Friday, December 30, 2011

Untie the Knot! The Next Stage

Using the "Untie the Knot" activity I will have the chance to make a serious connection between the importance of communication (using your voice) and maximizing community resources. This activity offers the space for youth to practice thinking about the real application of successful communication and it's use for them in the real world. Pairing this with a community mapping activity using their bodies as props will give the resource context and possibly the opportunity to do some acting and role-playing (utilizing persuasion).

As I work to inspire people young and old to commit to my program for strategic persuasion and community resource use I need a unifying call. Now, I've taken note of many healthy food champions rhetoric and their use of guilt to mobilize but I would like to use a vision of "maximizing the good" instead. The health of the youngest is what needs protecting and any reasonable minded adult can relate to a theme of "doing the most with what you have". It is this process of "maximizing/doing the most" that requires organization and education, because truthfully we all advocate (push for a vision of our community) any time we interact with our neighborhoods, businesses, churches, schools, etc. Now, imagine formally forming a proper advocacy crew through teamwork, critical thinking, persuasion skills, mapping skills, and utilizing personal creative talent. Like a Y, from divergent directions this team would find unity in a common purpose. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Pitch Will Get Them...

"New leaders build bridges, establish free spaces where citizens can be supported as community change agents and problem solvers, and continuously foster the emergence of new leaders" (Yvonne Bynoe, Stand & Deliver)

What I am offering is an opportunity for young people to learn what it's like to champion health. Any young person that joins me will enjoy fun, food, and friends while learning key advocacy skills necessary for leadership. This will not be a journey down the road of oppression and despair but rather a chance to reevaluate our community and maximize the positive social determinants and add additional ones for future generations. I see opportunities for all the young people who join me to help build a world where every neighborhood has safe playgrounds, community garden space, corner stores supporting healthy diets, experiential culinary learning in schools, and more. Through proper advocacy education young people will learn how to demand more of themselves, their families, their communities, and beyond in a safe and respectful manner.

Before beginning this pitch, together with the young people, draw a quick map of the neighborhood. This map should include all "health sites" so any playgrounds, gardens, corner stores, bike lanes, etc.

Okay. So, we all know what we are up against: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. but what are we fighting for? What are you all fighting for? What would you like to see in your neighborhoods? I'll tell you what I'd like to see. In fact, I'd like to show you all what I'd like to see. I need everyone to, please, close their eyes.

Imagine we are standing outside of the school. Right out front in the street. Now I'm going to need you to really push your imagination because we are going to do some flying. Are you ready? Do some stretching in your mind. Bend your knees, stretch your arms, and stretch your back. Now crouch down and push up and start flying. 10 feet up, now 20 feet up, and finally 30 feet up. Just above your school. Now, at this height you can see for miles, right. But I want you to focus just on this neighborhood. So, someone without opening your eyes, tell me what you see directly in front of you. Can you see any where to exercise or purchase food?

Waiting for student to answer...

Now, we all need to turn our heads to the left. Let's make sure we are all on the same page. Raise your hand if you are still flying above the school? Raise your hand if you are looking to your left?

Someone please raise your hand and tell me what do you see to the left? Can you see any where to exercise or purchase food?

Continue until students have done an entire 360 degree turn in their heads and have recorded all health sites.

Now, we will be using our creativity to grade these sites. I need ___ volunteers (number dependent on number of sites recorded by students). Who would like to volunteer?

Take first volunteer and, based on the map, place them in a corresponding location in the room. Ask volunteer to freeze while we judge their health characteristics.

Now, using my food principles we are going to create a grade and dance/stance for our site volunteer. Okay so, The first food principle is: serve fresh foods. We want this done because the fresher the food, the better the nutrition. Does this food site serve fresh food? [Define fresh food]

Wait for students to answer...

So what grade would we give it? What kind of dance move can we create to show that this store has (a lot/some/no) fresh food.

Make clear to volunteer they will be using the dance moves to create a full dance.

The second food principle is: Don't sell more junk food than fresh food. So, does this site serve more fresh food or junk food?  

Wait for students to answer...

So what grade would we give it? What kind of dance move can we add to the dance to show that this store has (more/less) junk food.

Add dance move to volunteer's dance.

The third principle is: Water is free. Because water is so essential to good health it must be free (use water info sheet if need be). Is water served free at this store?

Wait for students to answer...

So what grade would we give it? What kind of dance move can we add to the dance to show that this store does/doesn't serve water for free?

Add dance move to volunteer's dance.

Overall we have three dance moves to make up the whole dance and we need to grade the store overall. What kind of grade ought we give this store based on our healthy store values?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Creative Documentation and Steps to an Advocacy Community

With the best of leaders,
When the work is done,
The project completed,
The people all say
'We did it ourselves'

With big plans for piloting advocacy programming in the late winter I have been working to recruit as many teachers as possible, find appropriate curriculum, and work on my youth recruitment pitch. The process has been difficult for sure, because with budget cuts comes a lack of funding for after-school programs.

What I need to make certain is that I take some time to purchase some device for recording my work with youth. This way I can document progress and illustrate the power of my work for anyone interested in seeing it. Much like the opening passage suggests, self-empowerment (especially for youth) can be really powerful. Being able to document and produce images verifying the empowerment process (Awareness-Connection-Activism) is critical to persuading funders to continue funding, and sustaining youth confidence.

Two other aspects of youth work I would like to explore are using media with young people and hands-on advocacy experience. Without these two, the advocacy community (so integral to sustaining the fun, friends, and experiential learning ingredients in the whole) will be lost. Thus, using media and approved hands-on work will be something I will need to seriously investigate. In fact, I will need to know those aspects so well that I can teach the skills to an eight year old. If I am not totally familiar with the power of social media and the methodology of experiential learning my program will lose it's foundation and it will become vulnerable to hijacking.

I see these steps as necessary to creating an advocacy community:

1. Introduce educator to youth
2. Introduce fun, food, and friends environment
3. Roll out Call to Arms
4. Educate
5. Use media to educate, organize and entertain
6. Hands-on experiential advocacy learning
7. Use community centers to teach community advocacy
8. Participants design and implement advocacy events
9. Distribute toolkits for beginner advocates and graduates of program
10. Call graduates back to teach

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Community in Advocacy

The importance of the team building effort cannot be underestimated. These young people must bond together so as to create an environment capable of fostering trust and honest communication. Without this the group will be concerned with just improving conditions in their personal lives. Instead they must be committed to working together to bring a communal vision of health to creation.

"That's supposed to make being black and poor all right. When Watts happened, all them white folks saying, "What they rioting for? Why, they got palm trees in that slum!"

This passage from Sam Greenlee's The Spook Who Sat By The Door points to a major misconception on my part when appealing to young people. My attempt at persuading them to commit to advocacy lacked the kind of community foundation needed to make leadership into a worthwhile endeavor. Young people should feel like, by doing "advocacy", they are engaging with their community in a positive and fun way. Thus, the commitments they made are not just being met but surpassed and the passion will only grow as they concern and interest in each other turns into action.

Youth Pitch beginning

This post is intended to explore the proper approach to potential youth advocates. In order to persuade young people to enroll in my program of teaching advocacy I must appeal to their hope for a healthier future. Using rhetoric such as: "We all know we are against the obesity and heart problems and diabetes hurting young people, but what are we for? What do we hope to create for ourselves and future kids?" This way I will identify the positive and negative logical reasons for enrolling in a leadership project. More, the question will lead to conversation about possible solutions and a larger philosophical discussion of responsiblity and community work.

What is the purpose of school? Why do you come to this place everyday?

I hope that when you think about that question you realize you come to school to learn how to make good decisions. Not just decisions, but good ones.

Now, why do you eat food? Do you eat food to fill your stomach? Do you eat food to stay healthy? Or do you eat food cause it just tastes soooo good? I hope when you think about this question your answer is something like a healthy combination of all options.

The statistics do not lie:
"Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don't solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma." (

The question then becomes are we making good decisions with our food? In fact, the question is: are we making decisions that help or harm our health?

I want to take a minute to perform an experiment which will help us understand how our community helps us to be healthy. I want you all to close your eyes. I want you to imagine you are standing outside of your home. Are you there? Now, imagine you are walking to school. Slowly walk down the street and look at your neighborhood, look at where you live. Take your time. Look from side to side, what do you see? Corner stores? Gardens? Restaurants? Playgrounds? Please open your eyes.

The purpose of this experiment is to wrap our minds around our community and come to see whether it puts us in a position to help or harm our health. Is it easy to make good choices?

Now, please close your eyes once again. I want you to again imagine yourselves standing outside your home. This time as you walk to your school, you're going to notice some new places and things along the way.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Responsible for the Nation

Working to convince young people to translate their interest in leadership into advocacy will be a challenge, but a challenge I intend to live up to. Before they will show a passion for changing the health landscape in their communities they'll need a standard of judgment to assess the worthiness of their communities "health institutions" and health leaders (informal and formal). Thus, when I approach a group of young people I will need to be able to offer them a critical lens through which they can make those judgements. Grading their communities food, for example, should not be based on their opinions but instead on a factual criteria. For instance, a corner store with at least 65% of their store space devoted to junk food is considered a "junk store". Of course, as their critical thinking faculties mature, and they know what they are looking for, they can develop their own criteria based on that which they know of their communities' offerings. Much like a professor will curve a test, these young people can more effectively judge potential targets for advocacy.

This kind of thinking though will not begin until the youth sees a reason to care. They must see the connection between the poor health, the families suffering, the lack of control inside of communities, and the policies guiding food procurement and preparation. The individual must become responsible for the nation before the nation will become responsible for the individual.


As I move deeper into an unfamiliar social tradition: "dating". I feel less like myself. I know my intense political and educational mind resides below but nowadays it is buried beneath more and more nonsense. So, this entry is an attempt to address my insecurities and fears of this profound potential for inner change. I believe the fear stems from a belief that a change will inevitable make me less concerned with the work of the people and the cause of peace, and instead overly concerned with my "love interest" of that time. Rather than evade these romantic feelings due to their power to make me vulnerable, I need to engage with them and see how they can help my work with people. Experiment. Improvise.

Taking the time to appreciate how different and special this person is and how she does not threaten my person in the same way that anyone else can is critical to taking advantage of this change in my life. I will always have the same memories and I will always have the same reaction to potential work to be done (passion). At this point I need to focus on enjoying the moments when I think about her and how she can heighten my passion for life and equality. Do not grow rigid out of an over-dependence on a fear of vulnerability. Let vulnerability show me to the next phase in life even if that transition is painful.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moving Forward

After my presentation for the group last week I have been contacted and given permission to begin planning for a possible "tracks-approved" piloting of advocacy programming. I foresee a period of time where attaining permission from the principal to operate on school grounds, and interest from teachers, students, and parents will require expert persuasive skill. For such persuasion to smoothly be implemented I'll need the following:
     A. Pitch for Youth: (possibly) "We all know what we are against, but what are we for? Are we for health?"
     B. Pitch for Principal: (possibly) "It takes a village and sometimes it takes weekends"
     C. Pitch for Parents: (possibly) Logic tells us that these young people need additional skills to compete in the educational fields of the future. But this program provides more than skills alone, it also provides an educational motivation not found inside the classroom. With real-world problems and opportunities to be real-world champions, your children will be in prime position to not just learn about their communities but to learn to love working in their communities.
     D. Tracks approved curriculum: content of lessons must be applicable to advocacy (education & awareness).

These kinds of outreach will see me touch lives in a whole new way. Whatever sincerity I have will need to be more pure now than ever. I cannot walk falsely into these halls and homes. I must look into eyes of young and old alike and tell them the inconvenient truth about the need for inconvenient heroes; inconvenient champions.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Clarifying the Specifics

After presenting the finished version of my project to a few select co-workers I realized I need to spend additional time clarifying the policy study and "Understanding the issue" portions of my presentation. Both critical to the program, I'll need a concise explanation of the integration of these subjects to the curriculum. It would help to imagine the young people I teach reacting to a lesson on food policy or thinking critically about who are the winners and losers in the issue.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Introduction (10 minutes)
Body (25 minutes)
Q & A (20 minutes) Have prompting questions ready

(slide 1) Agenda
      You will walk out with...

(slide 2) Think Back...

(slide 3) Why a Youth Advocacy?
      New Life
      Socio-Ecological Model
      Formal youth advocacy training doesn't exist.

Handouts needed: Presentation (3 slides per page), 4 phases, Timeline

Evaluation = short term outcomes are accomplished by conclusion of program. Long term outcomes are skills and knowledge taken into far future.

Strategic Plan: Point to Goal areas instead of objectives (order by importance - 2 & 3 high, 1 & 4 low)
       Have one example of the potential relevance to HPC strategy