Archives for December 2013

Coming OUT as an Ally

When asked during my interview what motivates me to do this work in LGBT advocacy specifically, I responded that I was interested in the power of theatre to cohere and uplift marginalized communities. I gave examples of the oppression that LGBT communities face.

I told my boss-to-be that I hoped a year spent working for The Theater Offensive could help make me the best ally I can be.

The Theater Offensive’s mission is to present the diversity of LGBT lives in art so bold it breaks through personal isolation, challenges the status quo, and builds thriving communities.

In the four neighborhoods where TTO focuses, we work to inspire OUTness through OUT In Your Neighborhood programming.

OUTness – being honest about one’s sexuality and gender and then choosing to share this with others – is our community’s greatest cultural contribution to society. While the term OUT is most often associated with the LGBT movement, the concept of OUTness resonates far beyond it. OUTness is the way in which people’s personal identity can contribute to a movement. Identifying society’s privilege systems and compelling activists to be more honest about our relationships in those systems can contribute to the dismantling of racism, sexism, classism, and other institutional oppressions.

The courage and specificity in that statement continually blows me away. Perhaps it is because I am from the south and we do not always say things directly. Perhaps it is because I—like many others—have become far too comfortable classifying the variety of institutional oppressions as different fights.
At any rate, this declaration of OUTness has offered me plenty of food for reflection in my first three months. This definition pushes beyond tolerance, acceptance, towards something more like solidarity.

At some point in my life, I have been called an “honorary” Asian, Jew, lesbian, Afro-Latina, first generation college student and Indian. None of these identities actually correspond to ones I hold, but rather reflect groups that I have felt affinity towards. This “honorary” label is problematic for a couple of reasons: first, it allows the other person to forget my identity and think of me as an “exception to the rule” rather than part of a diverse community of black, straight, cisgender, or non-religious people. On the other hand, it is problematic, because it lets me forget what my relationship is to the system that makes each of those groups an “other” in some way.

OUTness can be uncomfortable, but deep examination of my place in these systems that adversely affect communities I care deeply about will make me open to criticism and help—open to hearing the “oops” and the “ouch”.

In the end, I feel empowered by this notion.

I can affect change as a self-loving, feminist African descendent. I can inspire and support White allies to support People of Color. I can also use my privilege as a cisgender, straight ally to affect change.

I find this reality check refreshing! I can be OUT about my journey as I grow into the ally that I hope to be. I don’t have to get it all right from the start.

I encourage anyone who reads this post to consider….are you OUT? Will you take the #allychallenge?

Learning to Listen as a Leader

Kouzes and Posner in The Jossey Bass Reader on Nonprofit and Public Leadership describe the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. This fellowship has given me the opportunity to be around many leaders. Here at the Carolina Thread Trail and the Catawba Lands Conservancy, I work closely with Tom Okel, the Executive Director. I see him interact with many other leaders and people of influence in the government, the private sector, and in corporations. Of these five practices, there is one that stands out in my mind as one that is the most crucial and yet underutilized by many people with whom we interact. This practice is the ability to listen. To truly listen and to listen well.

When our organization goes to donors, foundations, grant committees, government officials, corporate partners, and volunteers, it is essential for us to hear what they are saying and understand their point of view. If a donor cares about contributing for reason X, we don’t want to waste all our time and efforts explaining to him or her the benefits of supporting us for reason Y. If townspeople in a rural county don’t support the growth of the trail in their area, we need to be able to understand their concerns so we can properly demonstrate our cause in a way that addresses those specific problems. The power of listening can demonstrate so many things.

I’ve been impressed by Tom’s ability to listen and process what other people say and I have been equally as surprised at the inability of other I’ve run across to apply this skill. I see Tom solve a problem faster by understanding the underlying issues and also demonstrate that the organization truly cares about the opinions of parties we work with. As a non-profit, we are so dependent on community engagement and support from all the sectors we work with it is no wonder this tool can be such a game-changer.


Impact Partners – Davidson College &YES Prep Public Schools

Working as an Impact Fellow for YES Prep Public Schools certainly ensures that my days are never predictable. Collaboration with the Communications, Advancement, and District Partnership Teams provides me with varied insight into the professional world I never would have gained in another postgrad position. Apart from planning the YES Prep College Rush Run, I’ve assisted with organizing press conferences, currently serve on a task force which works to place students into our schools, and will soon learn video production and website management.

While I enjoy every aspect of my fellowship, working from the Home Office means I don’t interact with kids on campuses as much as other YES Prep employees. During the fall college fair, however, I was able to see for myself the incredible opportunities YES provides its students. As I passed around information about the upcoming run to college representatives, I obviously kept an eye out for the Davidson table. It was exciting to see a fellow Wildcat just a few weeks before my own first homecoming as a Davidson graduate. As a YES Prep Impact School, each year, Davidson accepts cohorts of students and partners with the College Initiatives team to ensure their success.

Impact Partners - Davidson College &YES Prep Public Schools

Sarah McIlroy, Davidson Admissions Counselor, and me at the YES Prep College Fair!

After chatting with Sarah McIlroy, the Davidson admissions counselor, I stepped back and watched the gym of YES Prep’s Southeast campus fill with eager high school seniors. As I looked over the crowded space, it dawned on me: every single one of them will be accepted to college. Here, I saw, hundreds of students, many whose first generation immigrant families never envisioned higher education for their children, speaking to over 150 of college counselors. For these students and their parents, college was no longer a reach, but a reality that YES Prep made possible.

It’s difficult to describe the excitement I felt that day, and I’m unsure if I conveyed it successfully, but in that moment at the college fair, I was infinitely thankful to have been partnered with an organization dedicated to its success. Am I surprised that YES Prep was named one of Houston’s the Best Places to Work? Not really, I witness the hard work and creativity of my coworkers every day and am lucky to be amongst them. I look forward to seeing YES Prep grow and am thankful to become a small part of their efforts!


Swimming in Trash

Swimming in Trash

Day 2 Trash Crew celebrates their effort

Crunch, crunch, crunch. I walked from the trails’ edge to the shoreline—about 10 feet. The crunching wasn’t leaves fallen from the trees, it was trash. Every step was the crunch of trash. Seven Oaks Trail was an incredible graveyard of trash.

On the edge of the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, we’ve been working to complete the Seven Oaks Trail, a 2.8 mile segment that is part of a 5 mile connector loop. This is a beautiful trail with a diversity of flora and fauna as well as extensive portions along the shore of Lake Wylie. However due to its location and the recent flooding this past summer, Seven Oaks has experienced an unfortunate problem. An incredible trash problem.

When there is massive flooding in a region, all of the trash is collected by the floodwater and sent into the creeks and streams due to insufficiencies in our storm water management systems. The trash makes its way into our lakes and rivers. Floodplain shorelines then quickly convert in trash depositories. When the waters finally go down, we can see the results along these shores and the result of our society’s waste production. Thousands and thousands of bottles; hundreds and hundreds of cans, balls, toys, shoes, tires, cigarettes, lighters, spray cans, treated wood, and Styrofoam. That’s what covered the shores of Seven Oaks Trail a few weeks ago.

Prior to our trash pickup, this property was annexed by the City of Belmont. I’d like to give a shout out to the City of Belmont because it is efforts like theirs that inspire our mission, build partnerships for better communities, and show the power of working together. Folks from the City of Belmont called us up to welcome the CTT to Belmont and informed us that they’d love to help. Belmont offered a huge dump truck and recycling services. Something we wouldn’t have been able to contract without them. Thanks to Belmont, we were able to coordinate a huge effort to collect trash and recycling on our new trail in time for the opening on December 6th.

The Carolina Thread Trail has a lot of work days with staff, volunteers, and corporate partners. A few weeks ago, the Carolina Thread Trail worked over two days with staff and volunteers to get this trail ready for use. In the freezing cold, dedicated volunteers came and help us pick up the gross, seemingly endless amount of trash along the shore. By the end, we had collected 136 bags of recycling, 62 bags of trash, 32 old tires, and 32 bags of pre-collected trash along the road by City of Belmont Public Works Crew. In total, the clean-up weighed in at 1,385 lbs. or approximately ¾ a ton of trash and debris.

What an impact.