Morris Arts will host a free opening reception for Expresiones Latinx I at the Gallery at 14 Maple’s 22nd exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12.
Curated by Virginia Fabbri Butera and Will Suarez, this exhibit is one of two paired exhibits conceived as part of LatinX ConeXiones, a project of the nearly 30 cultural organizations in the Arts & Culture Collaborative.
The project showcases the arts and culture of Latinx artists in Morris County and other communities through more than 26 performances, fine art and craft exhibitions, music, dance, literature, poetry, theater, food, history, installations, and other creative disciplines through November 2019.
Expresiones Latinx Ifocuses on the themes of nature/environment, dreams, barriers, love, dance, music, sports, and the streets. It complements Expresiones Latinx II, also curated by Butera and Suarez and opening on Sept. 18=at the Maloney Art Gallery at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station. This exhibit more deeply explores themes such as home, family, memories, places, and religion.
For the Gallery at 14 Maple, the exhibition committee and curators selected works created by 21 artists who utilize paintings, watercolors, mixed media, prints, photographs, digital art and collage to express their art.
The exhibit features works by the following artists: Luis Alves of South Orange, Josephine Barreiro of Springfield, Gregg Bautista of Metuchen, José Camacho of Montclair, Marcela Claros of Glen Rock, Santiago Cohen of Jersey City, Carlos M. Frias of Bloomfield, Luz H. Gallo of Towaco, Juan C. Giraldo of Paterson, France Garrido of Weehawken, Luis Jesús Martínez Piar of Mine Hill, Maria José Navas-Espinal of Madison, David Oquendo of Landing, Walter F. Rodriguez of Budd Lake, Nancy Saleme and Patricia Cazorla both of Brooklyn, Will Suarez of Bloomfield, Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo of Jersey City, Raúl Villarreal of Gainesville, Fla., M. H. Yaghooti of Jersey City, and Layqa Nuna Yawar of Newark. Their artworks reflect each artist’s unique vision and mode of expression filtered through the lens of the Latinx experiences.
“This is a wonderful chance for people to learn more about how our Latinx neighbors are responding visually to their myriad experiences in the United States as someone who is a recent newcomer or someone with deep roots here,” said curator Ginny Butera. “Will Suarez and I are thrilled by the intensity of meaning that emerged from the colors, forms, subject matters and styles as we were looking at work by dozens of New Jersey Latinx artists. Come and be amazed.”
The exhibit is open to the public Monday-Friday from 10am to 4pm and by appointment, and will remain on display until February 12, 2020. Visit www.morrisarts.org or call (973) 285-5115 for additional information, including the exhibit catalogue which contains details and sale prices for all works. The Gallery at 14 Maple is a barrier-free facility. Individuals needing special accommodation should contact Kaity DeLaura at (973) 285-5115, x 14 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Participate in a Sustainable Jersey listening session
Sustainable Jersey is at a crossroads. Each day, more and more people are confronting the unsettling fact that the ecosystem is more fragile now than at any time in our recent history. For some people, extreme weather has captured their attention and driven concern with renewed urgency; for others, it is the impact of plastics in all areas of our lives. Whatever your entry point into the issues, it’s important to understand that we’re about to enter into the most critical ten-year period of our lifetime and, most likely, of human history.
The challenges we face are sobering. From climate change to water, waste and equity issues; so many of the big sustainability concerns are reaching a crisis point. In the face of these issues, how do we create a new era of sustainability in New Jersey—one that secures economic, environmental and community well-being?
When you work with local municipalities and school communities as we do at Sustainable Jersey, listening is our gold standard. We all have opinions and aspire to do great work, but we can’t do it alone. A listening session is one of the best ways to get constructive feedback and point us in the right direction to implement the strategies that will make a difference in communities throughout New Jersey.
Sustainable Jersey Listening Sessions
Join us at one of three listening sessions in September 2019 and share your thoughts on what the next ten years might look like for our state and the Sustainable Jersey program. If you work at the municipal level or are a member of a green team or task force, your participation at one of the listening sessions will help shape Sustainable Jersey’s future programming.
Our collective impact over the last ten years is significant and impressive. Help us envision the critical issues facing our municipalities and schools that Sustainable Jersey might tackle, how the program may better support the work you are doing on the ground and more.
NJM Insurance Group (840 12th Street, Hammonton, NJ)
For the past decade, Sustainable Jersey has had an impact because we thought creatively and were laser-focused on having a measurable impact on communities. We want to continue to be innovative and push the envelope. As we look to the next ten years, what is the role of communities in securing the future? What should the role of Sustainable Jersey be? How can we work together to play our parts to solve these problems? We hope you will join Sustainable Jersey on this journey.
A Decade of Impact: Green Team Video Contest
Sustainable Jersey is also asking green team members to create a short video that highlights the positive impact the movement has had in their community. The entry deadline is September 8, 2019. Finalists’ videos will be hosted on the Sustainable Jersey website for public voting through October 20, 2019 and the selected winners will be recognized at the 2019 Sustainable Jersey Annual Luncheon on November 19, 2019 in Atlantic City. Learn more about the contest here.
Dodge staff recently started an office book club to read adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, and began compiling a list of the books, articles, and podcasts to read and discuss together.
With summer upon us, we are excited to share that list, and more pieces that have been delighting, challenging, and sharpening our minds, many that address issues of racial equity as Dodge staff are developing program-level theories of change and new grantmaking processes after releasing a strategic plan and vision for an equitable New Jersey.
We invite you to tell us what books you are reading in the comments.
Tayari Jones’s captivating novel explores ambition, love, fidelity, and loss. While the context of racism and a broken justice system is weighty, Jones’s style sparkles with life, charisma and even humor. The intimate portraits she paints of the three main characters, connected by love, friendship, and loss are deeply intimate and human — the landscape is devastating. This one is difficult to put down.
Self-described “questionologist,” Warren Berger advises us to re-learn to ask questions like a 3-year-old child. The humble, beautiful question leads to more creative ideas and better solutions, and supports stronger, more trusting relationships. This book draws from the world’s foremost creative thinkers and provides practical tools – including a treasure trove of beautiful questions to draw from.
The Color of Law details how government action, policies, and laws within the United States has contributed and continues to perpetuate systemic racial inequities and segregation including fostering discriminatory practices in housing, education, income, loan terms, taxes, wealth, among other areas. The book provides a powerful overview of this history and is a great read for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of systemic inequities.
Okay, I know this may not sound like beach reading, but if you are thinking ahead about September and the new school year, you might be wanting to add some new approaches to your teaching practice or get a new prospective on what school can look like. Dr. Hammond connects the importance of culturally responsive teaching to building stronger learning relationships between teachers and students and how this approach can help students become independent learners. —Wendy Liscow
This episode explores the dangers of empathy by showing how two different radio producers created two very different stories from the same interviews conducted with a man who claims to have renounced his affiliation with the Incel movement. The episode raises questions about whom we empathize with, and why, and how, and where we should draw the line. The producers’ transparency and self-reflection provide a powerful example of how we as individuals and organizations can employ curiosity and self-reflection to grow and adapt.
They Can’t Kill Us is a joy, a collection of essays you can read enthusiastically in small bites. Having once dreamed of a career as a music journalist, I was excited to dive into Hanif Abdurraqib’s essays blending music journalism, cultural critique, and race, where the author challenges readers to experience a Bruce Springsteen concert at Prudential after having just visited Michael Brown’s memorial plaque in Ferguson and more. My copy is filled with triple underlines, stars, boxes, and exclamation points marking beautiful, succinct, poignant language that seems to perfectly capture this moment we find ourselves in in America.
—Meghan Van Dyk
White Fragility is a great book for anyone interested in examining white culture, which is defined by its ever-present dominance and insistence that it not be named, recognized, or acknowledged. The book offers language to describe many familiar experiences I’ve found myself in growing up in suburban New Jersey as a white woman navigating mostly predominantly white spaces, and has helped me reflect and understand how and why white people talking about race are unique, but not special.
—Meghan Van Dyk
The Who Belongs? Podcast is produced at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. This episode features the Institute’s director, john a. powell. Renowned for his ability to act as a bridge between people with differing backgrounds and worldviews, powell explains the targeted universalism approach in a way that is easy to understand. Well worth a listen.
In this episode, Chris Hayes talks with Rev. Dr. Barber about how and why he is working across racial and economic lines to spur a movement towards a multiracial democracy. If you have heard of the Poor People’s Campaign and the Moral Mondays, this will be right up your alley. It is a thought-provoking and approachable — and funny — discussion on complex issues such as voter suppression, voting rights, systemic racism, and poverty.
35 MORE BOOKS, ARTICLES, AND PODCASTS ON OUR SUMMER READING LISTS:
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gaye
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed
Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization? by Aaron Digman
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic
Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance by Edgar Villanueva, Jennifer Buffett
Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown
Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count by Phil Buchanan, Darren Walker
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
Hunger by Roxane Gaye
Invasive Species by Marwa Helal
Just Giving, Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better by Rob Reich
Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color edited by Christopher Soto
New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
Odd Boy by Martin Jude Farawell
On Intersectionality: Essential Writings by Kimberle Crenshaw
Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg
Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Institutions, Values by Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli
Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society by john a. powell
Radical Transformational Leadership: Strategic Action for Change Agents by Monica Sharma
The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist
The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics by Cyndi Suarez
The Soul of America by Jon Meacham
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Torch by Cheryl Strayed
Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Wild Invocations by Ysabel Y. Gonzalez
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
Posted onJuly 30, 2019byCynthia Evans, Interim President and CEO of the Dodge Foundation
As the interim president of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a mid-year update.
First, on behalf of the staff, we want to thank the community for its patience and support. It’s been just over a year since Dodge released its strategic plan and set ambitious goals for an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities. Since that time, we have transitioned leadership, maintained relationships with our current nonprofit partners as we have built new ones, and begun charting the course for the changes to come.
This has been a period of reflection, learning, and planning as we continue to ask ourselves: What are Dodge’s responsibilities and areas of influence in helping to create an equitable New Jersey? How can we set realistic goals for change? How can we — and philanthropy as a whole — do better for nonprofits and communities that have been historically marginalized? Together, our Board and staff are building on the successes and leadership of the past as we look to the future.
On a board-level, our Trustee Search Committee is leading the effort to identify Dodge’s next president and CEO. We are excited to welcome Dodge’s fourth leader this fall, who will help lead us into the foundation’s fifth decade through our new commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.
We are immensely grateful to our Board for their feedback and support of our work with our consultants at Hillombo and Dragonfly Partners, who are guiding staff in the development of program-level theories of change and framing a broader organizational equity focus. This work has been invigorating, often challenging, and pushes us to explore new terrain.
The Dodge staff has also been focused on advancing our intercultural development and racial equity skills through readings, trainings, fellowships, and internal action learning groups. As a team, we read Emergent Strategy, attended Race Forward’s Facing Race conference, examined and reshaped our onboarding and professional development practices, and began learning about intersectionality and other topics in Critical Race Theory. We’re excited to share even more of the books, articles, and podcasts that are expanding our thinking and bringing us delight as part of our Dodge Summer Reading List (stay tuned).
It has been my pleasure to serve in this role at this moment in Dodge’s journey to equity and keeping us engaged in working through difficult questions. We are learning to be open to new thinking from ourselves and others, to lean into discomfort, to struggle together, to bring humility to our work, that there is no such thing as perfection, and no quick fixes.
Transformative equity work takes time and must be responsive and iterative. We will be adjusting and adapting our approaches to respond to opportunities and investments that get traction or have the most impact.
We invite you to share information, lessons, and insights with our staff as our collective work and opportunities to collaborate in places, on issues, or projects emerge. In the coming months, we look forward to sharing further updates with you, the community that informs us, inspires us, and holds us accountable.
Cynthia Evans is interim president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Chief Financial and Administrative Officer.
Photo at top: Dodge staff recently visited the Franklin Parker Preserve to learn about and explore the effort to rewild this former cranberry bog in the Pine Barrens.
Posted onJuly 21, 2019byBy Joseph L. Fiordaliso, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities president
As the cost of renewable energy continues to drop, “going solar” becomes a viable option for more New Jerseyans.
Over 100,000 homes and businesses in our state now benefit from solar, many of which are seeing savings on their utility bills. Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities are advancing renewables in the Garden State. However, not everyone is able put solar panels directly on their roof. To address that, New Jersey just launched its first Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, and started accepting applications in April 2019. This Pilot Program is intended to increase access to solar energy for New Jersey ratepayers.
The community solar model is being adopted nationwide because it provides more equitable access to the clean-air and money-saving benefits of solar. Unlike traditional solar installations, a community solar project does not need to be placed directly on a ratepayer’s own roof. As long as it is located within the subscriber’s electric utility service territory, the system of panels can be installed—for example—over a neighborhood parking lot, atop an apartment complex, or even on a municipal landfill or brownfield.
The power produced by the solar installation is divided among multiple participants, known as subscribers, who can choose either to purchase an ownership share of the system or sign up for a monthly subscription. Community solar subscribers – who can be residential, commercial, or industrial – receive a credit on their monthly utility bills equivalent to their share of the solar energy produced.
The flexibility of community solar makes “going solar” accessible for more customers, especially those who previously could not install solar for reasons like cost, roof unsuitability, or lack of roof control. This segment of customers often includes renters, apartment dwellers, and low-income households.
In New Jersey’s Community Solar Pilot Program, which is administered through NJBPU’s Clean Energy Program, each community solar project must have at least 10 subscribers. Landlords of master-metered multi-family buildings may apply, but must provide proof that they will pass the savings on to their tenants. Subscriptions are portable within the geographic limits of the project, and may be sold back to the project owner.
New Jersey’s program will allocate 40 percent of the program capacity – a number much higher than many other states’ programs — to projects that serve low- and moderate-income communities. This will allow underserved households and environmental justice communities to benefit from renewable energy while seeing credits on their electricity bills that are equal to or greater than the amount of their subscriptions.
Dodge Poets play a pivotal role in helping us do this work, and their recommendations, innovations, feedback and participation have helped shape Dodge Poetry throughout its ongoing evolution. They visit high schools, facilitate groups, give readings, host events, and meet with us to review and discuss their experiences in the field and the impact of our programs.
In the past, when poets asked, “How do I become a Dodge Poet?” we’ve invited them to send poems and resumes for us to keep on file for review as needed. There was no formal submission process. Some poets came to us through referrals or recommendations, but far more through our own reading of regional journals and anthologies, and attendance at poetry readings, festivals and other poetry events.
For the first time, we are opening a formal submission process for those who would like to apply to work with Dodge Poetry in New Jersey schools. Why now?
Over the last decade, we have shifted away from the program’s earlier practice of engaging with school districts that reached out after learning about us, and turned toward a more proactive approach. We are actively seeking to bring opportunities to economically stressed school districts and regions of the state. The Dodge Foundation’s new mission and vision inspire us to deepen our commitment to these efforts.
In the process, we have gained a clearer picture of how diverse New Jersey is, and how segregated. To create a roster of Dodge Poets that more clearly reflects the diversity of New Jersey, we are initiating an open submissions process to invite poets of all backgrounds and orientations to submit. We encourage submissions from groups that are often under-represented in the poetry traditionally taught in high schools, such as African-American, Latinx, Asian-American, Native-American, Middle-Eastern, and Indigenous writers; disabled writers; and writers from the LGBTQ community.
Applying to Join the Dodge Poet Roster: What You Need to Know
If you or someone you know is interested in applying to join our roster of Dodge Poets, there are a few important things that you should keep in mind:
Dodge Poets don’t receive full-time or even part-time work from the Dodge Poetry Program.
We value treating poets with professional respect and courtesy, working with schools to ensure visiting poets are not unduly burdened, and typically offer a per diem of $300 per day, with a small travel stipend when warranted. Opportunities for working with the Dodge Poetry Program, however, average out to just a few days of the year for most Dodge Poets.
Dodge Poetry school visits aren’t workshops.
We do not send Dodge Poets into schools to conduct writing workshops, give lectures or present academic lessons about poetry. The Dodge Poetry Program strives to celebrate poetry as a living, breathing, art, and to create encounters where students can experience a personal connection to poetry and poets. This may or may not include writing it themselves. It definitely includes sharing poems, reading aloud to each other, and engaging in Q & As and conversations with poets on a wide range of topics.
Poets who already are part of the Dodge Poet roster don’t need to apply.
We will still be working with the many wonderful poets who have been doing excellent work with us for years. This is simply an opportunity to expand and include more voices and perspectives from the communities that we seek to serve.
The Dodge Poet application is live now via Submittable. You can find it here. The deadline to apply is September 1, 2019. Once you apply, you will receive a confirmation that we received your application. By the week of December 9, every applicant will hear back from us regarding whether we will be inviting them to join the roster for the coming year.
Posted onJuly 18, 2019byBy Hesham Tamraz and Marisa Benson, Dodge grants management team
The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is delighted to announce the launch of a new grants management system that our partners can access starting Tuesday, July 23.
FoundationConnect, the new system, features an improved online portal for organizations to apply and manage applications, along with advanced tools for our program staff. For existing and potential grantee organizations, this will mean greater transparency and communication between their organizations and the Dodge Foundation, along with some new features.
Designed for use by foundations, FoundationConnect leverages the benefits of Salesforce, a technology and contact-management platform used by many nonprofits. The system will enable grantees to engage Dodge staff during the application process, add collaborators to work jointly on their application, and provide access to applications entered in the system along with real-time status updates throughout the review process.
Returning grantees may notice many aspects of the application process remain similar to our 2019 streamlined application.
Applicants applying for the September 9, 2019 deadline and going forward will need to register and apply through this new Dodge grants portal.
To access the new system, applicants, including current grantees, will need to complete a simple user registration process. This will enable login to the portal where grantees may process and submit grant applications.
Dodge hosted a webinar for current grantees to view a live demo of the user registration and application process.
If your organization is seeking funding but is not currently a grantee, please refer to our website for an overview of our process, FAQs, and more information.
Our new grants management system was designed with the aim of making our communication with future applicants and current grantees more transparent and responsive.
We welcome your insight on how we can make this new system more equitable, accessible, and easier for applicants. If you have any questions or feedback, please reach out to our grants management team at email@example.com.
Posted onJune 24, 2019byRandall Solomon, Executive Director, Sustainable Jersey
Sustainable Jersey celebrates progress and envisions the future
Sustainable Jersey’s 2019 Sustainability Summit and 10th anniversary celebration drew over 650 change-makers from across New Jersey who came together to advance sustainability strategies for New Jersey and their local communities.
We have made great progress over 10 years. I can tell you that nobody is more surprised at the impact Sustainable Jersey has had than me.
Few people would have thought that the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, together with a bunch of non-profits and academics, would want to aggressively collaborate. But they did.
Few people would have thought that the New Jersey School Boards Association and New Jersey Education Association would vociferously agree to support schools and teachers working to advance their sustainability goals. But they did.
Few thought that busy municipalities and schools would jump at the chance to put together sustainability programs and document their work online to achieve certification. But they have.
The Sustainable Jersey founders had an idea. We believed there was something special in local communities that could be cultivated. There were a lot of important people and organizations at the state level and a lot of passionate people at the local level who wanted to find a way to cooperate and support local action for statewide and global impact. So, with not a lot of money and no enabling legislation, we tapped into the existing frustration and good will and launched the effort that turned into Sustainable Jersey.
Together we have made New Jersey one of the most active and progressive states working from the bottom up to make change. Now, nearly 90 percent of the New Jersey population lives in a registered or certified Sustainable Jersey community. Currently 450 municipalities and 871 schools are registered with Sustainable Jersey.
Where once sustainability was not present in the local conversation, now there are hundreds of green teams created as formal bodies of local government that are charged with driving change on sustainability issues. Collectively, participating communities have implemented and documented over 13,000 discrete actions from the list of Sustainable Jersey best practices.
Sustainable Jersey launched nine regional hubs. The Hubs include the green team leadership from all the communities in a region banding together to build a movement, learn from each other and do collaborative projects. The Hubs are hotbeds of activism and energy. Working through collective action between municipalities, county agencies and nonprofit partners, the regional hubs are making significant progress on important issues.
Since 2009, the Sustainable Jersey Grants Program has distributed over $4.9 million in grants to municipalities, schools and school districts for over 900 community-based projects that improve the quality of life in New Jersey.
One of my favorite markers of success is that Sustainable Jersey is being emulated in other states. Believe me, no one likes to say that they are copying New Jersey; but there are four states — Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York — with programs modeled after Sustainable Jersey and another half dozen that loosely follow our model.
Sustainable Jersey Listening Sessions
With a strong movement in place after 10 years of hard work, we want to engage all of our partners and all of you, to think about how we can rise to the occasion of the next 10 years. From climate change, to water, waste and equity issues; so many of the big sustainability concerns are reaching a crisis point.
Join us at one of three listening sessions this fall and share your thoughts on what the next ten years might look like for our state and the Sustainable Jersey program. Help us envision the critical issues facing our municipalities and schools that Sustainable Jersey might tackle, how the program may better support the work you are doing on the ground and more.
The challenges we face are sobering. We need everyone on board to work together and build a common agenda for a sustainable New Jersey. We’ve had success, but we are about to enter into the most critical 10-year period of my lifetime, and probably of human history. Is that too dramatic? I don’t think so.
Sustainable Jersey has had an impact because we thought creatively and were laser-focused on having a measurable impact on communities. We want to continue to be creative and push the envelope. As we look to the next 10 years, what is the role of communities in securing the future? What should the role of Sustainable Jersey be? How can we work together to play our parts to solve these problems?
The process will end with change. This is not just process for the sake of process. We are committed to this being a meaningful exercise and are committed to finding and enacting big and small ideas that can help us rise to the occasion of the next 10 years.
I hope you will join Sustainable Jersey on this journey.
Grow It Green Morristown this year is celebrating 10 years of bounty from its humble beginnings rooted in Morristown dirt.
On the heels of the financial recession, before the town’s redevelopment boom, when community and school gardens were still new enough to pique the interest of a local reporter, Grow It Green Morristown’s Early Street Community Garden emerged as an oasis that would transform the town.
What I didn’t know when I first entered the garden’s flower-lined fence eight years ago seeking to meet its denizens and bring to life its sense of community for a story in the Daily Record, where I worked as an editor at the time, was how the garden would come to transform my own life and shape my relationship with community.
Grow It Green Morristown was founded by friends Samantha Rothman, Carolle Huber, and Myra Bowie-McCready, who rejected local leaders’ vision to make Morristown a grey, unwelcome town of banks with a police force deputized as immigration officers. They drove past the junkyard off Speedwell Avenue, offers of peace were exchanged with the land’s owner, and, after a lot of hard work cleaning it up and putting down plots, their collective dream was realized.
Christian Schuller, then-community garden manager and the filmmaker behind “Growtown Motown,” gave me a tour and introduced me to gardeners as he helped them identify common pests, doling out organic treatment advice and encouraging words. On one of my first visits, I joined gardeners for a Sunday workday and potluck, hauls of fresh dirt in wheelbarrows being shoveled out as neighbors stopped by the front picnic tables like bees to nectar.
I soon met Huber, Rothman, Farmer Shaun Ananko, and other local legends who rallied around the garden in its early years, including Kendra Arnold, Rebecca Feldman, Andrea Lekberg, and the late Marty Epstein and Marianne and Mark Tobler, whose giant pumpkin surely holds a record to this day.
“There is a magic to this place beyond what we could ever imagine,” Rothman told me at the time, in 2011. “We set up the infrastructure, but it’s the people who use the space that make it what it is.”
Many of the people I met through Early Street became my Morristown ambassadors and good friends. They are who convinced me to move to the town to put down roots, become even more engaged in the community I once only knew through the lens of journalism.
I attended Grow It Green’s bike-in garden movies under the stars, summer pizza parties at the Urban Farm at Lafayette, ladybug releases, the organization’s springtime Diamonds for Kale gala, its parking spot takeover on South Street, and its solstice celebrations.
With friends made through the garden, I have attended backyard shindigs, book clubs, town council and planning board meetings, marches for the movement of black lives and immigrant rights, and rallies outside my local Congress representative’s office.
I became a Grow It Green Morristown supporter and a volunteer helping to harvest vegetables at the Urban Farm for its farm stand sales. I frequented their table at Morristown’s Winter Farmers Market and bought their produce, teas, and whole ears of corn you can pop in the microwave — still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done with a vegetable.
When I first visited Early Street, the garden was on borrowed time, every season could have been its last before becoming Morristown’s newest luxury apartment complex. But Grow it Green, Mayor Tim Dougherty’s administration, the Morris County Preservation Trust, and the Trust for Public Land saved it from development and preserved it for the public good.
That act meant four years ago, with the expansion of the garden, doubling the number of plots to more than 100, my name got called up from the wait list.
By then, I had several years’ experience eating seasonal vegetables through a local CSA and two years tending two garden beds in a sprawling backyard complete with chickens and bees owned by a former landlord. But my time at Early Street has been the most rewarding.
Gardens always need tending. They require tilling, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, bug squashing, and, the toughest task of them all, clearing after a long season. Having a plot at a community garden, as opposed to a home garden, means you likely have to go out of your way to get there.
But community gardens offer their own benefits. No garden is grown alone. There are neighbors with which to pass the time and learn about different approaches, soaking up their wisdom. Helpers who turn the compost, mow the grass, take in your squash when you can’t possibly eat any more. There are the angels who surprise you by watering your plot on the hottest of days, who leave you trinkets and gifts like painted rocks, or who let you snack on their raspberries.
In the heat of summer, I promise you there is nothing better than getting up early to water your plot as you soak in the beauty of it all, of 100 plots together, and plucking basil and fresh tomatoes off their stems for dinner. This joy never fails to eclipse the disappointment of a cucumber plant that never grows, a tomato plant that wilts and dies with disease, a sprawling squash plant ruined by an invasion of beetles — all lessons for next year.
In the years since I first stepped foot in the Early Street Community Garden, it has changed a great deal. Modest homes across the street have been torn down to make way for two high-rises. Its recent overhaul, undertaken after its preservation, added a public parklet with inviting flower beds and lounge chairs in front and a solar-powered pavilion in the back, a walking path, apiary, bike repair station, and public art project, The Gateway Totems, commissioned by Morris Arts, created with input from the longtime residents in the surrounding community to honor Morristown’s immigrant history. In the center is a large rain garden to absorb the runoff that once nearly flooded out my back plot.
My life has changed a great deal, as well. I got a new job. I married and moved to Morristown, then moved away after a divorce. I downsized my plot. Friends have disappeared from the garden to tend to their growing families, we get together less. I sometimes feel like I have lost the connection I once had to this community.
But like the start of every spring, I returned to Early Street this growing season with excitement to see what the year will bring. On the May morning I arrived to weed my plot, I chatted with old and new garden neighbors as if winter never happened. We traded spare lettuces, salt hay, and wine. I advised a new gardener on how to efficiently rake out weeds and accepted aspirin to plant near my tomatoes’ roots.
Without a plan this year, I put my hands in the dirt and have slowly filled — maybe overfilled — my plot with flowers, herbs, and vegetables that are quickly growing.
I look out from Early Street Community Garden today and feel amazement at how unique this space off Speedwell Avenue is, steps from a high school, senior center, and vibrant Latin American businesses, and how it survives such change in every direction.
This garden is but one of the ways Grow It Green Morristown has built community, the thing that has had the biggest impact on me. Its Urban Farm at Layafette has reached even further, giving nearly a decade of students in Morristown a first-hand experience with real food and the natural world around them. Its CSA and generous donations of bounty has helped stock the fridges and pantries of thousands of struggling families who needn’t know hunger in such a bountiful state.
To the founders and board members and past and present leaders, Erica Colace, Farmer Shaun, and Abby Gallo, and all those who have helped Grow It Green Morristown flourish, I extend my sincere and deep gratitude for all you’ve done with humble dirt.
What you have grown is more than flowers and vegetables, you’ve truly created a space for people to find and create community, for magic to emerge.
I cannot wait to see what the next decade brings.
Meghan Van Dyk is Dodge’s Informed Communities program officer and communications director. All photos are by her. Full diclosure: Dodge supports Grow It Green Morristown through its Morristown initiatives.
Dodge Poetry Festival Newark, New Jersey 10/18-21, 2018 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson
In honor of the release of this conversation, we’re re-posting our Ask a Poet Q&A with Jericho Brown, originally published August 24, 2018:
If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it? When people ask me what kind of poems I write, I usually reply, “Good ones.” I think it’s hard for poets to describe their own work because when we write it, we’re trying to discover a sense, a revelation…not a subject, not content. We want to see the world in a new way. My poems are about changing the lens through which we see all of the things we’ve already seen…which is to say, they’re good poems.
When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write? I have to trace it back to a mother who really couldn’t afford childcare. She would drop my sister and I off at the library whenever she had errands to run. We had no choice but to read. I don’t know if the librarians knew it or not, but they were our babysitters.
What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about? By the time I was 10 years old I had read several of John Updike’s novels, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni — so many people whose work still means so much to me. That seed was watered by my experience growing up in the African American church, which is a location of pomp and circumstance and drama and theater. I was very active in the church, a fan of my pastor’s oratory. After that, I became interested in writing as a space where you could put things you couldn’t necessarily talk about in the grocery story line, but that you knew existed. Things I began to understand that people couldn’t talk about but could be written about.
When I was 16 years old, I had a high school assignment to spend a year writing a research paper. I missed school the day topics were picked, and only one was left: the confessional poets, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton. I spent a year reading their poems, even though I had no idea what they were talking about. Then I had to read criticism written about their poetry so I could better understand it. I began teaching myself about poetry and my own aesthetic proclivities. From that point on, I think I had the idea I would be a writer of some sort. I was really taken by the ways in which those poets made themselves vulnerable to their own work, as well as the ways in which they made it clear they were living in a landscape that was not only personal but also political. That’s exactly what I try to do every time I sit down to write a poem. I want to write poems that are not only about me, but also about the world.
Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library Journal, Coldfront, and the Academy of American Poets. His poems have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Buzzfeed, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology. He is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.
What does it really mean to reach agreement in a group?
Many nonprofits operate with the goal of consensus in mind – the idea that we should work together to reach decisions that everyone on our team can support. This is a valuable goal and often reflects a commitment to hearing all voices in our decision-making. But in many situations, especially those where consensus is not easily reached, this decision-making process can make tense situations even more difficult.
In casual use, consensus has come to mean “a decision that we can all agree upon.” But this well-intentioned concept can sometimes spark a race to the lowest-common denominator. What can everyone in this room agree upon? That might not be the best quality decision, or the best thing for the organization, its mission, or its community.
So what does it really mean to try for consensus? It really depends on the culture of your organization.
The concept of consensus is most commonly associated with the Quaker faith; Quakers are often credited with pointing out that “majority rules” is not always the best way to make a decision. However, the process used to reach consensus in many Quaker communities is often unsuitable for groups not bound together by their faith and a long-term commitment to the good of the community. In fact, some Quakers have stopped using the term “consensus” to describe their decision-making, instead referring to it as “sense of the meeting” and defining it in this way:
Majority Rule Model: “How do we vote?”
Consensus Model: “What can we agree to?”
Sense-of-the-meeting Model: “How are we led?”
So, assuming that your organization doesn’t have the shared principles of faith that allow you to ask “how are we led?,” can you use consensus in a way that is more effective and more meaningful? Can we avoid majority rules voting while still making effective decisions that truly represent the will of the group?
In my experience, the best results come from a more structured consensus process. Starting by getting agreement from everyone in the group to follow this process is essential to using consensus well. Here’s one approach to making consensus work even when decisions are complex:
First: Set “decision rules” for what will count as consensus. Be clear upfront on the definition of consensus in this circumstance. Does everyone have to agree enthusiastically? What percentage of people have to feel “good” or “good enough” about the decision for it to go forward? Under what circumstances will we allow an individual to block the consensus – meaning that the decision cannot be adopted until the person blocking it is satisfied? And finally (and often most critically): are we truly committed to acting based on the consensus decision? Or are we using consensus to propose an option that a final “decider” will take under advisement? This often happens, for example, when staff members reach consensus but the Executive Director or Board of Trustees actually has the final say. Understanding these rules up front provides order for the process and sets expectations for the group.
Second: Lay the issue on the table, so everyone agrees on the discussion topic. What question are we trying to answer? This takes some skilled preparation and facilitation, so that the question leads to the discussion you need.
Third: Explore ideas. What suggestions do people have to address this question? Ensure that everyone (even quieter participants) has the chance to share their ideas and comment on others’ suggestions.
Fourth: Define proposals. Once general discussion has taken place, the facilitator (and/or participants) needs to articulate the proposal on the table. The proposal should state the basic idea for action, and the rationale for proposing it. For example: “One proposal I hear is that we should focus our energies on working in South Jersey next year, since we have the most opportunity to meet new people there.” Clear articulation ensures that everyone is talking about the same thing – which is essential to a true consensus.
Fifth: Test the waters. Do people seem to agree with this proposal? Can we amend it in a way that builds agreement without diluting its core purpose?
Sixth: Test for consensus. At this point, you have to insist that everyone share their reaction – otherwise, you get a decision that looks like consensus, but is not because some people actually have a “silent disagreement” with the decision that derails the process at a later stage. I am a fan of the “five fingers” method of testing consensus. When asked, each meeting participant has to rate their current feeling about the proposal by holding up the corresponding number of fingers:
I can easily support the decision or action.
I can support the decision or action, but it may not be my preference.
I can support the decision or action with minor changes.
I support the will of the group, but I don’t necessarily agree with the decision or action.
I cannot support the decision or action.
Each participant is responsible for giving a true rating whenever one is called for, and indicating this by holding up the number of fingers that corresponds to their current opinion. Participants cannot withhold a rating when one is called for; they cannot say, “I’m not ready.” Each person commits to giving the most accurate rating they have at that moment in time.
Each participant is also responsible for explaining why they have chosen their response if asked to do so, in order to advance the discussion (i.e., you cannot say, “that’s just how I feel”). Each person agrees to explain their reasoning so others can understand their choice, which may help build consensus.
At the start of the discussion, the group made a decision about what level of consensus is required to go ahead. Here’s where we use it. Do we have to have everyone at a level one or two? Is it okay if some people are a level four? How many? Can a single rating of five block an otherwise enthusiastic consensus? We use these agreed-upon rules to work our way towards what the group has defined as consensus for this particular topic. In truth, decisions that require 100% enthusiastic consensus are rare, and should be reserved for situations involving the mission, long-term organizational sustainability, or personnel.
The desire for consensus is often rooted in an effort to engage as many people as possible in our work. This is a valuable practice – as long as you use consensus authentically to build the will of a group through collaboration. Over time, groups build their “consensus muscles” and are better able to work together to make solid decisions.
If you attended the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival last October, you might remember that Krista Tippett recorded several conversations in Prudential Hall at NJPAC for her Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast, On Being.
Her conversation with Sharon Olds, “Odes to the *****” was released on March 14–you can listen here.
Krista’s conversation with Gregory Orr, “Shaping Grief with Language,” is available today.
Dodge Poetry Festival Newark, New Jersey 10/18-21, 2018 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson
In honor of the release of this beautiful conversation, we’re re-posting our Ask a Poet Q&A with Gregory Orr, originally published October 12, 2018:
Hey! What’s new with you? After teaching at the University of Virginia for forty-four years and designing and setting up its MFA Program in Writing, I’m preparing to retire at the end of the spring 2019 semester. I just brought out a book with Norton—A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry—that I’m very happy about—in a way it let me sum up and close out all my long time as a teacher—what I learned as I did my best to persuade my students of what they already knew in their hearts—that lyric poetry is a great cultural and personal tool for discovering and expressing the dignity and miseries of being a person. Poetry saved me as a young person (first, the trying to write it; later, the learning to read it) and I hope my Primer (with its craft topics and writing exercises) can bring some of my excitement and insight to readers now that I am on the verge of retiring from face-to-face teaching. Also, I’ll bring out a new collection of poems in the spring of 2019. It’s called The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write. At the Festival, I’ll be performing a “concert” of poems and singing with the Parkington Sisters—it will be a mix of singing and reciting based on a long sequence of “beloved” poems that I’ve been writing, off and on, for the past fifteen years. I’m extremely excited about that. As someone who can’t sing the simplest tune, I’m in awe of the human voice when it’s skilled enough to explore all the nuances of melody and phrasing, so this event is really exciting to me. The poems in that sequence are incantatory and more “musical” than many I write, so I’m very very curious to see if they can be “lifted” right up into actual song.
When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write? I first discovered poetry through my high school librarian in the small upstate New York village where I was raised. Her guidance and encouragement opened up the whole world of writing to me and when I stumbled on the expressive form of lyric poetry, I knew I’d found what I needed to live fully and deeply and to survive certain miserable and traumatic events that marred my childhood. I’ve written about that in my memoir,The Blessing.
After sixty years of writing poems, I’ve come to this conclusion: many of us who are going to live and love poetry begin either excited/impatient to write it (to write expressing our feelings or experience) or we start by reading some poem(s) and get inspired to write ourselves (in imitation of what excites us that we read). Most of us (especially me) start with the urge to write a poem or poems because we feel something bursting or gnawing inside us and sense that poetry is one way to get it OUTSIDE us by turning it into words and putting those words down on a page. Such a relief/release—exhilarating and scary at the same time if you are dealing with difficult emotional or experiential material—is so powerful. I needed that as a young person. Truth to tell, it was a while before I could calm down enough to read other poets and discover that reading was another main way to learn the art and deepen the experience. What poets did I read first? Keats. His poems and then his letters (great letters for a poet to read). I still read my favorite poems of his every other year.
What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about? See answer above. I was sixteen when my high school librarian showed me poetry by way of writing. I was part of a small group of “honors” English students in a small upstate NY village public school (graduating class: 36 students). This teacher/librarian, Dorothy Irving had us read and write constantly and one day the writing assignment was to write a poem and that was it for me. I immediately knew/felt that language in poetry was “magical”—that it created reality instead of describing it (as language in prose tends to do). I needed that “magic” because the “real” world inside me was kind of nightmarish and intense and I couldn’t write about it in ordinary language—I needed the intensified language of poetry (and song) to express what I felt and knew. Honestly, most of the poetry I read in high school English classes didn’t help me—I hated the way the poem became an excuse for questions that had “right” and “wrong” answers. I felt closer to the heart of what mattered to me when I heard the Beatle’s sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the only jukebox in town (Lawlor’s drug store, 1963). I think the process of introducing young people to the essential art and joy of poetry has gotten a thousand times better than when I was young (proof of that: the Dodge Poetry Festival).
Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share? Yes. But the good news is: if I have written something, then I have already had the experience of sharing it with the page. The page “listened” to me and didn’t judge me. Maybe later, I’ll have the courage and/or opportunity to share what I’ve written with another person, but meanwhile, the page has heard me and so I’m already less alone. I knew early on that I would need to write about the traumatic deaths of my younger brother and my mother and that made me ashamed and scared, even though I knew I’d need to do so to survive. Poetry is there for people like I was: a place to bring your joy, sorrow, trauma, confusion. So it seems to me.
Gregory Orris the author of eleven collections of poetry. His more recent volumes includeThe River Inside the River, How Beautiful The Beloved, and Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved. His most recent book, A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, serves as an innovative and accessible guide in bringing the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in their life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. His memoir,The Blessing, was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fifty best non-fiction books of 2002. Orr has received many awards and fellowships, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Violence.
Raritan High School and Cape May City Elementary work to ditch plastic
Students across New Jersey are pushing for their schools to operate more sustainably, starting with the lunch line. Working with teachers and district staff, they are helping schools figure out how to compost food waste and get rid of single-use plastic products; ultimately, they want washable, reusable products in the cafeteria.
Lunch Trays, Water Bottles and Food Waste Composting at Raritan High School
Members of the Raritan High School Environmental Science Club and the Raritan High School Green Team spearheaded the switch from polystyrene (Styrofoam) trays for hot lunches to a fiber-based tray that can be recycled. This change will help reduce the amount of cafeteria waste sent to landfills.
Polystyrene trays are convenient, but they take up landfill space and are suspected of releasing carcinogens according to the federal government’s National Toxicology Program. Before making the case for switching, the students of the Raritan High School Environmental Club conducted research on alternative tray options that included the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
The students presented their findings to the club advisers and to the Raritan High School Science Supervisor, Michael Miller. Miller shared the information with the Hazlet Township Public School District Business Administrator, Christopher Mullins, who then contacted Maschio’s Food Service to give them permission to order fiber trays that are recyclable. The students in the environmental club helped to promote the change to the student body through the morning announcements.
To further reduce cafeteria waste, the Raritan High School Environmental Club, in cooperation with the cafeteria staff, installed composting bins in the Outdoor Environmental Learning Center. These are used to compost the food scraps generated from the cafeteria and the culinary arts classes. Every Friday, or the last day of the school week, students collect the food scraps from the cafeteria and culinary arts classroom and place the food scraps into the compost bins. The compost produced is used in the outdoor planting beds and greenhouse. The vegetables and spices grown in the beds and greenhouse are used in the culinary arts classes and cafeteria.
The school also took action to cut down on plastic use. Eight water bottle refilling stations were installed throughout the high school to encourage students and staff members to reduce waste from plastic water bottles. In the first four months, the students and staff saved approximately 8,400 plastic water bottles from entering the waste stream.
Hazlet Township Public School District Superintendent, Dr. Scott Ridley, added, “In any worthwhile venture, and this undertaking certainly qualifies, it is always a sound strategy to involve those who will eventually inherit their surroundings from the community where they live. Our green team is one such group of young people who are absolutely committed to making the planet ‘greener’ and a better place to live for all, as society continues to grapple with these environmental challenges.”
Currently, six schools in the Hazlet Township Public School District have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification including Cove Road Elementary School, Lillian Drive Elementary School, Middle Road Elementary School, Raritan High School, Raritan Valley Elementary School and Sycamore Drive Early Childhood Learning Center.
Straws and Plastic Utensils at Cape May City Elementary School The Cape May City Elementary School Green Team spends a lot of time brainstorming about how the school can educate the community on, and support solutions to, the ocean plastics problem. In 2018, Earth Club member and Student Council Vice President, Theo Parker, set a goal to end the use of plastic utensils in the school lunches by proposing the return to silverware.
The Cape May City Elementary Green Team and Earth Club supported the initiative, securing administrative and cafeteria staff approval. By replacing disposable utensils, the school also eliminated additional costs associated with their handling — storage, unpacking, and disposal (after only twenty minutes of use). The Cape May City Elementary School Green Team includes members representing students, parents, teachers, support staff, the community, the Cape May City Education Association, the Board of Education, facilities management and administration. The Earth Club includes students from fourth through sixth grades.
In a collaborative effort using social media, school flyers and conventional media, the school received enough donated silverware to achieve Theo’s goal before he transferred from the school mid-year with his Coast Guard family. In the classroom, teachers focused lessons on reducing, recycling and the proper disposal of waste.
Sandy Sandmeyer-Bryan is an educator, mentor and leader in New Jersey’s environmental community. She wears many hats; she is the Program for Academic and Creative Enrichment (PACE) teacher, the literacy teacher and the library manager at Cape May City Elementary School, as well as the coordinator of the Cape May City Elementary School Green Team. Sandy said, “I see a big part of my job as opening
up doors for the kids to peak through. I show them the possibilities and provide opportunities, and they take it from there. I see students move from awareness to action all the time and it fuels my energy and gives me hope for a sustainable future.”
The Cape May City Elementary School sponsored an Ocean Festival at its annual STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) event. The green team hosted a booth with the focus on plastic reduction. In April 2018, Cape May City Elementary was the first school to host a showing of the movie “A Plastic Ocean” in partnership with the Surfrider Foundation-South Jersey Chapter. This year, the school continues to strive toward ending single-use plastics. With input from student representatives, the green team voted to end the use of all plastic straws for grades 3-6 (unless requested for special needs). The ban includes breakfast and lunch. Both Cape May City Elementary School and Cape May City have achieved silver-level certification in the Sustainable Jersey and Sustainable Jersey for Schools programs respectively.
Compostable trays and silverware are more environmentally-friendly options than Styrofoam trays and single-use plastic utensils. These schools that are working to become more sustainable are an inspiration to others. Over 55 percent of New Jersey public school districts are participating in Sustainable Jersey for Schools. From energy audits to integrating sustainability into student learning to boosting recycling efforts, over 3,900 sustainability actions were completed by schools and districts working to achieve certification in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program.
Pretty evenly split between male and female, but with no ability to know about gender self-identification
Skewed to the 50 and older crowd.
On these overwhelmingly white boards, there is typically little information on indicators of privilege around the board table, or understanding of problem-solving strategies, or any of the other variables on which a board might need, and should want, to diversify.
The current expansion of the diversity push for predominantly white boards (although it often feels more like pulling and tugging boards, kicking and screaming) to address equity, diversity, and inclusion makes the achievement of the desired goal even more challenging for many boards, as these are terms that are associated with varied interpretations and a great lack of clarity.
Too often, however, these boards magnify the challenges inherent in adding anything “different” to a group by their own processes — or, rather, lack thereof. In adding “difference” to a group, we first must make sure that the group is ready, willing, and able to welcome that difference. We cannot simply sprinkle in a few variations and sit back and conduct business as usual. To do so is both a waste of time and an insult to those you bring on. There is pre-work that must be done if you truly want to achieve the desired end and not just do it for show.
The first question that a board should ask is “Why? Why do we want to add difference to our mix? Why do we want to be inclusive?” These days, there seem to be two answers.
The first: We want to be able to check the right boxes on a grant proposal; in other words, we want to do this because a funder wants us to do it.
The second: We understand the value and importance of being both a diverse and inclusive board and organization, and understand that we, as the board, must model the desired and valued behavior of the organization.
Answer one is not a pathway to success. We have learned from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and other similar laws, as well as what the research shows, that attitudes and thinking cannot be legislated. Were that the case, we would not be where we are more than 50 years later. Legislation can mandate behavior change, but not a change in thinking, attitudes, and heart. Doing something just to try and make a funder happy, to look good in a funder’s eyes, will not change your organizational culture. And it is culture — the ways, beliefs, norms, etc. of a group — that needs to change if real progress is to be made.
Thus, it is only the second answer — we understand and value the importance of being a diverse and inclusive board and organization — that will lead to the eventual achievement of a diverse and inclusive board and organization. A board must have this conversation before any intentional efforts to diversify are made, unless it likes wasting its time.
After asking the first question, the most important question a board must ask, but only if it is willing to answer honestly, is the question that puts the rest of its work into play. That second question, phrased in different ways, is: Would these “different” people want to and be able to join our board?
Would they find our culture welcoming and open to the serious consideration of new and diverse ideas?
Have we created barriers for achieving diversity and inclusion, such as holding meetings at times challenging for parents of young children, or those who are classified as non-exempt and thus lacking flexibility in their work day, or those with disabilities and dependent upon others for transportation?
Do we have donation expectations that could immediately rule out some?
Are we accessible via public transportation? Is our meeting place ADA compliant?
How well do we use technology? Are we still dependent upon paper, or do we take advantage of virtual options, such as a password protected page for board members on our website, or the equivalent? Do we offer virtual attendance at meetings?
Do we use a vocabulary of accessibility and inclusivity? Or do we use short cuts, like acronyms and vague language, in our communication or talk in our own short-hand because the board has been together so long?
Do we expect new board members to assimilate into the current board culture or are we open to learning from new ways of working and thinking? Are we recruiting for diversity and onboarding for sameness?
While it is essential that the full board sees the importance of, and is ready to embrace diversity and inclusion, there must also be a good number of people — and especially people in key leadership roles — who are intractable proponents of being a diverse and inclusive board and organization. It is essential that the board chair, chair of the governance committee, and the executive director see the need for diversity and have a sense of thoughtful urgency in its achievement and the tenacity to do the work that is necessary to get there.
But it is also necessary that these advocates, particularly the board chair, as well as the others involved, create a safe space for exploration, learning and acceptance of past mistakes as just that, as opposed to a space filled with finger pointing and vitriol.
The self-reflection and conversations that must happen are not easy ones to have in a public arena, such as a board meeting. Thus, if tensions and factions (even just dyads and triads) already exist around the board table, it is best to resolve those before moving into the diversity conversation.
One of the biggest and most unfair mistakes boards make when they move too quickly to try to diversify is when they bring on just one individual who is different — a “token.”
When that is done, we put on the shoulders of one individual the unfair burden and ignorant expectation that he/she should know of and speak on behalf of the entire group he/she is representing. There is an expanding body of research that reveals the stress and hardship this places on people brought into any group as a representative of diversity.
It has always been a best practice, and is common language in most bylaws, that new board members be brought on once a year, as a class. By bringing on a group of “different,” you are ensuring the empowerment of those individuals, providing them a group of immediate peers while they become integrated into the larger group, augmenting their new voice so it is not alone, but rather one of multiples, decreasing their feelings of being outsiders, and increasing the chances that these new board members will stick around to help move the organization forward.
Sadly, though, too many organizations ignore that bylaws dictate and the best practice, bringing new board members on as they are found. One of the great downsides to this is the failure to do comprehensive orientation of these new board members, as this takes planning, effort, and coordination, which we can muster once a year, but not constantly. The downside to this approach to onboarding when you are seeking to move to a diversified and inclusive board is that it actually works against the intended goal and decreases the likelihood of success.
One of the first rules to the successful addition of any new board members is first to clean up the board culture — such as getting rid of “dead wood,” making sure the committees are all performing well and that board meetings are being used appropriately and engaging board members.
After all, you don’t want to expend the time finding the right and best board members only to have them learn bad behaviors of a unwelcoming board culture so that they feel uninvolved and unappreciated so that they leave. But if you want to bring on board members that will reflect the desired end goals of diversity and inclusion, you must do that work and the much heavier work of deep, honest reflection and, most likely, culture change.
To do otherwise will result in a revolving door for diverse board members and a remaining core of same ole, same ole.
Ntozake Shange, the legendary poet, playwright, dancer and feminist, died this past Oct. 27 in Bowie, Md at 70. A public memorial honoring Shange, Celebration of the Life and Work of Ntozake Shange, is today at The Public Theater in New York.
During the prior year, I shared a stage with and had the honor of interviewing Shange not once but three times at various venues in New Jersey, including at the 2017 Newark Arts Festival and the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, which was, as I understand it, her last known public interview.
I was in my early 20s and emerging as a young woman and professional, and tending to my first broken heart, when I discovered the choreopoem and the line, “I found god in myself and I loved her fiercely.” Those words filled me, affirmed and even scared me. I remember promptly typing them onto my computer as a screen saver. Each time they scrolled across the monitor, the words seeped deeper and deeper into my consciousness.
I was starting to understand at some deep level that as a black person, and a woman, I would have to rely on my inner strength and summon sometimes enormous amounts of courage to get through the many challenges life had in store for me.
I was beginning my career in the nonprofit arts sector, yet to realize the significant impact Shange’s work had on the theater, arts, poetry, and feminist movement. I went on to learn about her many books, Betsey Brown, Liliane, and Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, and the numerous honors and awards she earned. She published her last book, Wild Beauty, in November of 2017, about a month after I first met her.
I checked in with her before each time I interviewed her to ask about topics she wanted to cover, poems she wanted to read, and what they meant to her. She was generous with her life and stories and talked admiringly of her daughter and granddaughter. She talked about overcoming the many physical challenges she endured as a result of several strokes she had over a decade ago, and how she had to use a typewriter because she couldn’t hold a pen or navigate a computer keyboard. She said she needed a mechanism to get a poem that had been making itself known out of her head and on paper.
When I asked if she thought she was born to be a poet, she said no, she thought she was born to be a dancer.
I was stunned to learn of her transition via an early morning call with her manager the morning after her death. I was shaken, and although I had known her for only a short time, I felt connected to her, and so lucky to have spent that space and time on this planet with such an icon.
She was fierce, always in bold red lipstick, and warm and accommodating to fans, friends and this random interviewer she happened to meet in New Jersey. When I posted the news of her death on Facebook, my friend Chad commented, “What do you wish you had asked her that you didn’t?”
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering that question since her death several months ago, and I now know what I would have asked her.