What Will You Do As An Ally?

Our San Francisco and Silicon Valley Allies invite you to consider the possibility…

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Speech | What sets Public Allies apart

When people hear that Public Allies is an AmeriCorps program that involves a 10-month service apprenticeship for young adults, they often lump us in with other youth service programs. The list is long and full of amazing groups doing important work; we’re honored to be in their company. But sometimes the lumping tendency does a dis-service to service groups in that it overlooks our distinct differences. At Public Allies, we believe that our inclusive, collaborative definition of leadership is what sets us apart.

That’s why I’m posting the speech below. It was delivered by our CEO, Paul Schmitz, at the plenary session of this year’s annual Independent Sector conference. I think it does a wonderful job expressing Public Allies’ approach to leadership. If you’re thinking of being an Ally, this will help you understand what it’s all about. I hope you find it inspiring and thought-provoking. -DMB

Paul Schmitz

My greatest influence growing up was John Lennon, who said. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”… I never understood that, either, but he also said. “Think globally, act locally.” And I understand that and it frames how I think about dealing with some of the big global challenges we are facing today.

I think people need to see change where they are to believe that solving bigger problems is possible. If we are to build civil society in an increasingly uncivil culture and solve problems, we must think more from the bottom up.

Steve Heintz, CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, quoted Peter Drucker that in turbulent times, we cannot solve problems today using yesterday’s logic. I would add to that we also can’t solve problems using yesterday’s leadership…

Now let me be clear about that. I am not voicing a rejection, but an invitation for you to make our tables bigger, broader, and more diverse. There is still a seat for you.

At Public Allies we talk about changing the face and practice of leadership, because if you change who is at the proverbial tables, the tables themselves must also change.

By changing the face, I’m saying that we must bring more diverse people and perspectives to our tables. It is imperative. As a sector we fail to do that.

One of my Allies a few years ago was doing her presentation of learning. It is how they demonstrate what they’ve learned at the end of our program. Her supervisor, a boomer and ’60s activist, asked her what his generation of activists and leaders needed to learn that her generation understands. She replied, “Your generation sees diversity as an ideal, something to believe in. We learned that it is an action, something you do.” 

 Our sector believes in diversity very well, but we don’t do diversity well. That must change.

 And if we change who is at the table, the table itself must change. We must think about how to solve problems differently.

Many of our nonprofits here today have grown a lot. We’re serving more people, we’re managing better, we are achieving more outcomes, and we have evidence our programs work. Yet, social problems linger and racial and other disparities have grown. 

In my community, we have had a dramatic increase in youth programs, after-school programs, education organizations, choice schools, charter schools, teaching programs, and all the rest. If I consult their websites, annual reports and funders, they are all meeting lots of outcomes and some have won national awards and recognition for evidence and innovation. But it doesn’t add up. In fact, despite all these “proven” efforts, we continue to have the worst 3rd grade reading scores for African American children.

There is no evidence that the aggregation of evidence-based, control-group-researched, outcome-focused services add up to needle-moving change on important issues. Improved strategy, management, outcomes, and evidence are probably necessary to move the needle, but they are not sufficient.

Perhaps we have to reverse-engineer how we think about solving problems. We need to look at communities where the graduation rate is up 20%, the crime rate cut in half, teen pregnancy down by a third and figure out what added up to produce those results. My hunch is that there were successful programs but that they were combined with political will, organizing, advocacy, community engagement, and community building. Top down solutions don’t work if they don’t engage communities in the solution.

The pendulum has swung over the last 20 years toward an emphasis on nonprofit leadership as management and service as science. What has been lost is the art of service – how we lead, engage, and organize with communities. The science of service may be necessary but it is not sufficient to create real change without the art of service.

So I think that to address these big challenges, we have to get real about how we engage diverse communities so that we can really begin to solve problems closer to home.

Snapshot | Dainty … or determined?

This snapshot of Nikki, an Ally in San Francisco, was taken by Christophe Gonzales during a service day project. The “caption” below was written by Lauren LePage, a San Francisco Ally.

In her mid-year presentation of learning, Nikki performed spoken word, sharing with us a poem she’d written about feeling pressed on all sides. And when the pressure built up, she stopped trying; to be mediocre was easier.

But she wanted to press back. 

As her fellow Ally, I’ve watched Nikki press back, press back, and press on through. She is nothing short of fierce. In this photo, Nikki’s wearing a mask and gloves not because she’s dainty or nervous about paint smudges; she’s protecting herself from paint fumes. Because even though she was pregnant, she was determined to take part in our Cesar Chavez Service Day, determined to help create the mural at Anne Darling Elementary School, just as she was determined to fully commit to her placement, her Team Service Project (of which I’m proud to be a part), and her Critical Reflection project.

She pressed, she pressed, she pressed on back. And that’s not all she pressed on through…

Meet baby Kaya Seletute Arenal, born May 21, 2010, at 3:09 a.m. We like to refer to her as the Team HIP baby.

♦ ♦ ♦

Editor’s Note #1: You can see more photos from this service day at http://christophephotography.blogspot.com/

Editor’s Note #2: Congratulations Nikki! Kaya is beautiful.

Guest blogger | The Short Straw

Erin Deters

Today we have a guest blogger, Erin Deters. We asked Erin to tell us about an exhibition she curated on a topic that has a lot of resonance for us all. 

Hello, my name is Erin and I am a Public Ally working in Cincinnati, Ohio, placed at Clifton Cultural Arts Center. When I began my placement at CCAC and learned that I would have a chance to create a personal project, I immediately knew I wanted to find a way to explore people’s personal struggles in this economy. I created Short Straw, an exhibit featuring artists reflecting on the emotional and professional impact the recession has had on their lives.  

 

The show featured 15 local and national artists, and was on display in CCAC’s gallery for the whole month of April. Curating Short Straw allowed me to dive into the Cincinnati arts community and has been an amazing journey.  

I was shocked and spurred to action when I discovered an article in the Wall Street Journal by Sara Murray  titled “The Curse of the Class of 2009,”  which discussed research showing that entering the job market in a poor economy impacts your career advancement and wages for a decade or more. The title of the show reflects artists’ alarm at having drawn the short straw for opportunities. 

As I engaged artists around this theme, I began to learn more about their struggles to pursue art as a career and lifestyle and not just a hobby. The show includes a Master of Fine Arts diploma transformed into a paper airplane, a series of intimate illustrations inspired by weekly trips to sell plasma, and a triptych depicting three figures interacting with life-sized slot machines/booby-traps. These works reveal the how the artists in Short Straw are combating frustration and despair with playfulness and inventive thinking. 

When I began this project I had just moved back to Cincinnati – my home town – to reevaluate my career options after a frustrating and fruitless job search in New York. Short Straw helped me explore and overcome these feelings of frustration, and also turn them on their heads by finding whimsy, delight and inventiveness instead of challenges and closed doors.  

                                                            -Erin Deters, Short Straw Curator, CCAC Program Coordinator & Public Ally Cincinnati 2010 

Promotional postcard from the show.

 

Read the CityBeat story about Erin’s show.

Video | Why Public Allies? Episode 7

Nelly Nieblas, Los Angeles Ally ’05

Director of Public Policy and External Relations

In this video, Nelly Nieblas talks about her route to Public Allies Los Angeles, to Harvard, to Washington, back to L.A., and finally back to D.C. as the newest member of the Public Allies National Staff. There’s lots more to her story than we could fit in a two-minute video, but we have a feeling you’ll see her here again.

Why Public Allies? Episode 5

Raj Shukla, Milwaukee Ally ’03

Here’s Episode 5 in our series, which asks a variety of people to explain the value of Public Allies from their point of view. In this post Raj Shukla talks about risk-taking, community impact, and his efforts to change energy-use habits. He is the founder of a marketing firm called Brightbend and lives in Madison, Wisc. We interviewed him in March in Washington, D.C., where he took part in a gathering of Public Ally Alumni entrepreneurs.

(And yes, we know we are posting this series out of order, but unlike “Lost” you can watch any episode without losing the thread.)

Meet an Ally: Erin Deters, Cincinnati

Tim is going to have to wait a bit longer for Erin to come back to NYC.

Two years ago, Erin Deters, set off to New York to start a career in fashion design but ran smack-dab into the Great Recession.  Last year, she came back to her hometown of Cincinnati, and became an Ally. Read the rest of this entry »

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