A Pleasant Surprise

The one thing that has continually impressed me most throughout the time I have embarked on my project is other people’s willingness to support me, either by my solicitation or their general goodwill. Time is a precious thing and I don’t think anybody would claim to have enough of it. Still, one person after another has given me several hours out of their week, or summer, to offer what they know about the college application process, because they know they possess knowledge that others can benefit from.

I had not expected people to come forward and put their efforts into a project they knew hardly anything about, designed by someone they knew nothing about. It’s almost like a blind leap of faith, although not so drastic. Some of these people have forgone money and work, others have just gotten off a shift at work, but they all have volunteered their time.

Part of why I decided to make a video on the college application process was that I felt disillusioned by the effort out there to successfully move students through the education system and into college. The importance of post-secondary education, to individuals and society at large, increases each year. Yet, it seemed too many people were falling through the cracks and their cries were falling on deaf ears.

But the willingness of others to contribute to this documentary has altered my vision. I still believe expanding college access is a mission that more people need to get behind, but I also believe that many out there, including those in the field of education, already recognize and are eager to move forward with it.

Every story and willing sign of support reminds me of this eagerness. At the beginning of the summer, I sent out a load of emails one afternoon, only half expecting to hear back from anyone. Several people responded and offered to donate their time. One private college counselor in Seattle has contributed more than any other person to this project. She entered into the field of college counseling due to the disparity in guidance provided at her son’s fancy private school in Seattle and that of the public schools in the city. Just today, Seattle University offered to waive their filming fee to let me film on their campus, due to the nature of the project.

These people, their enthusiasm, their acknowledgement have consistently reaffirmed my conviction in this project. We have all offered our time, thoughts, and effort to improve life in the society we live in. I hope to continue seeing people move forward with that ethic in the future.

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Another Jumbled Post

Almost to the End– Project BREAKIN Week Four

Blog 3                    July 5th, 2010

We only have three more days of our project left—including today.  We’re all more than a little disheartened to be leaving Tiny Toones.  Spending everyday there for a month, hanging out with the staff, teaching some of the kids, and being taught by many of them in turn feels completely worth all of the work we put into writing the proposal and formulating the project. 

Unlike Stephen and James, I’m not a break dancer.  Because of this I thought I had to find other ways to connect to Tiny Toones.  But Tiny Toones offered us so much more than a link between Mac Breakers and the center through break dancing.  There’s no doubt that the dancing at Tiny Toones and reaching kids through hip hop is what draws all of the youth in Phnom Penh there.  Proof of this is seen almost every night on the Mekong river side where hip hop music and break dancing happens—a lot, if not most of the dancers know Kay Kay, were taught by Kay Kay, or taught by the mentor staff at Tiny Toones.  But what the center has become today does a lot more than that.  The majority of the kids who come daily to the main center come for the non formal education and the rest of the creative program. The non formal classes, like Khmer, English, Art and Computer receive the largest portion. 

The kids apparently have also been getting younger as well where the range of students is now from age 3 to about 16.  Tiny Toones has certainly evolved from its beginnings to something incredibly well developed to help the kids in Phnom Penh and even the provinces.  Being there everyday has showed me a side of Phnom Penh that I’ve never really been exposed too and with any luck my Khmer will have improved.

Even though we all feel so much richer from our experiences in Cambodia and with Tiny Toones, this month has been very hard on all of us.  The majority of the time we’ve been sick and going from one upset to another.  With almost no exception, every day we’ve been here at least one of us has gotten sick.  Unfortunately, despite how amazing the food tastes and how much we’d like to explore all of the street vendors and restaurants Phnom Penh has to offer, at least one of us always suffers from the experience.  The illnesses will be the one and only thing we will not miss about Cambodia.  But even those experiences will leave a mark on us.

Although we’ve been here for almost a month, it feels like we haven’t been here for more than a week.  The time has gone by so fast and I wish we all had more time.  It’s so tempting to change the dates of our flights in order to keep volunteering at the center and to continue to familiarize ourselves with the city.  We’ve gotten to know a lot of the kids who go to the center and have come to really enjoy teaching them when we get the opportunity.  Playing with them everyday has been more than a blast.  I’ll miss running into the little kids on their way back home, and having them spot us from a distance to scream hi and goodbye teacher.  They’ll remember us now, but probably not later nor as long as we’ll remember them and I wish we could stay longer to change that.

Tiny Toones has this amazing atmosphere of encouragement and enjoyment, but it still is what it is: a youth center started for troubled kids.  Without mentioning names, even with all of the support from the Tiny Toones community, it is hard for some of the people there to completely forget their past.  Some of the dancers often run off and are missing for days because of a number of issues.  Their always welcomed back but their return is never easy.  Kay Kay can’t turn his back on them so he seems to constantly be struggling between accepting them back and punishing them for stepping out.  It seems as though he constantly has to ask himself how he should help this person and whether or not he should be playing a cat and mouse game to get them back.  How far does Kay Kay have to go for a handful of kids when he has hundreds more he also needs to worry about.  He knows this and so do the kids who slip up.   As amazing as Tiny Toones is, it’s sometimes hard to remember that these kids used to be on the streets, run in gangs, and at one point needed all of the help that they are now responsible for giving.

Mac’s 2010 Civic Forum: Reflections for Dakota Birthright

Hi everyone,

My name is Terence Steinberg and I’m a recipient of the 2010 Live It! Fund. For the next few months I’m going to be posting about my project, Dakota Birthright. I’ll share my reflections on various events related to civic engagement and leadership, and take you along on a canoe trip that traces the reverse route of the Dakota exile from Minnesota.

Here are my thoughts after attending the 2010 Maclester Civic Forum

The Civic Forum utterly blew me way.  Not only was the quality of intellectual debate and presentation stimulating and factually robust, but more importantly the passion and consciousness shared by the speakers and audience resonated throughout the night.  Too often academia dwells in a contextual vacuum.  For example, in my discipline, Economics, we’re instructed (indoctrinated, may I say?) to remain invariably positive about our subject.  But these are normative issues!  Economics is a social science – it’s not biology!  Our educations are nothing without implementing them in our communities.  As the evening developed, the abundance of opinions at the Civic Forum strengthened the purpose of our gathering.  I, for one, felt a renewed and compelling urge to do something for my community, whether in Saint Paul or the greater United States.

Among the range of topics related to “Civic Leadership in the Age of Obama,” the Forum’s title this year, was inertial racism, a broad description of what some call institutionalized racism.  We focused largely on how this relates to African Americans, but it is the central narrative of so many other groups as well.  Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, a Dakota and Nakota community of a few thousand, composes the poorest county in the United States.  A mean annual income of less than $5,300 per capita, unemployment of 58%, and a high school graduation rate of one in three: these statistics only begin to tell the story.  Babies die at a rate nearly twice that of a decade ago, and suicide rates are several times those of the rest of our nation.  A similar reality exists for the Dakota of Santee Reservation, Nebraska.  Can this trajectory be described as anything but inertial racism?  Does the meritocracy of the United States justify condemning these communities to compounding suffering?

In the words of Sekou Sundiata, as quoted by Callie Thuma, senior Macalester student and presenter at the Forum:

Why don’t we get our hopes up too high?
What don’t we get our hopes up too high?
High!

Last week in my EXCO class, The Indigenous Imperative, the instructor asked if I would feel comfortable sharing the parable of the two-headed snake with Dakota Birthright participants.  In the story, a group of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) canoeing in search of food during a famine encounter a pathetic, sickly snake with heads of gold and silver resting on a lily pad.  They take pity, bring him home and nurture its needs.  As they feed the snake, it grows exponentially, demanding ever more resources and ever more space. It eats their game, causes social rifts and leads the community into a period of unparalleled trauma.  Finally, the snake swallows people whole.  They slash its belly and retrieve their family members. In the end, the snake dies, and the Haudenosaunee heal. What is the snake? The United States and Canada.

I told the instructor I did not know if I would be comfortable telling this story.  I said I aim to be a facilitator during Dakota Birthright, not a ‘teacher,’ that the true leaders of the voyage would be the elders.  As Professor and Keynote Speaker Ian Haney-Lopez urged, however, progressives should not simply aim to facilitate. We all need to overcome ‘colorblindness.’  We must discuss racism in open terms.  Then, we lead.  As a white citizen of the United States piloting a canoe trip of Dakota natives from Crow Creek to Santee Reservations, I will continue to revisit this principle