Category Archives: Information

It Is Time To Read or Reread ‘The Other Side of the Mountain’

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Alex Kotlowitz tells the story of a Benton Harbor teenager who died in 1991. The book is The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s   Dilemma. The two towns are St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan. The death is that of an African American 18 year old, Eric McGinnis.  The dilemma is the racial divide that was and is present in America.

The challenges of Benton Harbor were and are real to me, to our state and to our country.  I to read this book when it came out in 1998 and I have just read it again a couple of weeks ago.   Twenty years later this is still a reflection of the racial divide that is present.

Kotlowitz is a master of bringing reality into focus.  I felt that way the first and second I read The Other Side of the River.  The focus does not diminish the profound complexity of this American dilemma.  The reality of this being so contemporary as well as historical is stunning.  We have so very much work to do. There continue to be too many racial divides.

I highly recommend this book. It will get you thinking.  I hope it will also influence people to embrace our very real challenges as we work together to end this American Dilemma.

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Thanksgiving 2018: An Invitation

The concept of a national day of thankfulness is something I see value in.  I believe that a basic frame for living our lives is thankfulness.   And I believe we American’s have room to grow in our authentic thankfulness.   The Thanksgiving holiday can be a time to explore and understand the myths of the ‘first Thanksgiving’ while growing our new knowledge of the American experience.

According to the Smithsonian: “The Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. There are so many things wrong with the happy celebration that takes place in elementary schools and its association to American Indian culture; compromised integrity, stereotyping, and cultural misappropriation are three examples.”

I like to think that being reminded of the ‘Thanksgivings myth’ has the potential to lead a continuation or beginning of an authentic learning journey around this holiday.  Thanksgiving can be an opportunity to learn more about the complexities of the American Indian story.  It may spur a deep dive in the intricacies and realities of current and  past history.

There many available resources you might tap to assist you on a learning journey.  Here are a couple of resources I recommend (knowing that any and all resources have their strengths and their limits).   I see both of these offerings to be valuable for their authentic focus and depth. Each is told in the first person. Each is a glimpse of the Native American experience.

On to the invitations: For teachers, young adults, and adults I recommend Brian “BB” Melendez’s podcast: Coffee With an Indian.  And for teachers, parents and young adults (12 to 17), especially boys, I recommend the book: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth.

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Both of these recommendations are examples of material that I see as straight forward and not sanitized to down play or remove the realities of life.  I like that.  I know some might find either or both of these a little “raw”.  Life is more than a little “raw” for many.

Melendez writes on the Coffee With an Indian web site, that this “is a tribal-social-podcast-platform for all things uniquely indigenous. Basically, we get ridiculously caffeinated—then, from a (raw) tribal perspective, intelligently assess everything! Our mission is to stimulate constructive introspection within all communities, by supporting forward thinking spaces for all people.”

Melendez captures listeners with his authentic voice and non-manicured story.  It is his story, his life, and he tells it to you as your “resident Indian”.  He is a Northern / Southern Paiute – Western Shoshone.  Listeners will come to known him, his circle, his challenges, his triumphs and his journey.  The depth and honesty of his story will draw you in. He wants to stimulate thought. He does that.   He has my brain focusing on the complexity of and humanity’s connection to Native American issues.  I am grateful for that. I invite you to start with episode 1 and listen to his journey.

If I Ever Get Out of Here is a novel about Lewis, who is a Native American seventh grader who lives on a native American reservation in New York state.  The story takes place in the 1970s Lewis loves the Beatles and Paul McCarthy and he doesn’t have any friends. He is in the academic advanced track at school and there are no other Indians in his class.  Being in this Middle School is the first time he is experiencing a non-reservation school.  It is not easy to get used to the social isolation he experiences from his classmates.

A new boy, George, who lives on the military base, shows up in his class. They have similar interests and over time become friends.  It is a realistic story filled with strong characters.  The serious issues of bullying and cultural difference are a big part of this story.  Lewis does not let George learn about his life on the reservation.  On the other hand, George invites Lewis to his house and Lewis begins to learn about George’s family, their life and some of what it means to be a transient family due to the reality that George’s father  can be reassigned to a new location at any time.

The bullying Lewis experiences leads to Lewis and, as time goes on, George responding.  The tension and drama are real and the stakes are important.

I recommend this book because it is a good story for middle or high schoolers.  And I see it as being a great catalyst for family discussions.  This is the kind of novel that both the parent and the teen might want to read at the same time and discuss together.

The potential discussion topics might include: reservation life, Indian boarding schools, bullying, the Beatles, children with a career military parent, friendship, parenting, the varying status of students within a school and so many more possibilities.

The author, Gansworth, is an enrolled citizen of the Onondaga Nation; however, he grew up in the Tuscarora Nation as a descendant of one of two Onondaga women present among the Tuscarora at the foundation of the nation in the 18th century.

These two recommendations of – Coffee With an Indian and If I Ever Get Out of Here – are only possible places to start.  You can ask your local librarian for others material and/or you can create internet searches to find sources you would like to investigate.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018 and may this be a good time to learn more about the complexities of the American experience

Energizing, Appreciative and Affirmative . . . A Fulfilling Read!

The book: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle is rich in positive ripples of appreciative and affirmative framing. It is respectful, forward-looking, and abundant in love!  Gregory Boyle‘s ability to frame the life journey of the people he serves in the “positive” is beyond inspiring!

He works with ex-gang members. He is a Jesuit priest. He is not young and he has not old – he’s experienced. He is a positively piercing voice related to the goodness that can be achieved by “framing” any and all situations in a life affirming fashion.

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Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries. He refers to the ex-gang members as “homies”.  This book is full of stories of his interactions with homies and the many gifts that he has received by working with ex-gang members over the last three decades.

Here are some short passages from the book.

“Knowing homies has changed my life forever, altered the course of my days, reshaped my heart, and returned me to myself. They have indeed been trustworthy guides. Together we have discovered that we all are diamonds covered with dust. They have taught me not that I am somebody but that I am everybody. And so are they.”

“I don’t empower anyone at Homeboy Industries.  But if one loves boundlessly, then folks on the margins become utterly convinced of their own goodness.”

“Homeboy Industries has always been the “already and not yet”. What this place announces to the world is aspirational and not declarative of a fully formed, complete thing.”

“When life throws a knife at us, we can either catch it by then blade or by the handle. We can stare right back at the terrifying darkness of what we’ve been through in our lives and grab it by the handle.”

“We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it.  I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . . and the worlds stays stuck.  The homies are not waiting to be saved. They are ready are.”

“I met a man, an ex-homie, born –again and with the best of intentions, who was now working with gang members. He asked, ‘how do you reach them?’  My response was, ‘For starters, stop trying to reach them.’”

I love that Boyle embraces the complexity of life and living. I totally respect his absolute focus on building honest, caring relationships. This book and Boyle’s previous book, Tattoos on the Heart, are both excellent reads.  They celebrate humanity.  I find them to be energizing.  I recommend them highly.

Leadership in Service to the Common Good

Exemplary leaders are forward-looking.  They imagine that extraordinary feats are possible and that the ordinary could be transformed into something noble.  They are able to develop an ideal and unique image of the future for the common good.

Yet, a vision can’t belong only to the leader.  It’s a shared vision.  Everyone has dreams, aspirations, and a desire that tomorrow will be better than today.  When visions are shared, they attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges than those that are singular.  You have to make sure that what you can see – is also something others can see, and vice versa.

The key task for leaders is inspiring a shared vision, not selling their own idiosyncratic view of the world.  What this requires is finding common ground among those people who have to implement the vision.

The best leaders are great listeners.  They listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel.  They have to ask good (and often tough) questions, be open to ideas other than their own, and even lose arguments in favor of the common good.  Through intense listening, leaders get a sense of what people want, and what they value, and what they dream about.  This sensitivity to others is no trivial skill.  It is a truly precious human ability.

Building trust is a process that begins when someone (either you or the other party) is willing to risk being the first to open up, to show vulnerability, and to let go of control.

Leaders go first.  If you want the high levels of performance that come with trust and collaboration, you’ll have to demonstrate your trust in others before them asking them to trust you.

~ The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations Fifth edition,  by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge: A Wiley Brand, 2012, pages, 104, 116, 118 and 2

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How Might You Engage with Children and Young People about the Nazis March in Charlottesville?

The Charlottesville march of hatefulness and weapons was terrifying!  Seeing and/or hearing the aggressive and vile outburst is frightening and complicated to process for our children and young people. We know this because it is a lot to process for us adults.

I think about how many parents and grandparents may want to help the children and young people in their lives to have an understanding of why the Nazis must never gain power again.

The topic of Nazism is something that parents and grandparents may find difficult to speak about with the children and young people in their lives.  I offer some information here that may be helpful to you.

Stories can help young people to begin to understand a big and complex concept. This can be true for the big concept of Nazism, which is a terrifying concept to learn about.  The idea that some people use power to control and seriously harm other people because of the other people’s race or religion (or for other characteristics) is more than unsettling.  It is frightening.

I share with you a children’s book, Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust, by Eve Bunting because this story is both accessible and thought provoking.  Also this is the kind of book you can read to children or young people of whatever age you think is appropriate.

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This allegory may provide a way to begin a conversation. A dialogue is a great way to connect to individuals – old or young.  This is a topic where the convener will want to appreciate, respect and honor the prior knowledge and current thinking of the young people you engage and converse with.  And, by framing this as a dialogue or conversation around the discussion of this book – you are opening the door to additional interactions in the days, weeks, and months to come as you potentially return to the book.  Plus, because you will have read it aloud – you can restart the conversation by just referring to the shared experience you had around to book.  The dialogue may pop up weeks or months after the read aloud.

This book has the potential to open up deep thought and sharing around many topics that are of importance today.  They include, and are not limited to: social injustice, bystanders, violence, spreading terror, the Charlottesville march, and/or the possibility of ‘normalizing’ something that is not normal and not appropriate.

Please think about what I am recommending and embrace the concept that you will read this book aloud.  Sure, many children or young people could read it on their own and those same children or young people would likely benefit more from sitting close to you and hearing you read this story to them. And when you are the reader, it sets a tone for the dialogue you want to engage in following the story.

You might get the dialogue started by saying something like: “Wow, take a minute to think about what you just heard.  What are you thinking about?”  Or, “Would you like me to read it again?” – if the answer is yes – you might say. “OK and as I read it think about what you would like to talk about related to this story or what you might want to ask me about.”

And as you begin to get one or more of the listeners talking – try to keep them thinking and talking by saying to them: “Thank you, please tell me more about that thought.” Or, if you are reading it to two or more children or young people, you might ask the brother who is listening to his sister, “What do you think about your sister’s thought?”

As you listen will want to express an understanding of what was shared.  You can do that by paraphrasing what the child or young person said. If one of your grandchildren said, “Grampa, I didn’t like the way the other creators said mean things about the animals that were gone? Like when the birds where gone the creatures said those birds where always so loud.”  You might respond, “It sounds like you didn’t feel like it was right to talk badly about the animals that vanished.  Can you tell us more about what that got you thinking about?”  Or, you might respond by say, “It sounds like you really noticed that when the other creators said things – like about the squirrels ‘never sharing’ that you thought that that was kind of nasty for the other creators to say.”

And you can probe about a topic that hasn’t come up yet like the Holocaust.  You might say, “Who will read the full title of this story to us and tell us why you think the word Holocaust is in it?”  And if more probing may be needed, you might say, “Please listen to me as I reread the introduction found just after the author’s page.”  After you have reread it, you might say, “Who wants to try to put into their own words what we just heard?” Or, “Have you heard about Nazis and the Holocaust? What do you know or what do you want to know about Nazis and the Holocaust?”

You may find that the conversation goes at a pace that is slower than usual.  That is normal when a topic is serious and troubling.   You may find that there is silence and a desire to hold and look at the book. There is no one way children or young people will or should react.

And, if you are looking for ideas to discuss with the children or young people you share this with you might check out online resources such as: Fighting Injustice by Studying Lessons of the Past Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting with special attention to Lesson 1.   Or, Making Choices: Bystander, Perpetrator, Victim, Upstander, created for 3rd through 5th graders by the For Action Initiative.   Please know that there are many, many resources on the internet and you may find other ideas that help you to create a rich and meaningful dialogue with those you read it to.

If you want to see the illustrations and hear the story read aloud and you can do so on You Tube in as a video.  The video is intended for educational purposes.  I really encourage you to get the book, either from your library or by purchasing it (it is currently is available as a $10.00 paperback).  And, once again, I am encouraging you to read it aloud.

Below is a famous quotation/poem by Martin Niemöller. You may just want to read it as you your prepare for your dialogue.  And/or you may choose to read it to the children or young people you are sharing Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust with.  Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The quotation stems from Niemöller’s lectures during the early postwar period

A Time for Striving To Understand Our Neighbor

 

From my point of view, it has always been essential to understand the thinking of our neighbor’s. I am not saying that it is a common practice or that I am good at it.  And I do believe that to appreciate how others feel about being ‘included’ or ‘not so included’ in the community is a big part of what it takes to make a community. To be aware of their view of the future and possibility that may lie ahead for them, their family or their friends.

Now, in February of 2017, it is becoming more and more clear to many of us that we don’t have access to our ‘neighbors’ thinking other than through parody or even mockery.

I have been looking for accessible voices of those that might be able to help me understand how it is that so many of my American ‘neighbors’ choose to support Donald Trump.

We benefit from living in East Lansing: and one of the many benefits is that each February, at MSU, there is the Slavery to Freedom lecture series open to the entire community.  It is a tremendous resource! Last week’s speaker was Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post opinion writer, MSNBC contributor, and he made several excellent points provoking thought and discussion.  The comment that stuck with me is when he challenged us all to seek out voices other than the voices that we agree with in an attempt to learn more, understand more and appreciate more.

Jonathan has a podcast, Cape Up and as I was listening to some of his interviews, I came across this recent one.   Arthur Brooks explains on January 24th how dignity links Trump to Obama.  I found it fascinating and thought provoking.  I started to think a little deeper than I had been about how others chose to vote for Trump.

Go to iTunes, or whatever you get your podcasts and search for Cape Up and then listen to Jonathan’s conversation with Arthur Brooks from January 24, 2017.

To anybody who wants to explore a thoughtful new podcast, I recommend Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart.

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Being an Other-fucused Person Can Contribute Greatly to the Common Good!

Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results by Robert E. Quinn (2000)

I like this book. I recommend it to people that are thinking about how a family, group, organization or big system (like a government) moves forward, backward or becomes stagnant. He makes the point that what seem unchangeable might, in fact, be changeable. Also like the book because it sets out the kind of tasks and paths that reasonable normal people might benefit from following to move a family, group, organization or big system toward the common good.

 

This book is ambitious and, as a result, paints a clear broad picture of what it takes to contribute to and impact groups or large systems. Complexity is embraced by the author and, therefore, his change method is not the norm. He explains and makes sense of the challenge to focus on the common good (What Quinn also called the ‘journey of collective fulfillment’) for organizations and groups of people.

 

Quinn makes the point that he feels that ordinary people can become profoundly affected as change agents.

 

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