the company, that sells socks, not in pairs, but in singles or in threes.

Feed your own rebellious instinct — the one that wants change for the sake of change.

I plan to disrupt this endless winter with spring.

Spring starts in five days for me. I’m going to Sarasota, Florida for a few days, back to NYC for a few days, then to a dude ranch in Patagonia, Arizona with the family for almost a week, then just me and Hayden, my 11th grader, go to look to North Carolina (where I’ll offer a writing and art workshop with the fabulous Cindy Sloan.) And Hayden and I will visit a couple of colleges in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham for a few days.

I have been so slammed with work. Tomorrow and maybe a couple of more days this week, I’ll be subbing middle school English at a nearby prep school. I’m also continuing posts and articles with my fabulous blogging client. I have lovely tutoring jobs. I have an annual report due for a new client. I have to meet with my mentor to get my paperwork signed for my self employment assistance program.

I don’t want to disrupt my busy work life. But I don’t mind disrupting winter to get to spring. And summer.

20140302-112614.jpg
Walking towards 8th Street near NYU.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Teaching Trials

I am teaching a blogging workshop on Thursday night at New Work City in Chinatown. You should come, because it’s going to be awesome. And I need some support. I’m looking forward to teaching adults, because I’ve had some struggles with my middle schoolers.

I’m chagrined about my creative writing class in the after school this semester. I’ve had some challenges. And I just want the kids to write, damnit. I want them to sit quietly with pen and paper in hand and go for it. I give them great creative writing prompts, and I give them fun assignments. And we’ve gone on lovely field trips.

But still, they throw carrots at each other and scribble on each other’s worksheets. And in the last class, after a trip to Shake Shack, no less, one girl poured salt in another girl’s hair.

I don’t know if I’m not keeping my kids busy enough. Or if I am being too hard or too soft on them. I love them but I don’t understand them. And I overheard one girl tell another one that I hate her and I told her, “I don’t hate you, I love you, but I don’t like what you do.”

And it’s freakin’ after school, so it’s supposed to be fun. Let’s respect each other. And let’s get creative. Let’s write.

On my pinterest board, I reminded myself: The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.

I try to remember that. And I do give them a lot of love.

My friend thinks I should start calling parents and washing my hands of the kids who act up. But I don’t want to give up. I have faith in these kids. They just have to write more.

If only they’d write about their lives, I know they’d know themselves better and feel better about themselves. And maybe stop goofing off.

That’s why I blog — to know myself better and to feel better about myself. And to stop goofing off.

While I am feeling unhappy about my after school teaching experience, I’m hoping that my adult students on Thursday night will be a little more manageable.

Blogging workshop at new work city on January 9, 2014

Enhanced by Zemanta

Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice

I chatted with Vonnegut once in the early 90s when I was performing stand up at the New York Comedy Club. It was like a Thursday night at 6 pm. He poked his head in the club and asked, “What’s going on in here?”

“Comedy. Women’s night. Starts in an hour.” I told him. “Come to it.”

kurt-vonnegut“Sounds great,” he said or something like that. I was totally impressed and told the couple of jaded comedians at the bar, “That was Kurt Vonnegut.” They nodded casually. Stand up comics do not swoon. But he didn’t come back.

Then a couple of years later I was having a party with Dan Wakefield at my house and Wakefield had invited Vonnegut. Vonnegut called to say he was sorry but he couldn’t make the party. I think he had a cold. “That’s okay,” I told him. “Feel better.” So basically, I had a few near misses with the great man.

But I feel I got to spend time with him when I read this new collection of commencement addresses, edited by Wakefield, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Advice for the Young.

In the forward, Wakefield points out that Vonnegut took part in his communities. Like, he was in the Volunteer Fire Department and taught a Great Books course with his wife. Vonnegut extolled compassion and neighborliness.

Each talk is unique. There are several themes, one of which is how Jesus slammed down the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye).

“When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ What kind of man was that? … Bye-bye, Code of Hammurabi. And for those words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.'”

And Vonnegut, a humanist, hands us funny twists on Christianity. “‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed…’ Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.”

And here’s Vonnegut’s son’s advice: “‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.”

riverside park coudal

I know there’s a winter wonderland outside my New York City apartment today. I took this pic of Riverside Park last night with my iphone. I have no idea why I’m writing about Vonnegut now. Except I started this post a while ago and I’m cleaning out my blog’s dashboard. It just seemed like today was a perfect day to read Vonnegut and Wakefield.

Since we’re all trapped inside on this snow day, I recommend that you got out of your own head and be inspired by If this isn’t nice, what is? advice for the young too.

Related:

The worst addiction of them all by Vonnegut for the Nation