Video | Giving back to his community

Nigel Okunubi grew up in affordable housing in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. At his housing project, there was a youth center that was responsible for a lot of Nigel’s important milestones as a kid. So when he found out that it was closing, he decided to do something.

Nigel spearheaded an effort to create a new youth organization to fill the gap that was left by the closing. As founder and executive director of the Adams Morgan Youth Leadership Academy, he’s in a leadership role in his old neighborhood, and helping kids he can relate to.

This video was created in support of Public Allies’ year-end fund-raising campaign. We thought the folks who follow this blog would like to see it, too.

:: To learn more about the Adams Morgan Youth Leadership Academy, click here.
:: To learn more about our year-end fundraising campaign, click here.

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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.

Video | Welcome … and get ready!

This video has been making the rounds of the Public Allies network, and we thought we should share it with our Allies2010 friends. In it, Public Allies CEO Paul Schmitz delivers a welcome to the new class of Allies. Depending on which of the 21 cities the Allies serve in, they start their core training any time between late August and mid October.

This was filmed on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which is our Operating Partner in Milwaukee. Paul was conducting a Friday training for the Milwaukee Allies, and he decided it would be a nice opportunity to enlist some help for a rousing cheer. The video includes excerpts from his training session, which is a terrific primer about the Public Allies leadership philosophy.

Enjoy! And maybe you’ll be getting a welcome of your own one day.

Videos | The super-hero series continues

Here you go: Two more installments in our June video series, “The Adventures of Public Allies Super-Heroes.” In Episode 5, you get a 78-second recap of our story so far. Just three more epsiodes to go.

See the first installment of video postings here and the second one here.

(In case you’re wondering, here’s a list of people making appearances as over-actors. In Episode 4: Merilou Gonzales, Melinda Rodriguez, Michelle Dobbs, Tom Hosch, Tim Dropik, Cris Ros-Dukler. In Episode 5: All of the above plus Michael Allen, Amelia Pena, David Todd, Diane Bacha, David McKinney and Paul Schmitz.)

Video | The latest Super-Adventures!

Last week I updated you about a wacky series of videos the Public Allies National Office is putting together in support of a Causes.com campaign this month. Here are the two latest.

One of our goals with these videos is to communicate what we’re all about. If you’re not familiar with trends in leadership education, national service and those sorts of things, it can start sounding a little wonky. So the idea of super-heroes came to our rescue, so to speak.

We created characters that correspond with Public Allies’ five core values. Our CEO Paul Schmitz is doing continuous learning proud as The Professor, dapper in his cape and bow tie — that’s him featured in the first video here.  The value collaboration is represented with swashbuckling finesse by Captain Collaboration — also known as David R. Todd, sponsorship director for Milwaukee and Chicago. David McKinney, our VP of Programs, is wowing ’em as Integrity Man, representing of course the value of integrity. And diversity/inclusion are co-represented by Alumni Relations Director Merilou Gonzales and Executive Assistant Melinda Rodriguez.

And since every Super-Hero needs a good Evil Villain, we recruited  Program Consultant Michael Allen to be Dr. Apathy.

Asset-focused principles will be represented by my fellow Allies2010 blogger MacArthur Antigua. We haven’t settled on a Super-Hero name for him yet. MacAsset? Leave a comment if you have a better idea and if we pick yours there will be a super-prize in it for ya!

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.

Staff Q&A | Meet the people who read your applications

Nicole Thomas

Nikki Thomas

Who she is: Director of Ally Recruitment & Alumni Relations and Program Manager, Public Allies Milwaukee, and a Chicago Ally in 2007 and 2008

Originally from: “I grew up as a Military child (moving every three to five years) and thus have lived in California, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Japan, Korea, etc. After all of that I consider California to be home because I was born there and ended up graduating from high school there. However, my family roots are in Chicago and the surrounding area.”

Her Ally experience: “I was an Ally for two consecutive years with Public Allies Chicago. My first year (class of 2007) I was placed with a scholarship foundation as an Educational Coordinator, and my second year (class of 2008) I was placed in the P.A. Chicago office as their Alumni Engagement Coordinator.”

Before Public Allies  “I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in Biology while being a pharmacy technician ad working on campus as a student worker.”

What’s it like at your workplace right now? “Times are busy around our office; we are currently wrapping up an Ally Class while simultaneously recruiting for Ally applicants and Partner Organizations. Since our Ally application deadline just passed, my personal goal is to have over 200 applications reviewed by staff within two weeks, coordinate, communicate, and schedule at least 100 interviews with applicants and engage our PA MKE Network (Alumni, Board Members, Partners, etc) to assist with interviews, while ensuring that all of our fellows meet all requirements to graduate from our program.”

What made you interested in becoming part of Public Allies? “I can honestly say that all of the Core Values caught my attention, but Asset-Based Community Development drew me in as a new way to look at a community and be able to advocate in a more effective way for my own communities. What kept me involved was the experience of what diversity truly is; Public Allies’ version of diversity pushes beyond usual expectations. There is more to the meaning of diversity. Or participants come from different backgrounds, experiences, education levels, ages, abilities, political interests, ethnicities, ideology, sexual orientation, geographical locations, income levels, gender identities, religions, etc. (the list could go on). The beauty of it all is that everyone wants to learn and is willing to step out of their ‘Comfort Zone’ to do so. Every year, it never fails, I see that learning take place within myself and others.”

Bob Marley

On your desk: “Every time I feel defeated I look to this poster for inspiration. It reminds me that nothing comes easy and it’s worth it. It’s especially important because I received this as a gift from one of my fellow Allies during my first-year experience.”

Complete the following sentence: If you become an Ally, be ready to. . .  “grow personally and professionally through being accountable for your actions within your placement, Team Service Project, training and your fellow Allies.”

In 21 words or less: What are the three most essential ingredients for a successful Ally experience?

“Time management of  program and personal life.

“Networking with your class and partner organization.

“Push for growth and learn by sharing experiences.”

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