“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -- Margaret Mead

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monday, June 27th-Day 3: Story of Self

Have you ever had the feeling you were called to something greater? Known that there’s a reason you are where you are, at that precise moment. The feeling that, “this is it.” The feeling Matt Damon described in The Adjustment Bureau when he said, “If we’re not meant to be together, then why do I feel like this?” 

Now, imagine that you were surrounded by acquaintances which were quickly becoming your friends – and the entire room had this feeling. In other words, we are all here for a reason. No matter how different we are, how different our lives have been up to this point, we all share certain values. We all have a story that has brought us to where we are.

Harvard Tour Group photo
Mi LLI familia. The shared experience connected our hearts forever.
So, what’s your story? Often, it comes from instances in our lives that have hurt us and angered us. But then they change us. There was a challenge, a choice and an outcome. This is called the story of self. You have millions of instances in your life that can be shared with a group that you want to move to action based on your shared values

OK, Here goes:

My father and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. I’m exactly like him – proud and stubborn, afraid to make mistakes and needing to be, well, needed. I’ve come to understand the old man a little, but it wasn’t always that way. If there was anything that ever stuck with me, however, besides knowing exactly how not to treat your overly sensitive daughter, were the words my dad told me about (1) love and (2) a promise to be accountable to him personally for completing my education. There was nothing more important to him. Nothing. He said, “prometame me que vas a coronar.”  What it means is to finish, go all the way and do right by me. Well, being the rebellious, snot-nosed replica of my father I was, I didn’t listen. I was going to do what I wanted to. So, I ran. I ran from my family and left my friends behind. I ended up flunking out of my first year at Colorado State University and would give up on education until a bad break up led me back home to Miami. I started working as a legal assistant and worked alongside a friend of mine who was doing the same thing I was – but he was going to college too. Then, I made a choice. I decided to do right by my dad, to be an example for my little brother (who’s not so little anymore), and to make my mother proud. I enrolled in Miami Dade College’s paralegal program as a nontraditional student – working full time in order to pay my own way through school. Now, I’m near graduation and only two semesters away from fulfilling a promise to my father I made when I was 16. In his own way, my dad was telling me that an education was the only way to have security in this life. That if he could go back and change things, he would do it too. He decided to be a father instead and gave that dream up – but I had a chance to do something better. Completing my education has opened so many doors of opportunity for me. I will be the first in my immediate family to graduate – one of only a handful in my extended family to do so. But I couldn’t have done it without perseverance, hard work and the support of family and friends I made along the way. After all my mistakes in my youth and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to make graduation a reality there’s only one truth: if I can do it, so can you. We are all capable of making sacrifices to achieve something better. We are all blessed with a willing mind and the ability to persevere. Make a promise to yourself. Promise yourself that no matter what, you’re going to make it. You won’t let yourself down. Because you are more intelligent, beautiful, capable and worthy than you think you are.
If only I could have given this speech live. You would’ve noticed how I choked up as I wrote it, then had to take a break before I could finish. I can’t make this stuff up. What I can do is own it. Learn to own yours. No matter how dark, how hurtful, how big of a scar. You are the person you are today because of it.

Now, to end this post, here’s Harvey Milk’s 1978 speech, “You Cannot Live on Hope Alone,” given before he was assassinated. Leave me a comment if you can relate to it, if it upsets you, if it inspires you to action.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday, June 26th-Day 2 (3 of 3): My Aztec Moment

We had a special guest that evening, David Carrasco, a humble and passionate man with a heart for the religious history that is intertwined with our cultura. He accurately described how important our religious roots are – you cannot pretend to understand Latinos without first understanding the deeply religious blood that pumps in our hearts.

Carrasco speaks
David Carrasco, religious historian, anthropologist and Mesoamericanist scholar, presents “Can the Latino Demography Lead to a New Democracy?” during our first dinner.
And he would know about our culture. The man has a Ph.D. in Religious History from the University of Chicago. He co-wrote an encyclopedia on Mesoamerican culture. He’s had widely viewed exhibitions -- only 800,000 people viewed his Aztec exhibition in the Denver Museum of History. Surprised smile

He’s been honored with the “Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle” – only the highest honor possible from the Mexican government for a foreign national for contributions to understanding Mexican history and culture.

What I did not expect, however, was to walk away for a yearning for understanding my own roots. A realization, for the first time, of my ancestors will within me. And the picture that drove it home:
Listen to your ancestors
Listen: to your ancestors” by Gabriel S. Gaytan 
Carrasco helped me to be recognize that there is a long line of ancestral history behind each one of us, a will that lives in our hearts handed down from generation to generation. A common scar that has worn on the sweated brows of those who labored here before me. And the good news? We have an opportunity to be their voice.

David Carrasco
Vanessa Chalmers, Laura Barrera, yours truly, David Carrasco, Jessenia Guerra, Luis Sanchez, mentor Natalie Sanchez and Anabetsy Rivero.
Needless to say, I’ll be spending some time en mi patria, Colombia, and I’ve already spent countless hours updating my iTunes library. Smile

Sunday, June 26th-Day 2 (2 of 3): Learning to Step Back

Then, it got real. Our program manager and miracle worker, Dario Collado, welcomed us to “the big leagues.” We’re no longer in the minors. Boy, we didn’t know just how right he was. He was trying to tell us that we would never be the same – that we are, as of that moment, responsible for the future – destined for great change. (Geez, Dario, no pressure.)
If you thought the lessons stopped there, you’re kidding yourself. Loren Gary, associate director for leadership development and public affairs at the Center for Public Leadership, began reconceptualizing what we thought we knew about leadership. Gary spoke of the inner and outer journey of leadership:
  • Inner journey: self-awareness, learning how you work
  • Outer journey: listening (perhaps the GOP could take a lesson here), learning how to read a group, form a vision, communicate compellingly, mobilizing work and strategy

In short, focus on enjoying the process of becoming. Using life as a living, breathing experiment to personal development through goal setting. Or, in Warren Bennis’ words in On Becoming a Leader:
No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. So the point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all your skills, gifts and energies – in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and enjoy the process of becoming.
Deep. I know. We also were taught a method for setting goals in order to “become” our best self. The point of the goal is to see where you were and where you are going, using goals that mattered to you. In other words:
What you can measure you can manage, what you can manage, you can change.
Well, in comes Marshall Ganz.
This man changed our lives. Read more about him here and here and here and here and here and here and especially this story.
If you (yes, you) take anything, anything at all, away from this blog post, it’s the lesson by Ganz on the true definition of leadership:
Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.
Let’s read that again. 
Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.
Much to my amusement (not “haha” amusement, of course, but “oohh” ), the first story Ganz shared on leadership organizing was that of Moses! Particularly relevant here is the exchange between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro in Exodus 18 where Jethro tells Moses, “the work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” Sound familiar? Moses agrees and implements strategy by mobilizing other capable men to lead groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
In other words, instead of having one person bearing the responsibility of carrying the organization, that leader enables others to distribute the work. The “one person does all” is a dependent model. There’s also the scenario where “everybody’s a leader” or independent. What Ganz was showing us, however, was that we’re interdependent, and must allow others to grow their capacity for leadership and avoid stepping in to “do it better.”
Yikes! One person does it all!
Let’s all be leaders!!!
Now that’s more like it. The “snowflake” represents interdependent leadership organizing.
For detailed explanations on Ganz’s organizing, see his module here and here.
My biggest lesson (or “takeaway”), is that I’m learning how to let go of enough control to allow others to lead, or stepping back. News flash: other people are just as capable and they bring to the table perspectives and ideas that you cannot. And, yes, they can even do it better than you. (I know, that’s a hard lesson for us Type-A’s).
The second takeaway was the teaching style: (1) explanation, (2) modeling, (3) practicing and (4) debriefing. Explain the subject, model the behavior, break out in groups to practice it and then come back and talk about what worked and what didn’t. Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. What’s most important? Debriefing. Reflecting on what worked and what didn’t allows you to really put into action the most effective practices.
Right about now you’re thinking “enough already, more pictures.” See the next post.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sunday, June 26th–Day 2 (1 of 3): Tour de Harvard

Either it was the excitement of the trip or the birds that wouldn’t shut up outside my window – regardless, I was up by 6:15 this morning – without an alarm. A little annoyed at not being able to go back to sleep, especially considering we went to bed so late last night, not to mention the lack of COFFEE (sorry, but I need my cafecito in the morning), I took advantage of my restlessness and decided to go for a jog. Yes, a jog. At 6:15 a.m. On a Sunday. I know!

Harvard Law Library. Beyond that -- the dorms of little sleep.
I thought I was the only crazy person who couldn’t sleep. Nope. As soon as I walked out the door, I ran into another coo-coo-for-cocoa-puffs up-at-dawn-on-a-Sunday crazy person like me, Janna, from University of California Merced. It was kind of a relief I wasn’t the only one, although secretly I wondered whether this would be a good thing (I typically fly solo at the gym).
Turns out, Janna is one of the most interesting Latinas ever! Hellllooo. She’s a mechanical engineer working as a research assistant for UC Berkeley on top of her 3 businesses, including a Mission Foods independent distributorship, a healthy Mexican cuisine restaurant supporting only local farmer’s products and a media magazine. AND she’s a self-made entrepreneur at 26 years old! She was well aware of what it took to get into UC Berkeley, her dream school, and was both grateful and humbled by the Harvard experience. Hats off to you, Janna! Something tells me I’ll hear about Janna in the future and I will be able to say, “I knew her.”
Fast forward to normal waking hours – 7:30 a.m. – and everyone is gearing up for the much anticipated tour of Harvard. Mind you, our week is packed and this was our calm before the storm. We're all looking and smelling good, chipper as can be, right? Not for loooonnng. One of our crew, Anabetsy, tripped and took a dive head first from the top of the stairs: serious face plant. Well, more like a leap that seemed in slow motion as she fell meanwhile everyone said "wth?" and "oh, ish." No visual of the event, but here's the closest representation found on flickr:

Don't worry. No major injury. Natalie, the oh so careful mentor, took care of her while the rest of us went on the tour. (We later learned they ran into a Barney-esque Lobster in Harvard Square who gives hugs.) Ok, so the moment you've been waiting for: less type-y, more look-ey:

A regular day for Summer students.

Where's the yellow brick road?
Memorial Hall - 305 Rise
Two of my favorites at the Weiner Memorial Library.

David Grasso, mentor (and tour guide!) shows us the ropes around Harvard.
Don’t expect me to recount the story behind each building, but the one I do remember is that of the “three lies” of the John Harvard statute and the golden shoe. There’s a reason it’s golden. People rub the shoe for luck -- but our luck was the mentors telling us not to. Think: yellow snow.
Jessica at Golden Shoe
Don't touch the golden shoe!!! Disappointed smile
On to the Center for Public Leadership we went. We had lunch with Farouk Shami, the millionaire entrepreneur/hairdresser for a talk on Leadership and Business. He talked about not giving up on your dreams and told the story of when his parents disowned him for pursuing his dreams as a hairdresser, and when his doctor told him to give up his line of work when his skin had an allergic reaction to hair dye. Through these stories, he advised us to never take no for an answer, question the  norm and have the guts to stand up for what you believe in. Considering his success (see Day 1), one would be wise to heed his words of wisdom!
Farouk - Ldrshp n Biz
Farouk came to America in 1965 with $71 in his pocket. He is the Founder and Chairman of Farouk Systems, Inc., a multinational corporation that manufactures the world renowned brands BioSilk and CHI.
But that was just the beginning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Interim Report

Hello, peeps! Consider this my "I haven't had a chance to update my blog and wanted to post something to keep it interesting" post.

Our group, 305 Rise, has met for the first time and we're scouting schools and administrators who will help us with our project. The "main idea" (which is subject to change) is this: enable a group of high school students, through leadership training and mentoring, with the goal of creating a "club" that will focus on going through a mock college application process (including a financial aid application, getting letters of recommendation, testing assessments, personal essays). This "club" will garner support from local organizations, e.g, Strive for Sucess, school administrators and parents. The ultimate goal is to help at least 60 students feel prepared to enter college because they would already know the process.

That being said, we have a lot of work to do. It is my hope that by focusing on one school, we can take this "big idea" and make it feasible while also making a difference. With the tools we learned at the LLI, and the continued support of our mentor, Natalie, along with faculty at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership and Miami Dade College, si se puede.

I was also recently interviewed by Walter Villa, a freelance writer for the College Forum and ESPN, on the post-LLI experience. The College Forum, por si te interesa, is a newsletter by MDC connecting the stories of students, faculty, staff and alumni. That article is due out in September and I'll post it once it's available.

In the "interim," I'll leave you with some of the media coverage of the Harvard LLI:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Saturday, June 25th - Day 1

Weeks of anticipation, preparation, packing and even almost missing my flight -- I set my alarm on p.m. instead of a.m. -- finally felt real once I (along with my dream team) got picked up by our mentor Natalie and hopped on the Boston subway system. This was totally new to me, a chica from Miami, where we ride Metro Movers on an overhead railing system. We later found out that subways found a neat trick for advertising: movable pictures along the walls of the subway that resemble a flip cartoon -- ok fine, I'll just show you what I mean:

From art students at Eastmont High School "flip-off" contest
So, the million dollar question - what do we expect out of LLI? - asks Natalie. Being the first day, I had no clue! I waited my turn as I tried to think of something witty or charming to say. I figured I'd let my teammates go first and see what sort of cool things they'd come up with -- and they did: public speaking, being assertive while maintaning approachability, time management, balancing multiple obligations while learning to delegate responsibilities, goal setting skills. Then, in comes Jessica, blurting out whatever I've always heard I sucked at. I wanted learn how to listen. (My long term boyfriend would get a kick out of that -- "Jessica, listen? No way.") Oh, yeah, and "what she said" about setting specific, manageable goals sounds good too.

We awkwardly dealt with our luggage in and out of the bus, in and out of the subway and finally onto Cambridge Harvard Square cobblestone (FYI ladies - cobblestone sucks for heels).

Harvard Square
Well, at least we got a workout. By the time we walked to the Shaw Dormitory Hall, we were sweating bullets. My suitcase and carry-ons felt 100 lbs. heavier than before and worse still, I needed a serious shower (recall, I woke up late on "flight day" so after the "where are you?" phone call and the "oh *!@#, what time is it?" reaction, I splashed water on my face and bolted). At this point, we were all desperate to rest. Little did we know that we wouldn't rest for a week.

We got our dorm room keys, bed sheets and towels from our mentor and were introduced to what would be our homes for the week. I quickly threw my crap on the thing-I-was-supposed-to sleep-on a/k/a mattress. I don't even want to think where the "manchas" came from. We were getting the full dorm experience, shared showers, funky smells and all. Still, my "neighbors" were my teammates and I was happy to have a place to stay.

Not long after settling in half-assed, we were gearing up for a group dinner at Fire & Ice Restaurant - a hibachi buffet (translation: totally new concept to me) in Harvard Square. Of course, the visit wasn't complete without a glamour shot in front of the Fire & Ice sign:

LLI Miami Cohort from left: Luis, Laura, Vanessa, Madonna, er, I mean, me
The concept was simple: choose your ingredients (pasta, meat, veggies, whatever) then give your bowl of raw goodness to one of the hibachi "chefs" to cook your selected dish in the sauce you want. The hard part was knowing what the hell I wanted and where the line started. Whatever happened to menus and ingredient lists? I'm not that bad in the kitchen, but even I follow recipes! Add to that chaos on a Saturday evening about 50 other confused nonresident souls. Seriously, we just needed a disco ball and a DJ to make it a party. 

All right, all right, I'll get to the point. The surprise guest that evening was Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur-past gubernatorial candidate-hairdresser-inventor, um, billionaire. Farouk invented the first ammonia free hair dye after finding out that he was allergic and would have to give up being a hairdresser. Farouk admitted that, to his family, a hairdresser career was not what they had in mind for their son. But he's done mighty well for himself: he's the man behind SunGlitz (the spray that lightens your hair in the sun, yeah, I would know, I used loads of the stuff when I was 16), BioSilk, and the excellent CHI hair styling products. Farouk was generous enough to give all the LLI students a gift of the CHI Shampoo/Conditioner/Leave-in. Yes, he even gave it to the guys. What's real interesting (yep, I knew that'd get your attention) is Farouk partnered with NASA for his CHI hair iron, using nanomaterial ceramic technology developed by NASA. And, let me tell you, the guy's a hoot to be around. More on the story behind the man in Sunday's post. 

Laura, Farouk Shami (making his "CHI" face) and yours truly at Fire & Ice
After dinner, we rendezvoused back to the dorms, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the Harvard Square "feel" at night. The evening felt lively, full of promise and excitement. But we were exhausted. Like, really, really exhausted. 

But, guess what? That wasn't all. You're enjoying my blog wayyy too much to stop reading, aren't you? The absolute coolest thing happened: Natalie gave Vanessa her first lesson in riding a bike. Don't ask me how the conversation between the two got started, all I know is that we picked up Nat's bike on the way to the dorms and a minute later Vanessa was attempting to get on it while Nat held the back seat and steered the handlebar. I'm serious! I've got proof:

Vanessa's first bike riding lesson
OK, so it was a little awkward for Vanessa, but don't you remember the first time you were learning to ride a bike? You felt you were absolutely going to just die if you fell. The "I'm never going to do this right" feeling. Oh, yeah, then you actually fall and sure as hell don't want to get back on the damn thing. At least, not right away. Well, we were witnessing all of this in the making (and, no, she didn't fall) and couldn't have been more impressed with Natalie's patience and Vanessa's commitment. It's the second most memorable thing to my mind that occurred in our group (the first one to be discussed in Sunday's post -- in detail).

So the very last thing before we called it a night into dream oblivion was the first "debrief" in Natalie's room. For you non-LLI folk (that's not a diss!), debriefing is basically where we discuss our "takeaways" (what we learned). We would do many more of these throughout the week. When you have tons of information shoved down your throat, the debriefing helped to process some of it. Especially in a group setting - let me tell you somesin' (wanna Cuban accent): I used to hate group work, but we learned that we all have different talents and thus different resources to bring to the table. The first debrief was a sign of all that. 

Upon reflection, the first night at LLI was by far the easiest to get through (i.e., no class).