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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Video | Why is our boss promising to jump into a lake?


Because it’s year-end fund-raising time, that’s why! Paul Schmitz, our fearless leader, has never done the Polar Bear Plunge thing before, but he’s willing to do it now if we meet our fund-raising goal. In case you haven’t heard about it before, the Polar Bear Plunge is quite the New Year’s Day tradition in certain chilly places around the country, including here in Milwaukee where Public Allies is based.

Check back to see how it turns out!

Guest blogger | Funny, but sad, but in the end — inspiring

Casey Bridgeford

Today’s guest blogger is Casey Bridgeford, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll remember that we introduced him to you back in April in one of our staff Q&As. Casey is a program manager at Public Allies Indianapolis. This post, along with a link to this video, originally appeared in his personal blog, Revenge of the ILLIgans!  The headline sums up how I felt when I saw the video and then read Casey’s post. — DMB

 

Many people are waiting on a “real” leader to step up and solve the problems we are facing. They would argue that our country is standing still, and in some cases sliding backwards because politicians just don’t get it. Some would say that it is because most of our religious leaders are either corrupt or worse — cowards. Even other people would say that greedy businessmen are the problem.

What I believe is that the problem is me. I am the problem. Everyone like me who has passed up on an opportunity to help themselves is the problem. Anyone like me who has overlooked the opportunity to share their extra (knowledge, time, money, strength) is the problem.

The buck doesn’t stop with the politician — it stops with me. It stops with normal people. We are the answer we have been waiting for. Everyone of us who is the problem … is also THE Solution.

For the past 14 months I have been working with a community organization called Public Allies, which operates with the mindset that Everybody Leads. This simply means that everyone brings something to the table. There is no such thing as an extra person. Each person has something to contribute. Most people will contribute their time, talents, and passion, if given the right opportunity and support.

Public Allies gives that support to young adults who have made up their minds that they don’t look like a leader, leadership looks like them.

Without programs like Public Allies, people keep addressing problems the same way. We look for the expert to tell us what our problem is and how they are the only one who is able to fix it for us. Its this kind of thinking that has us stuck on an escalator with no good sense to walk the rest of the way. We are so used to depending on others, that we miss the opportunity to solve our own problems.

So when you wake up and look yourself in the mirror, remember you are looking at The New Face of Leadership!

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.

Video | An alumni profile

Esteban (Steve) Ramos, New York Ally ’00

If you’re reading this blog because you are wondering about applying to Public Allies, you’ll want to know some of our more than 3,000 alumni. They’re an impressive bunch of people who have some interesting things to say about their Ally experience.  We’ve introduced you to a few already — people like Patrick Carroll Tafarai Bayne, Raj Shukla and Nelly Nieblas. Each originally came to Public Allies for a different reason, and each took their experiences forward in a different way.

Today, we’d like you to meet Esteban (Steve) Ramos, who graduated with the inaugural New York class in 2000. He’s doing terrific work as the executive director of an organization called FYI — Fresh Youth Initiatives — in the Washington Heights Neighborhood of New York City. It’s the same organization that hosted him as an Ally. FYI and Public Allies have a lot of things in common, and one of them is a belief in engaging the community in its own solutions. In this case, FYI engages young people who have done a lot to make their neighborhood a better place. Inspiring stuff! Enjoy the video.

:: Learn more about Fresh Youth Initiatives here.

Excerpt | Baltimorean of the Week

 
Our Google Alerts delivered a gift yesterday: a blog post naming one of our alumni an “Unsung Baltimorean of the Week.” It’s about Gary Williams, Public Allies Maryland ’10, who seems to make a big impression on the people around him. The blog’s author, Kevin Griffin Moreno, kindly agreed to let us excerpt his post.  Kevin’s blog, Unsung Baltimore, has a pretty cool mission. As Kevin puts it, “Baltimore is blessed with … residents of all races, ages, faith traditions, and economic backgrounds who commit themselves to piecing together the fragments and making our community whole. Though they don’t receive the attention, accolades, or acknowledgment they deserve, these neighbors are our region’s most vital asset.” A very Public Allies-friendly point of view! We encourage you to follow the link at the bottom to the full version of Gary’s story.
 

Gary Williams

Imagine this: you’re just out of your teens, one of only a handful of African-American students at Mercyhurst, a small liberal arts college in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, 350 miles from the west Baltimore neighborhood where you were born and raised.

You’ve just been made a residential adviser for one of the dorms on campus. One of the residents under your charge is a young white male named Andrew, whose grandfather was murdered by a black man, and who consequently makes no secret of his negative attitudes toward African-Americans…including you.

If you’re like most people, that would be an extremely uncomfortable, if not downright terrifying, situation to be in. But Gary Williams is not like most people. Instead of avoiding or antagonizing Andrew, Gary saw this encounter as an opportunity to confront the young man’s prejudices — and his own.

“At first I didn’t realize that he was watching me, my friends, my reactions,” Gary recalls. “I ended up changing his notions” about African-Americans. As a result, a connection was forged between the two; the more Andrew got to know Gary, the more his opinion shifted.

“Mercyhurst had a lot of kids from the suburbs and rural areas,” Gary continues. “There was this sense there that ‘real people don’t live in cities.’ I always had this view of college that you had to have a wide worldview, but a lot of students there didn’t. For many people at Mercyhurst, Erie (which has a population of about 130,000) was the biggest thing they’d ever heard of.”
 
In conversation, Gary projects self-confidence, cheerfulness, and warmth. He speaks animatedly and with passion, laughs a lot, and listens attentively. These qualities doubtless went a long way toward combating the ignorance and racial bias he encountered in college. But his willingness to engage with his rural white peers also forced him to examine his own beliefs.

“Mercyhurst was a crash course in conservative white America,” he chuckles. “I didn’t know a lot about small town life – I once asked a hunter friend if he bought his deer meat from the store — and it opened my eyes to my own prejudices about small town people.”

:: To read the the full post, click here.
:: You can find the Unsung Baltimore blog at http://unsungbaltimore.blogspot.com.  
 
 
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