Thursday, October 29, 2009

Social Media to the Rescue

Speaking to English Classes about Writing

I give a decent amount of presentations regarding “Hope & Global HIV” and “Faith in Action”, but talking about writing to 8th graders wasn’t in my crystal ball. Writing was a hassle in 8th grade. But years later during my research and travels it became my outlet. Now in the midst of a book manuscript it has become a large chunk of my life.

Faced with two 50 minute classes I turned to social media for advice. Through my facebook fan page and twitter account I was able to generate over 40 responses and comments on what people would stress to 8th graders about writing. Interestingly four of the five responses (Journaling, Creative Writing, Personal Style and Structural Elements) were within 6% points of each other. The most noted suggestion (by over 20 percentage points) was on how reading affects writing.

Keeping the poll in mind, my presentation flowed out of my personal experience in Thailand volunteering at a Buddhist AIDS Temple. Using “Importance of Touch”, I tried to get across three main points.

1. Writing is Important - If you can write well you are a valuable asset because you can express or articulate a clear thought. If you write poorly with spelling errors or grammar mistakes you can get passed up on a high school, college or job application. Writing can draw attention to an issue, move people to act or bring people to a higher level of understanding.

2. Writing is a Process – grammar and spelling is like a hoop and a ball – you need them to play basketball. Editing and drafting are the lay up and shooting drills that turn you into a skilled player. I’m no Michael Jordan or Steven King, but “Importance of Touch” generated attention and was read at mass and reflection gatherings at Fairfield University. More importantly, it came out of hours of journaling after struggling with the death of a patient at the clinic. It took three drafts and nearly all night because I wanted it convey and express the intensity of my feelings.

3. Don’t get Discouraged – Growing up in a predominantly Spanish speaking household has its pluses and minuses. English grammar and spelling are both negatives and don’t combine to make a positive. I noticed a good amount nodding their heads in agreement. The trick is to read. Find an interest and go for it. I challenged them. I said has at least one topic or section that they must find interesting; then I let them in on a secret. You can double click on a word and the definition pops up in a new window. In the age of the internet reading shouldn't be a problem.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's your opinion?

Thank you to everyone who filled out this poll or left a comment. Over 40 responses gave me a good idea of what to focus on. I wrote a post "Social Media to the Rescue" about the results and how it affected the presentations. Thanks again.

Thank you for the help. The merits of writing is not a topic I usual present on, but I certainly blog about it afterwards.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

BVA - "The Story of Stuff"

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more.

At first I was hesitant to choose “The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard” as a BVA because of its length. 21 minutes has become an eternity to grab attention on an internet video. However Annie Leonard makes each minute count with her creative style, informative statistics and thought provoking sketches. Granted the video seems targeted for young adults and adolescents but perhaps it’s on point for teens are impressionable and children can have a great affect on their parents’ spending habits.

In the “Story of Stuff” Annie tackles what could be considered the heart of American culture – consumerism. Economics has garnered a great deal of attention in the past year given the global recessions and large wall street bonuses. Less heard of are questions or investigations of how our system works, who benefits and at what cost to both humans and our planet. This video highlights a system of corporate capitalism that values maximizing profits and short term rewards over the general wellbeing of multiple stakeholders – workers, ecosystems and consumers alike.

The video paints a rather stark reality and uses a big brush. As a disclaimer, it makes some assumptions for the viewer and should not be written off as “liberal propaganda” - sustainability is everyone's concern. Many of the issues are more complex than depicted in the video. A former post of mine discusses one such instance – “Walmart – a Preferential Option for the Poor?”. However, with over 7 million views and tens years of investigative research the video seeks to draw attention to a major global issue and reshape the conversation. It has all the ingredients of a BVA.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Christ the King Prep

Changing Inner City Secondary Education - One Job at a Time

The Newark Club is a beautiful venue to hold an evening event. Located on the 22nd floor in the heart of Newark’s business district the wraparound windows offer crystal clear views of New York City and Newark. With two lush bars and delicious (near endless) food Christ the King Prep President, Fr. Robert Sandoz OFM (Franciscan) made his message clear at the school’s gala – “Our greatest treasure is our students”.

In the political world no one dares discredit the importance of education. Everyone heralds education as a bedrock of our country, but the consensus agreement is that we must do better particularly in urban cities. It’s an issue that has been around for quite some time as the evening’s top honoree, Fr Edward Glynn SJ has dedicated his life to education in underserved populations. The real rub arises in how to bring about change. In today’s NYTimes, Nick Kristof highlights the growing problem, the counterproductive teacher unions and some researched based initiatives that are producing results.

The Christo Rey network stands as an example of how innovation and a shared mission can provide opportunity to students with very limited funds. What’s innovative? The students have longer school days and school years than others. They have a rigorous academic program that focuses on core subjects and lifelong learning principles like complex reasoning and collaboration. Other schools do this as well, but where the program differs is in its motto “The School that Works!”.

The schools recruit students whose families are living below the federal poverty line and only allow students whose families make up to 75% the per capita income of the local community. The network exists because of a novel idea to intertwine corporate America and high school education. Students are grouped together (in four or five) and work for a local business or organization (one student works Monday, another Tuesday etc). Their collective salary greatly defrays the cost of tuition. In turn, the students are exposed to an environment where they grow to recognize the value of their education. The bottom line is 99% of the students are accepted into college and many are the firsts in their family.

The Christ the King Prep in Newark is one of the newer schools in the network. Opening in 2007, their elder statesmen are the Junior class. Every Junior I spoke with at the gala highly valued the experience and often responded with an enthusiastic “great” when prompted about the working. What the school needs is more employment opportunities for the students. They say “Growth is Life” but here it’s “Jobs mean Growth”. Therefore, I encourage you to find the nearest network and look into the potential of employing a group. From medical clinics to law firms, each job brings a world of opportunity to a handful of resource limited teens.

The evenings other honoree was former Georgetown Coach John Thompson and in his address he focused on a core concept – “Faith without works is meaningless”. The Cristo Rey Network and Christ the King Prep in Newark have become the newest work of several religious orders combined. What was started by the Jesuits of Chicago has grown with the support of the Sisters of Charity, several Archdioceses and many Jesuit provinces. Together with the laity and the local communities change is coming to inner city secondary education – one job and five students at a time.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

BVA - Playing for Change

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more.

I have always been one to put money in the cases of musicians. After bailing out on the guitar and the sax in my middle schools years I learned to appreciate the difficulty, dedication and creativity needed to play an instrument and produce quality music. Most of the songs I tried to play were chosen because of the lyrics, a catchy tune or ease; "Stand by Me" is one such song. Ben E. King wrote and recorded "Stand by Me" in 1961. Since that time versions spanning multiple genres from Mo-town to Punk Rock have promoted the powerful lyrics in their own unique style. Greats like Otis Redding, John Lennon and Maurice White (Earth, Wind and Fire) brought added fame to the song, but no version is as moving or powerful as Mark Johnson's "Playing for Change".

The concept is simple - using music to bring people from all walks of life and different corners of the world together. The lyrics stress a fundamental human desire best described as genuine comfort; the knowledge that in good times and bad you are not alone. The beauty of the video is the universal theme pieced together with musicians and instruments from various traditions, ethnicities, and countries to reenforce the message. We are one community. We are one world. Here the message does not propagate from stars, rather it springs eternal from the faces and sounds found across the globe. It is a message that has found the right note in the online community as the video has over 14 million views on youtube.

Don't forget to leave a comment. I'd love to know which musician struck a chord with you. Enjoy!

The Playing for Change initiative is currently building musical programs in developing countries and touring in the USA and Canada. The website has other amazing videos and songs. I personally recommend reading the journey tab which includes how advances in technology greatly changed through the production years (smaller cameras, faster computers, uploading to the net etc).