Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Paying Attention

I have been loved. And through this blessing, I've been fortunate to have learned a thing or two about this amazing gift. I have seen how love can look and feel differently at different times, in different spaces, with different folks and different reasons. Love can be one thing when you're tired; another when you're hungry; and another when you're happy (and yet again something else after a relaxing glass of wine!).

Yet while love is experienced very differently, there is a consistent, common, connected constant. Attention. Where there is love, there is attention. The true lover of humanity has no choice but to see the disheveled vet on the street and the hollowed-out eyes of the homeless....the smog that hovers over all will sear both the eyes and the hearts of those who love the earth....while undetectable by many, an child's painful whimper is becomes a screech in the ears of loving mothers....and, unbeckoned, caring clans know when one of their own needs a hand, a conversation, an ear.

I pray for so much and so many! For myself, I pray for a sound mind and reasonable health. But most of all, I pray that I will love all those that I should and,  even more, those who would lay claim for my attention. Who need to be seen. Heard. Felt. Encouraged. I pray for the patience and focus and perception and stillness and commitment...to pay attention. To love.

Here's wishing you an attentive holiday season!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let's Talk

Over the past two days I have been in several discussions with SECF board representatives and members about the work of SECF's Government Affairs Committee. As foundations we find ourselves at an unusual and somewhat uncomfortable place...a place we have not been for some time. We face increasingly scrutiny and are challenged to both preserve what is necessary to do our best work while responding to unprecedented times of financial and social upheaval. We have tough choices to make and important constituents to defend. We have to be creative and flexible and smart. We have to do what it is that foundations do best.

As an organization of member foundations, SECF has to determine when and how we best communicate the vital role of philanthropy in society. How much do our members know, want to know or need to know about policies affecting our sector? How do we build critical, sustainable relationships with executive and legislative branches of government? How do we think and speak and act in a way that honors our members' interests and intent? How do we present distinct and sometimes opposing member perspectives on issues that affect the communities we are committed to serve?

Not unlike the topic of religion, policy conversations -public action, advocacy, politics - make the hairs on the back of our neck go up. Yet as individual foundations and as a cohort, can we afford not to have them? Can we authentically claim to seek a better society without understanding, deliberating, debating and engaging in how that society functions?

If you believe the conversations are necessary, there's no time better to begin than now. What do you think?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Southeasterly Winds

Southeasterly Winds

For the past five years, I have served on the board of the Southeatern Council on Foundations (SECF) a membership organization of more than 350 private, corporate, family and community foundations in eleven states. I confess that I took on this role hesitantly...after 21 years in Georgia and six at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, I had chosen to have limited exposure and connection to the larger region, more comfortable dashing across the world from Hartsfield-Jackson than taking a road trip. I claimed southern roots through both my parents who migrated from their birthplace in south Georgia to the north in the 1940’s. Yet I knew in my heart my move to metro Atlanta was less about returning home and more a choice to move to what was then dubbed "The Black Mecca".

Weather lore has it that "When the wind is blowing in the South, it brings food over the fish's mouth". I've given a lot of thought to this sentiment as I've passed the quarter century mark in my new home and finally branched out into the region, a journey that I have taken in tandem with SECF. In 2006, I stepped into a boardroom filled with folks from our southern states...folks who loved their communities. I felt truly an outsider. As I’ve shared, I am more city than country.

Secondly, all were CEOs and so, despite being senior staff of one of the biggest community foundations in the country and managing many and assets, much of my reality and experience was different. Third, I am an African American woman, at that time one of two on the board, and while Atlanta may have been my "Mecca", the south's formal philanthropic sector was not. I confess, I couldn't figure out what I could offer this group nor what they could give me.

Yet as I look forward to gathering on Amelia Island in November for SECF’s annual conference, "Celebrating Wisdom, Demonstrating Value, Cultivating Hope", I know that, as the southeasterly wind feeds the fish, my SECF experience has fed me. Another quote by the timeless Seuss, summarizes it perfectly,
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too."

I've seen places. I've seen closed rubber plants whose owners, long gone, still support the local community. I've seen hurricanes strike beaches at night and residents cleaning and repairing by the time the sun rises. I’ve watched ducks march in line and boogied to blues til midnight. I’ve shuddered, feeling the ghosts of my ancestors in renovated plantations and shared hot tea and biscuits with colleagues who have grown dear. I’ve come to love beignets, dry rub, crepe myrtle, wide spaces, green pastures, majestic mounts and washboards that turn into musical instruments. I’ve run past painful statues of black jockeys and given standing ovations to talented, gutsy kids from “the other side of the track”. But, most of all, even despite its resistant and oft frustrating cling to the familiar and fear of the new, I’ve come to love the resilience and grace and potential of the South.

In short, I’ve grown. And so has SECF. With each year and each other we are becoming smarter, more effective, more relevant. We are listening to our constituents – those who have been with us for decades and those whose attention we have drawn – as we seek to cultivate and embrace the huge power of philanthropy to make a difference in our shared space of this big country. To collectively create a stronger, better region in which everyone can thrive.
To feed the fish.
Look forward to seeing you next week!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Golden Eggshells

The current economic climate and its subsequent impact on the civic sector is frightening. While all nonprofits felt the pinch early in, many – most - have been able to weather their financial challenges by hunkering down, appealing to their supporters and realigning their priorities and focus.
Yet its 2011 and the crisis continues…the stress enduring for too long and the sluggish economy no less threatening. And, after so long, many nonprofits have depleted their reserves, exhausted their friends, and have restructured their affairs yet again -- but this time to no avail -- and must now cash in their chips.
It's an odd and unsettling space for those of us in foundations.  The economy has undeniably impacted our organizations as well, in some cases plummeting our financial value and scaring away new investors.  Like our nonprofit partners, we're scared and feeling vulnerable -- watching the market daily, sometimes hourly.  But, bottom line, we're still here. We're wounded but still standing. And many of us, because we have the option, have decided to wait.  Wait to see what happens. Wait to give grants. Wait to give more grants.  Wait…but not in fear of demise……not for our final knoll.
Foundations and our nonprofit partners are two sides of the same coin; we provide critical resources that enable our sectarian partners to do good. Foundations agonize over how to be responsible stewards of philanthropic dollars…while the recipients of our largess agonize over how best to comfort, house, protect and hold dear all that is precious in our shared communities.  For foundations, during times as these, balancing how to be appropriately judicious and generous is paradoxical: somewhat akin to saving for a rainy day while a tornado rages outside. The relationship between funders and grantseekers, inherently tenuous from the imbalance of power, becomes more fragile.  
So those of us in foundations find ourselves walking on eggshells… albeit eggshells filled with precious, essential gold.
A recent report by the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, entitled Widespread Empathy, asserts that "…Empathy should be a core driver of grantmaking for foundations". It suggests tactics such as meeting with grantees, inviting grantees into our office; and being willing to change. These are solid recommendations and I honestly don't know any grantmakers who don't already do these things.  Yet, I'd suggest another, possibly precursor strategy as well...that foundations come together to clarify what we can and are willing to bring to the table.   
My experience is that that our region's foundations eschew structured partnerships with one another, with some exceptions (such as the Southeastern Council for Foundation's EngAGEment initiative and the Philanthropic Collaborative for a Healthy Georgia). We enjoy meeting with one another; learning from and with one another; funding the same organizations and supporting the same causes. We know one another and we often like one another.  But when it comes to coordinating and aligning our dollars, our grantmaking, and our influence, we are quick to say our trustees won't allow it. We complain that our boards are fussy. We brandish our strategic plan, citing our strategic priorities. But we stop short of trying to ensure that we are more effective as a collective.
Now, more than ever, foundations are charged to get into the nitty gritty of one another's philosophies, challenges and priorities – and learn where we mesh and where we do not. As privileged caretakers of giving dollars, we have the opportunity to not only cooperate but to truly collaborate -- not the legendary "back room deals" and "inside picks" that we've long been accused of -- but new understandings and relationships in which we confer and connect about what's important in our beloved, shared communities. Understanding where the pain is; where the good and innovative work's being done; and how we might augment, complement and leverage our giving to ensure it alleviates the most suffering.
It's a first step, by foundations, that can provide the data and foundation to do our part smartly and responsibly. To find the balance. To stop waiting and to act. 
…We may have to crack an egg or two to get there. But our yoke will be the balm our community needs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Social Media’s Beautiful Simplicity

For weeks now I've been meaning to get back to a blog I began a month ago--about the potential of social media to effect social (community) change. Returning to work after three months and having to remember what it was like to get up at 6 every morning, I set it aside. I then got "sidetracked" –more aptly, heartbroken – by the chaos in Atlanta's public schools, and wrote a blog that called for community healing. I planned, this past weekend, to get back to the social media conversation, although I knew it would be a stretch to apply my nascent experience in the virtual world to credibly analyzing its potential to change lives. In hindsight, I think I may have been avoiding it.
Then I got a posting from a visionary and passionate colleague, I'll call him "N", who is prolific in both his use of social media and his desire to change the world for the better. He posted about his experience helping people recover from the Tsunami in Japan… and inspired me and many of his friends to comment, applaud and learn more. I realized acutely that the time it was taking me to hone my thinking and words was the opposite of the best that social media has to offer—raw, immediate, sometimes visceral exposure and opportunities to grow.  In short, my beliefs are that Social Media moves, lives, motivates, advances…at the speed of light. At the turn of a dime. At the click of a keystroke.  Without action, it is limited in its impact. Combined with thoughtful action, it is powerful.
N spends lots of time thinking, reading and sharing what is important to him with others; a review of his Face book wall reveals a deep and sensitive mind. But he goes further by acting and grounding his beliefs with experience and perspective. He then returns to share this enhanced, deepened experience with others, affirming for himself and all of us that these ideals do pass the test.
N lives what I have been attempting to articulate. I lament my reticence and pathology to "get it right", ignoring the beautiful simplicity of being able – immediately—to share what were for me still emerging perceptions. I realize I can use his example to demonstrate my burgeoning theories on the intersection and connectivity of Social Media and social good, as he's already cooked and served what I am still building the recipe for.
He doesn't know I'm writing this (I'll share it once it's up) but I so appreciate his example of what can be.  And I'm also lovin' him for bestowing a sister tottering between two worlds just a little more time to get it together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Atlanta's Scarlet Letter: A Call for Community Dialogue

The cheating scandal in Atlanta's public school system is both painful and embarrassing for all of us who call this region their home. We're scared that we'll be stymied in continuing to cultivate the enormous investment of time, energy, money and hope that's been invested in this system and these children. In the nation's full glare, this adversity has thrown all of metro Atlanta into a crisis of faith – that we indeed have the will and trust in one another to come together on behalf of our children.  The decisions we make today will have long term implication for the region's support of public education.
"Many, many voices"
Historically, APS has never had great success in garnering timely, authentic public engagement with its constituents. As a result, information about school progress has been one-sided, and, until very recently, we were told that things were good. In our compliant acceptance of the message and the messengers, Atlanta lost the "public" in its public education system…opening the door to the past decade's unrealistic targets, undeserved accolades, limited connection points and lack of public accountability. And, while I applaud the school board's swift actions to address the institutional problems, I agree with a quote in Sunday's Atlanta Journal Constitution that "It will take many, many people and not just one man"… to move us forward.

Most of us are familiar with the wisdom, "It takes a village to raise a child". For Atlanta in this time and this place, this requires our understanding that public schools are, indeed, our schools. They do not belong to the superintendent, elected officials, or even parents. They belong to the community. Right now, kids are hurting, parents are worried, civic leadership is embarrassed, teachers are scared, funders are concerned, and the broader community is dismayed. The scandal is being discussed all over the community in groups as small as 2 and as large as the number of "friends" or re-tweets possible.  And many of these are atypical stakeholders, reflecting the city's changing demographics, and they are linking via ever-expanding social media networks. Many are teachers. Many are students.
There's an opportunity to move from what is now, too often, siloed, ill-informed, anger-tinged clamor to real conversation--but we need to do it together. To declare. To question. To understand how and why and if new requirements from Washington could cause such upheaval in Atlanta. To learn about how the best systems hold staff accountable. To understand school governance – at the neighborhood and board levels. To realize all the good that continues to occur within our schools. To affirm what we think and be open to gaining new perspective.  Most of all, as a community, to agree together on a vision for our children and the leadership that we need to achieve this vision.
Community Healing through Community Conversation
Atlanta needs transparent community-wide conversations about the future of our children and our schools.  Major objectives of the conversations would be increasing public understanding and engagement; providing focused input and support for moving forward; and, perhaps most importantly, reinforcing and reinvigorating our faith in one another -- as we remember that this is not about our image but rather about each other and about our children.  Remaining open and authentic, these conversations would
·         Have clear intent for input needed on critical issues
·         Be led and conducted by diverse and credible individuals/groups
·         Include the ability the "think high" (strategically and with the city's best interest in mind) and "reach low" (identifying tangible impacts on students and families)
·         Ensure mutual respect and tolerance for differing opinions
·         Use multiple tools and strategies, particularly social media, to engage traditional and new stakeholders
·         Bridge communities (civic, public, private, community-based, students)
·         Be able to move a group from dialogue to consensus decision-making

Public engagement of this nature is messy. Yet we now see – poignantly – what can happen when the public is not actively, consistently engaged in a reciprocal dialogue. Atlanta is a come-back city; we'll absolutely get through this. Yet right now, how we get through it matters as much as what we do --- and doing it well means opening up and reaching out further than we ever have before. Without this, we may gain forward progress but lose a rich opportunity to secure our community's heart and commitment on behalf of children.   
The village needs to talk -- everywhere, anywhere and with everyone possible. And we need to talk soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

40 Days and 40 Nights...sabbatical reflections

…That social media is not the boogey man
…That "status updates" can matter a lot
…That "status updates" cannot matter at all
…That tweeting ain't my thing
…That somebody somewhere is always listening
…That social media interaction, like everything else, can be overdone
…That politics really is entertainment
…That my generation was different but not better
…That writing on demand is a job
…That red wine can taste good– but I still have class if I prefer white
…That loves makes a home but nurturing makes a sanctuary
…That my grandparents were homesteaders
…That Martin Luther king broke bread with my momma
…How Aragon ended up with the Elves
…How to start a quilt
…That my abstract painting is too abstract to be artistic
…The cool pleasure of clay in my hands

…That time passes quickly
…That I still love basketball
…That I'm still bedazzled by the shining silver screen!
…That I love adventure-not as escape-but as life
…That my thumb's even greener than I thought
…The sweetness of not having to wait in line
…Late night moons
…Dancing til 2 AM
…To wear gloves in the dirt or unpleasant things may result
…That artists express as much as they create

…That the love of friends and family are our most precious gifts
…That I'm tougher than I thought
…That I get to control my stress
…How I want to work
…How I don't want to work
…That inspiration and strategy can encourage community
…That only sweat and patience transform community
…That now is the time to plan for later
…That I'm surrounded by a lot of good folks
That I couldn't recall as much because I was being asked to remember too much
…That water matters
…That the world keeps right on turning…
That good things come to those who wait

Monday, June 20, 2011

Turbulent Tides: Black Folks and Water

Like a monster wave, the realities of water quality and accessibility came rushing my way during my recent visit to Nicaragua. I couldn't avoid it. The lack of safe clean water threatens the health and livelihood of every man, woman and child there and in most "third world" countries: rotting teeth, bending bones, curling stomachs.  Its microbes transmit to food and clothing. In Nicaragua's most populous areas, it stymies economic growth by thwarting what should be viable industries such as fishing, farming and tourism. 
I know that the greater discomfort-and discovery- was mine. Nicaraguans have adapted to the water they have and what they can and can't do and expect.  But it was indeed a "Damascus moment" for me.
The relationship between African Americans and water is truly complicated.  We respect water but we don't "like" it; we know we need it yet we don't conserve it. For many, water is like a long-term partner who we take for granted: available, useful, expected, but not valued.  Don't take my word for it; ask any of us and we'll be able to name one or more of our family and friends who are afraid of water, don't really "like" water or can't swim.
In this blog I am expressing publically on what might be termed as "family "business – in this context, my family of fellow African Americans (black folks). Yet although a targeted message, I share it openly with my other families – of faith, of sisterhood, of love, of kindred spirit.  And I'd love to hear from you all.
As people of the Diaspora, African Americans hail from lands abundant with water -- a fact that would on the surface make this ambivalence unexpected. And while not an academician with research on this phenomena, I have an inkling of some of what may, deep in our psyche and soul, cause this schizophrenia.
African Americans understand that water represents livelihood and sustenance. We were and remain fishermen and women. We are voracious connoisseurs of the sea's fruits. We depend upon water to keep our bodies and lives clean and refreshed. And for the majority of African Americans of the Christian faith, we respect water as an important proxy for sacred rites of baptism and other religious ceremonies.
Yet for our people water has also represented pain and death. It was from across the water that traders came to practice the lucrative business of slaving. It was over water that African Americans were conveyed, bound, starving and brokenhearted, to begin lives in servitude. It was through treacherous waters we waded to escape armed men and angry dogs.  For others we hoisted water from streams and wells constantly, incessantly, to keep crops nourished, mansions spotless, animals satiated, strangers refreshed and meals prepared -- before exhaustingly repeating this cycle for ourselves.  Initially prohibited to swim for fear of escape and then by legalized segregation and institutional racism, it was in water that we lost many of our kin by downing.  The scars are psychological as well; even today many African American women –and some of our men -- fear water's disclosure of their hair's natural beauty because it is a beauty different from that which western society celebrates.   
It's time for an attitude adjustment.  We African Americans don't have to like water, but we do have to deliberately, intelligently start paying attention to it. For ourselves.  For our children. For our future.   .  Water is essential to our lives…to grow food…keep clean…provide power…control fire. Water helps to preserve our environment  and reduce energy ( which helps in reducing pollution and  fuel. Conserving water now means having water available in the future for recreational purposes, and minimizes the effects of water shortages.  Saving water saves money.
We don't have to become rabid environmentalists (less than 5% of donors and volunteers to environmental causes and organizations are African American), but we do have to understand the boundaries and needs of the earth we share and our responsibility to it.  As neighbors, we are called to be as active and deliberate in our conservation and care.
We don't have to jump into the deep end ourselves, but we have to be sure our children know how to swim (it is estimated that some 60% of African American children cannot swim). To relax. To enjoy. To save their lives.  I don't think I was alone when I viewed the images of the poor, African Americans stranded and killed during Katrina in wondering how many of them might have fared better if they were comfortable in water and could swim.
Of course there are many African Americans who appreciate water and other resources; who conserve and recycle and do many good things for the earth. There are many African Americans who love water and swim like fish. But it's way too few. I can swim and love playing in water. But now that I have lived the alternative, I know I must do more. I'm starting small – with how I brush my teeth, bathe, wash my clothes. Baby steps...starting first with my mind and my mouth—how I think and what I proclaim.
Because if more of us could begin to deliberately change our relationship with water – even if through our children -- then we can begin to value and preserve it. And I believe that this appreciation will grow and evolve…and possibly increase our sensibilities to even more of Mother Earth's provisions and needs.  
It's a love and hate affair -- and the hate threatens us all. 


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Revelations of a Reluctant Gardener

Like many, I regard beautiful gardens as works of art. My comfort with the earth was incubated early on: at the age of six, I plowed the dirt to fill 36-ounce Maxwell House cans with worms for my grandparents' fishing forays; at 5¢ per can it kept me well stocked in candy!  When I wasn't terrorizing worms or picking produce from their "backyard" (a 3-acre field) I labored at home, side by side with my mother, and witnessed the earthen beauty that could come from hard work and constant attention.  Although secretly thrilled when friends, neighbors and passersby provided compliments, I groused the whole time, never suspecting that I was being subliminally seduced by nature's captivating ecosystem.  
Truth be told, I've always been a reluctant gardener and, despite my history, have had inconsistent relationships with the soil that I have called my own. There are legitimate reasons for this, including concrete-filled urban settings; hostile, unforgiving soil and demanding jobs and travel schedules.  Yet in the past few years, I increasingly find myself on my knees, up to my elbows, wresting with my terrain to produce flora and more recently food.  And I don't know why!
Let me be honest. I do not find gardening therapeutic. I perspire plenty enough without placing myself in Atlanta's brutal summer heat. I've got a tricky back. I don't particularly like dirt under my nails, and I shiver at bugs and yes, even worms (oh the things we will do for money!).  I'm blessed to be in a region still very green and to have the resources to have visited landscapes near and far.
So I've searched my soul to figure out what now makes me so eager and excited about the hard work, joy and pain, and never-ending expense that gardening entails…what it is that keeps me in the dirt.  
Why do I dig?
·         I dig for the beauty…aesthetic delight for my sense and sensibilities. So much of this world is ugly but I have never been so desolate, so taxed, so removed that the touch or smell or feel of a flower cannot elevate me.
·         I dig for the practice…one seed, one bud, one plant at a time; I love the action of moving through it, coaxing and coaching new life and new possibilities. I even like it when I don't do so well, and must frustratingly clip, move or pull up what isn't working. Its ongoing, its real, its active.
·         I dig for the outcome…the colors, the textures, the smells. As one who does not consistently prioritize the end over the means -- believing there are times that the intent is paramount or that it is in the means that the prize is to be found -- in my yard, I'm going for the gold.
·         I dig to exert myself…for the toil that produces my sweat and tanned skin, strong arms and sore muscles. My professional life is very much a cognitive space of planning, meeting, talking, thinking, and writing. In gardening, I use my brawn and the pain I feel the next day are satisfying, building muscles that I don't use consistently.  Even more, my earthen produce is personal and tangible in a way that my professional product is not.
·         I dig for my mother and my grandmother…that their legacy continue in me. In a life and time very different from theirs, I honor this thread, affirming our kinship as solidly as our shared DNA, features and peculiar ways
·         I dig to learn…about so many things like how the sun moves and water flows; about insects, squirrels and birds; about light and shade.  Knowledge I would never gain if I didn't need to. Trivia that not only enables my produce, but interests me and rounds me and even softens me.
·         I dig to gain nuance…understanding when to be gentle and when to be tough.  Mastering the difference between a pinch, a cut and a prune; between tilling and raking; what's too much and what's too little; when to wait. Subtleties that manifest in my decisions and relationships.
My garden is still very much a work in progress, but at least now I get it.  And maybe the next time I'm in Home Depot with the "real" gardeners -- going into full panic at the overflow in my cart and the commitment I am making -- I won't feel so great a perpetrator after all. Maybe I'll smile, understanding why I do what I do, and confident that I will yield just what I need.

Shrimp Plant--attracts Hummingbirds :-)!!

Veggies-tomatoes, peppers, cumcumbers and strawberries

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is It Something I Said?

During my sabbatical I have been exploring the world of social media, seeking to determine its implications for my life and my work.  Late to the "dock", I realize that the ship has sailed: social media has already inalterably changed the way we think, act and communicate. However, I am equally certain that social media is and will remain an evolving, ambiguous, multifaceted medium, its efficacy and enduring impact on society undetermined for a long time to come.
That is how I imagine it should be. Unheralded, phenomenal, world changing stuff doesn't happen overnight with precision and clarity. Take the sewing machine, one of which I used for the first time in 40 years during my recent quilting class at Atlanta's Callonwalde Fine Arts Center.  When invented, the sewing machine was hailed as a technological innovation of epic proportion and impact, but not for the reasons asserted at the time: quickness, accuracy, and application for mass production. Its greatest impact wasn't realized until much, much later: as the first equipment produced for and marketed to women, it revealed a new cohort of consumers.  Gee, today we even buy cars. 
Yet we have already witnessed the many, many cool things social media can do and there is arising a bevy of consumer, academic, practitioner "experts" who analyze its present and hypothesize its future. I've had dozens of conversations about the topic and last week, in San Francisco-a region known for its entrepreneurial residents and technological inclinations-I had many more.  For this week's post, I decided this week to share some of the more pithy and impactful comments of others in the hope that they inspire and/or intrigue you as they did me.
"The actual process of community organizing has remained the same. However, social media provides platforms that expand access and engagement to help organize- virtual meeting space with the premise that this will expand interest in community issues.  The key question is the goal; more action via the virtual realm or personally? And how does it add up?" James Head, Senior Vice President, San Francisco Foundation
"When determining the most appropriate social media tools, recognize that each has its strengths, which should complement your strengths. However social media is not a substitute for the hard work of relationship building". Albert Ruesga, President, Greater New Orleans Community Foundation
"The more you want to connect, the more you have to share". Megan Swett, Director of Information Technology, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
(Because of social media)…"We now live in an 'everyone is smarter than anyone world'".  Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Editor, Nonprofit Management 101; Former Executive Director, Craigslist Foundation
"You must determine up front how much or little of yourself you are willing to share, because what you do share must be the real you, authentic and unedited ". Donna Wise, Principal, Wise Marketing Strategies
"African Americans have never had a large representation or voice and we continue to lose ground. Social media isn't going to do a thing about that." Renee Hayes, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, San Francisco
"You can blend your work and personal worlds-because those who love you understand."  " Open, transparent and agile is the way for future nonprofits."  Beth Kanter, CEO, Zoetica; Author, Beth's Blog; Co-author, The Networked Nonprofit
""The global Diaspora's discourse occurs wherever the Diaspora lives- therefore we must erase the divide between physical space by creating virtual communities. Museums can be that portal."  Grace C. Stanislaus, Executive Director, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco
"I am already a public figure with little privacy in my life, especially when I most need it. I don't want to add another access point." Nicole Taylor, President, East Bay Community Foundation.
"Social media is (can be) a radical disruption of power."  Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO, Change.org– Moderator
"Social media is an opportunity to build offline action with online tools." May Boeve, Director for Partnerships and Policy and Co-founder, 350.org
The answer to social media's influence on the future lays in our collective  intelligence, imagination and courage.  I'm just glad to finally be in on the experiment.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dear Facebook, Who Am I?

Since April I have been on official sabbatical from work, an amazing opportunity for which I am truly grateful. To make a small inroad into what for me has been unchartered territory, I commited to deliberately and consistently immersing myself in several forms of social media - along with resting and reflecting (still working on the rest part!). Relative to the virtual realm, my objectives were to 1) Experiment with several social media tools to become comfortable; and 2) Begin to understand how the integration of social media tools can improve my efficiency, communication and decision making when back at work (and time is quickly ticking away!) .

Although I signed up for Facebook (two pages), Twitter, and LinkedIN, and started a blog on Blogger, probably not surprisingly, my personal Facebook page has been the most accessible and is where I most interact. It's been fascinating: an international society page; inter/intra cultural forum; motivational seminar; newsroom; classroom; want/help/complaint resource; concert; comedy show (staged and impromptu); high school, college and family reunion; therapy; prayer service and more... all in one convenient click.

Truly, I have not yet figured out who i am in in this world nor how important it is that I do. However while going through some old emails sent by helpful colleagues as i embarked on this quest. One in particular- The 12 Most Annoying Types of Facebookers (http://articles.cnn.com/2009-08-20/tech/annoying.facebook.updaters_1_facebook-users-friend-online-social-networks?_s=PM:TECH) may be "old" news to many but as a newbie, I resonate with the descriptions, and have seen in myself more than one type.

Ouch! Can anyone else relate?

(CNN) -- Facebook, for better or worse, is like being at a big party with all your friends, family, acquaintances and co-workers. Facebook can be a great tool, and an occasional annoyance. What kind of Facebooker are you?

There are lots of fun, interesting people you're happy to talk to when they stroll up. Then there are the other people, the ones who make you cringe when you see them coming. This article is about those people.

Sure, Facebook can be a great tool for keeping up with folks who are important to you. Take the status update, the 160-character message that users post in response to the question, "What's on your mind?" An artful, witty or newsy status update is a pleasure -- a real-time, tiny window into a friend's life.

But far more posts read like navel-gazing diary entries, or worse, spam. A recent study categorized 40 percent of Twitter tweets as "pointless babble," and it wouldn't be surprising if updates on Facebook, still a fast-growing social network, break down in a similar way. Take a CNN quiz: What kind of Facebooker are you? »

Combine dull status updates with shameless self-promoters, "friend-padders" and that friend of a friend who sends you quizzes every day, and Facebook becomes a daily reminder of why some people can get on your nerves. Watch as Facebookers reveal bugbears »

Here are 12 of the most annoying types of Facebook users:

The Let-Me-Tell-You-Every-Detail-of-My-Day Bore. "I'm waking up." "I had Wheaties for breakfast." "I'm bored at work." "I'm stuck in traffic." You're kidding! How fascinating! No moment is too mundane for some people to broadcast unsolicited to the world. Just because you have 432 Facebook friends doesn't mean we all want to know when you're waiting for the bus.

The Self-Promoter. OK, so we've probably all posted at least once about some achievement. And sure, maybe your friends really do want to read the fascinating article you wrote about beet farming. But when almost EVERY update is a link to your blog, your poetry reading, your 10k results or your art show, you sound like a bragger or a self-centered careerist.

The Friend-Padder. The average Facebook user has 120 friends on the site. Schmoozers and social butterflies -- you know, the ones who make lifelong pals on the subway -- might reasonably have 300 or 400. But 1,000 "friends?" Unless you're George Clooney or just won the lottery, no one has that many. That's just showing off.

The Town Crier. "Michael Jackson is dead!!!" You heard it from me first! Me, and the 213,000 other people who all saw it on TMZ. These Matt Drudge wannabes are the reason many of us learn of breaking news not from TV or news sites but from online social networks. In their rush to trumpet the news, these people also spread rumors, half-truths and innuendo. No, Jeff Goldblum did not plunge to his death from a New Zealand cliff.

The TMIer. "Brad is heading to Walgreens to buy something for these pesky hemorrhoids." Boundaries of privacy and decorum don't seem to exist for these too-much-information updaters, who unabashedly offer up details about their sex lives, marital troubles and bodily functions. Thanks for sharing.

The Bad Grammarian. "So sad about Fara Fauset but Im so gladd its friday yippe". Yes, I know the punctuation rules are different in the digital world. And, no, no one likes a spelling-Nazi schoolmarm. But you sound like a moron.

The Sympathy-Baiter. "Barbara is feeling sad today." "Man, am I glad that's over." "Jim could really use some good news about now." Like anglers hunting for fish, these sad sacks cast out their hooks -- baited with vague tales of woe -- in the hopes of landing concerned responses. Genuine bad news is one thing, but these manipulative posts are just pleas for attention.

The Lurker. The Peeping Toms of Facebook, these voyeurs are too cautious, or maybe too lazy, to update their status or write on your wall. But once in a while, you'll be talking to them and they'll mention something you posted, so you know they're on your page, hiding in the shadows. It's just a little creepy.

The Crank. These curmudgeons, like the trolls who spew hate in blog comments, never met something they couldn't complain about. "Carl isn't really that impressed with idiots who don't realize how idiotic they are." [Actual status update.] Keep spreading the love.

The Paparazzo. Ever visit your Facebook page and discover that someone's posted a photo of you from last weekend's party -- a photo you didn't authorize and haven't even seen? You'd really rather not have to explain to your mom why you were leering like a drunken hyena and French-kissing a bottle of Jagermeister.

The Obscurist. "If not now then when?" "You'll see..." "Grist for the mill." "John is, small world." "Dave thought he was immune, but no. No, he is not." [Actual status updates, all.] Sorry, but you're not being mysterious -- just nonsensical.

The Chronic Inviter. "Support my cause. Sign my petition. Play Mafia Wars with me. Which 'Star Trek' character are you? Here are the 'Top 5 cars I have personally owned.' Here are '25 Things About Me.' Here's a drink. What drink are you? We're related! I took the 'What President Are You?' quiz and found out I'm Millard Fillmore! What president are you?"

You probably mean well, but stop. Just stop. I don't care what president I am -- can't we simply be friends? Now excuse me while I go post the link to this story on my Facebook page.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Creative Deconstruction: Pottery and Life

Recently I have been exploring some of my creative inclinations, seeing if in any of them I have the talent I always hoped for. It's a bit sobering, testing the reality of what you imagine you could do given the opportunity.  Of the three activities I've tried so far: belly dancing, pottery (hand building, not wheel) and abstract drawing, I love pottery.

I love the clay: feeling it, shaping it, painting it.  I love that with clay you begin with something you can see, touch, and smell. In hand building, the magic lies in the opportunities you have to shape your creation. Opportunities which, in so many ways, mimic life.  In "pinching", when I use my thumb from the inside to shape and mold, my finger becomes my heart that throbs and hurts and sometimes soars. "Coiling" is using rope-shaped pieces for reinforcement, like I feel when my mom and big sis and girlfriends buttress me when I falter. "Scoring and slipping" involves using wet clay to connect, reconnect, alter and amend, and for me parallels my commitment to reflection, prayer and fresh starts.  

Gemini that I am, clay's pliability has made me consider the alternative; how, after and despite the most intense effort and redress, does one deconstruct creativity that has gone awry?  When that which was created is not good?  Or has turned ugly?    

In my dance class, I don't try the moves I can't do well. In painting, I (continuously, incessantly) cover up or wipe clean my work, sometimes tearing up the paper.  Yet in pottery, once I have shaped, painted and fired a piece of work, I have learned that you only have two choices: ignore it or break it. And if you break it, you must smash it up so well that its pieces retain no relation to what once was its whole.

We often go through the same steps when life isn't working the way we like. Many times we ignore what is not right. We try to fix ourselves and the circumstances. We act differently and we change or rewrite the rules. Yet, like pottery, in life there are some situations that, by certain points, at particular times, and in dysfunctional circumstances, must be broken to be fixed…shattered to be made whole.   


A little about my fellow sculptors, all of whom have attended class together for several years:
The CDC employee, whose political ideology is likely far from my own, who lives in anxiety amidst chaotic, nonsensical political squabbling that threatens her home and livelihood. Who sculpts for her peace of mind and her five year old son…
The talented Argentinean engineer, a man of finite absolutes, who, despite his halting diction, is gregarious and comfortable in this place of abstracts, dust and colors. He recently returned from trip to his native county, checking on his sister who is undergoing her second bout of thyroid cancer…
The quiet, attractive redhead who vigorously "throws" all of her work, which is the process needed to create bowls, plates and large items. She uses unique materials and counsels the engineer comrade on how to support his sister-as she is a survivor herself for five years….
The instructor-a renowned southeast sculptor who has taught at this location for more than five years. Comfortable with herself and her craft, she laments the lack of opportunities for individual artists to grow their work and discipline.  Students from her four classes help her complete her first grant application for funding; as natural as she is in her craft, the art of Microsoft is foreign and frightening…
The restaurateur, who comes in weekly with woes of incompetent staff, facility mishaps and weak patronage. Her greatest pain, however, comes from the recent wedding of her only son to a woman for whom she has become clear about her dislike, who went so far as to select the dress she was to wear to the wedding…
The retired executive who wears his Georgia Tech tee shirt every week and can't stop himself from taking charge and knowing a little bit about everything—except when his pottery goes awry. Then he is reduced almost to tears and shuts up for fifteen minutes at a time…
The friendly, efficient soccer mom, who's keeps life going with her IPAD and phone in one hand and her paint brush in the other. She claims 50+ pieces of self-made pottery in her home (40+ in her attic), which she completes for the peace and surety it provides that her teens do not…
The wholesome, quiet girl-woman, in her first job, first apartment, who lives in north Fulton, works in Smyrna and has never been to Little Five points. She seeks positive ways to stay busy and worries what she'll do this summer since classes will be suspended.
Regular folk. Smart folk. Seeking solace. Living their lives. Playing with clay.
And me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ugly Babies

There’s nothing quite so disconcerting as an ugly baby. You know it’s true. Babies are supposed to be cute, cuddly, and adorable. Even when we know it’s a stretch, we automatically give them the benefit of the doubt; an upgrade to “lively” or “interesting”.
Yet…every once in a while,  when we peek below the bonnet, lift the stroller top or find ourselves face to face with the babe whose mother is burping him or her on the shoulder… we glimpse what we do not expect. And as much as we know that we’re all God’s children, that we all deserve love, that there’s time and lots of hope for all of us – when we see an ugly baby we react with just a little shudder. We look away. We move on.
So what’s my point? Recently I was in a discussion with a group of colleagues about the need for strong leadership in public education—particularly in our inner cities. Having spent a substantial portion of my career in and around this world, I’ve got a lot of opinions. We agreed that public school leaders have the same requisite skills for success in any field: strong content knowledge fueled by continuous learning; ability to form effective relationships; solid communications; strong work ethic; intelligence; and creativity.  Because school systems are public enterprises with multiple customers and complex business concerns, public school administrators must know business principles such as human and project management, quality assurance, business management and organizational development to be effective leaders.
Finally, we agreed that there could be no success without the belief that all children can learn. In fact the best educational leaders have a vision that all children will learn and achieve.
And then I proposed what I believe is an absolutely essential qualification that you won’t find listed on the job description, highlighted in a candidate’s job vitae nor discussed in the interview. Required: a love for ugly babies.
Our urban systems are filled with ugly babies-children for whom educational achievement has not been a given; whose families experienced limited academic success; who hail from depressed communities and distressed living environments. These are babies who make others cringe because of all that they don’t bring to the classroom. They can be unkempt. Their mothers and fathers, many of whom were ugly babies themselves, aren’t able to help them and may in fact be hurting them. Their pictures aren’t being carried in many wallets and they haven’t been bounced on many knees.  
So a vision that stops with academic achievement is not enough. The best-and most successful educational leaders, regardless of their tenure, status, contracts or politics, have to able to look at these ugly babies in all their inglorious unsightliness and let them know they are loved.  They must carry these children’s visages in their minds when constituents are yelling, school boards are demanding, teachers are stressing and corporations are exacting. When internal and external support wanes and special projects falter.  
Because here’s the truth: ugly babies and their sometimes ugly parents won’t ever care how much the world can offer to them until they first know how much the world really cares. 
With uncompromising love, however, a metamorphosis can occur. Our lens  sharpen as we realize that our repulsion is not for these babes, but for the reflection of ourselves that we see in them. In ugly babies, we see our neglect.  Our superficiality.  Our abuse.  We feel shame that can propel us to act.
The first action is to love them. Love our ugly babies. Only then can we help them let their beauty shine through.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

View from the Sidelines

When I decided to spend some of my sabbatical in Nicaragua I did it because I wanted to stretch; I wanted a hands-on volunteer experience; and I wanted to push myself physically.  But most of all i wanted to be anonymous...so that I could do and act and be myself without others' expectations. 

So I took off to a foreign land with a foreign tongue -- and my lack of Spanish and limited knowledge of the country did indeed keep me on the periphery. All people knew of me was my willingness to help-carry, type, serve-accompanied by an omnipresent smile (BTW this "condition" may have finally been cured: having never hung out in the jungle before, I ate quite a few bugs before learning to keep my mouth shut!).

I went into this experience trusting anonymity would bring me quiet and invisibility, freeing me from the responsibility to join the crowd without a need to avoid the crowd.  I learned that when anonymity is a choice it is a right and an opportunity.

I was struck by the clarity of perspective and perception that I experienced as an anonymous voyeur. I gained heightened meaning from tones, physical gestures and actions. I became a relentless observer. I laughed, not because I got the joke, but because I wanted to be in on the fun. My humanity had to be expressed through my eyes and touch. I intuited and synchronized my moods to those around me. I noticed much more quickly who was in pain...who had got beautiful eyes...who led and who was being led.

I recognized the attitude of adolescence worldwide and the grace that comes with age. I inhaled weird smells, notice interesting foliage and hear strange sounds. I got to know - and if I was lucky, understand - my own thoughts.  All of this I was able to share via my blogs, even as I struggled to articulate in person.

Being anonymous also meant that no one missed me when I was not there; my inclusion and input were not germane.  I saw how, if anonymity were not a choice, its evil underside can be isolation and illegitimacy. 
I guess you might think that I could have gained this clarity and perspective without going to Central America. You're right.

I guess you might remind me that in every room there is always an anonymous person who's thinking and feeling and watching much as I have described. Again you would be right. 

I guess you can tell that I have gotten used to being known and am usually somewhere near the center of things.  You're right. Yet I knew that right here, right now in my life, I needed to experience the realities of silence and obscurity. I needed to be on the sidelines.  

I'm home now, rested and grateful. These lessons were poignant, and with the help of my friends, I hope to remember them. And to always look -- and look out for -- the anonymous among us. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The view from above

A common expression for those of us who do strategic planning-a world of meetings and mind wrenching deliberation on philosophy and process- is to take "the 30,000-foot view" when setting a course. This is standard in the industry: even though we may get to more basic action planning that moves us from present to a future state, we are taught to start with the big picture. What's implied by this term is that at 30,000 feet we can  see further, better: we can project what's coming. That at 30,000 above ground level we have a more comprehensive, interconnected vista. We're somewhere between heaven
and earth and of course that's where vision lives.

All good stuff.

Today, flying home from Nicaragua, I can't wait to get to just 10,000 feet so that i can pull out my IPAD and play (you see at 10,000 Delta offers wireless internet). At 7000 feet its beautiful looking down. At 9000 the ground's getting hazy. And by the time we reach 10K, I can't see a thing but clouds. It makes me realize that the flaw in this analogy is that we can be as sightless in the big picture as we can be on the ground. The key is actually the balance- between theory and practice; thought and work.

This is a great challenge in the world of formal philanthropy (grantmaking foundations) because with some exceptions, we aren't the ones who ever practice the work. So we have to deliberately put ourselves into situations that expose us to real world, on the ground work- and in settings other than when we are invited to a presentation/site visit or for the ¨privileged few¨we invite in.

While this takes effort, it's necessary. At 30,000 feet, we miss the dynamic realities of the people and places we exist to help. We become satiated with our comfortable seats (its no coincidence they call it "cruising altitude"). We relax. We forget. We fall asleep. Our communities can't afford philanthropic institutions to develop solutions and hypotheses for scenarios we can't see, hear, or experience. It's unrealistic and can lead to elitism at best and at
it's worst, sloth. And it can damage.

So while thinking big picture, let's stay grounded. If we want to make a difference, it's the best seat in the house.