A Gangsters Path to Peace Prize

Dec 20, 2009

This month’s issue of Youth Today highlights the story of Brian King and his path from the streets of Chicago as a high ranking member of the Gangster Disciples to receiving the 2009 California Peace Prize.  The California Wellness Foundation recognized three leaders from throughout the state for their significant contribution to peace and violence prevention within our most vulnerable communities. 

I had an amazing personal experience while attending the conference where these honorees were recognized.  I found myself in a room with nearly 300 people who represented all walks of life and carried with them individual stories of pain and perseverance that were both eye opening and humbling. Some had been part of the problem that so many are trying to solve in our neighborhoods while others were the real victims.  I met an incredible woman who had lost both of her sons in two separate drive by shooting incidents 16 years ago and has since built an organization called “Drive By Agony” to work with youth and the media to build a voice against violence.  What touched me the most is that I was in a room full of people who have made a decision to be part of the solution and are committing their life’s work to doing what they can to BE the difference.  I loved what honoree Olis Simmons from Youth UpRising shared with us about preventing violence.  She said “Be expansive in your notion of prevention. It’s not simply preventing a physical disease; it’s preventing the loss of hope.”

Design Thinkers; the brillance of David Kelley

Aug 2, 2009

I read a great article last week from an issue of Fast Company Magazine about the brainstorming approach called design thinking.  Some say it is part art and part science.  I love the idea of a methodology that incorporates multiple disciplines and invites the world at large into the creative process.  Kelley’s firm IDEO  which established this approach called design thinking operates with a focus that lies at the intersection of insight and inspiration informed by business, technology and culture.  This kind of stuff gives me hope that we really can come up with solutions that nobody has before.  It gets even better when you read about Kelley’s willingness to share their methodology knowing that they will always be able to outdo what has been already thought of.  He doesn’t operate in the fear of scarcity.  It is a powerful combination of attitude and approach for the common good.  His next challenge?  Redesigning the way designers are educated at Stanford’s new “D School”.

Giving them a Voice; Digital Storytelling

Jul 8, 2009

I just finished some editing work on video we shot in the southwest Fresno community for a project we are working on for First 5 Fresno County.  The process is so illuminating.  I’m reminded once again of how much we all have in common and how much trouble we usually have as a society in seeing that.

The residents we interviewed live in one of our city’s most neglected neighborhoods, isolated by poverty and crime.  Regardless of the many societal gaps represented when working inside of disenfranchised communities you will find so many good people who just want opportunity, a better life for their children, the chance to learn, a way to connect with others and give back.  These inner city residents were comfortable talking with us because they could feel our heart.  They’ve seen us around and know we care.  Their instincts tell them that we can be trusted and that we aren’t going away.  As a result they are willing to open up and risk telling us their story.  These stories help us realize how much we do have in common. They honor the deep need we all have to express ourselves and they work to bridge those gaps that keep us from coming together in a way that  serves each other.

Digital storytelling is becoming a powerful medium thanks to the web. It allows us to capture human expression and gives all people, especially the most disconnected, a chance to use their voice.  The non profit sector is beginning to understand how to leverage this medium.  Organizations like the Center for Digital Storytelling are providing technical assistance around the world.  This week we are meeting with The National Campaign out of Washington D.C. to talk about using this medium for advocacy work, a project funded by The California Wellness Foundation.

Powerful communication will always touch your heart.  A good story will always come from your heart. What I love about working inside of these communities, is that the residents will be sure they can feel your heart before they’ll tell you their story.  It doesn’t get any more real than that.

Learning from Starfish

Jun 6, 2009

I’ve been working inside of at risk neighborhoods on and off for 10 years.  In the beginning it was about my fascination with the wisdom, survival strategies and the humility of the resident leadership I was meeting.  I was developing my own perspective of why we’ve been asked to go out among the poor. For me there was no shortage of valuable life lessons.  Later it became about partnering with the leadership from these neighborhoods to develop organizations that are sustainable and can scale their efforts. 

I  first met Rod Beckstrom 3 years ago.  We talked about his recent book, The Starfish and The Spider, Web site: http// www.starfishandspider.com. He and his associate Ori Brafman created a fantastic read on how decentralized organizations are changing the face of business and society~that like starfish, these decentralized organizations without a form of central command, are becoming one of our greatest global opportunities and challenges.  You see, starfish are made up of cells that are networked.  For the starfish to move, one of the arms must convince the other arms to move.  There is no one person in charge.  Furthermore, if you cut off the arm of a starfish, it will grow back.  If you cut off all of the arms of a starfish, they will all grow back.  The book highlights how the internet has become a breeding ground for leaderless organizations, how the Apaches managed to fend off the Spanish army for two hundred years and how organizations like AA have thrived and met the needs of millions with only a shared ideology and without a leader.  

 Our country is most familiar with centralized institutions and organizations.  Our culture has grown up with a hierarchy of power that has shaped our paridigm for designing structures, systems and strategies to effectively compete or conquer an enemy.  Our focus is largely on  the executive leadership. 

 What happens when that leadership isn’t centralized?

My frame of reference quickly went to what I’ve learned about the decentralized business model gangs employ to grow sustainable organizations within our society.  I believe they are our country’s biggest competitor when you begin to approach restoring and building communities that have become burdened with significant poverty statistics.  Without getting into the discussion of inclusion, or lack thereof, those of us in the business of community building spend countless time and brainpower trying to conceive of an organizational structure and approach to addressing poverty that will work.  What we haven’t given enough thought to is that the decentralized structure of gangs is working, and working incredibly well. Today, gangs are meeting the felt needs of our most vulnerable youth, recruiting them to join, providing for them, influencing their life habits, empowering and equipping them to lead and building  loyalty that sustains relationships. They are self organizing, provide equal access, connections and ’skin in the game’ for their membership. What if we were doing as good of a job building networks of people inside of at risk communities that were influencing their membership for the common good?   

In Fresno California, the Fresno Street Saints, Web site http://www.fresnostreetsaints.org are doing just that and are leveraging the wisdom, talent and skills of the residents themselves to build them.

Practical Wisdom

May 27, 2009

I watched a great video of Barry Schwartz’s talk at the Ted conference on our loss of wisdom in this country.  He defines practical wisdom as the combination of moral will and moral skill – the will to do right by other people and the skill to figure out how to do what is right.  His perspective was primarily related to corporate America and our bureaucracies.  I’m finding that we have a ton of practical wisdom inside of our most disenfranchised communities.  I learn so much from so many people I am getting to know.  They are just horribly disconnected.  Here is the link to Barry’s talk:


So one of my new friends in the community wrote to me this morning in reply to my email to her:

Marie wrote:

“Like i said before many people don’t even turn their heads for people like us, but you showed us a different side. Even though we’re still trying to hold on to the good positive ways you present to us we will still believe that The Almighty has His hand on us and many others. So we thank you and all the people involved for acknowledging us and if we can be of service please call. We’re willing to help as much as possible. Thanks again!”

Manuel and Maria
Manuel and Maria

We can’t miss people like Marie and her husband Manuel…..

I don’t want to miss them.

Hello World!

May 27, 2009

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