Sustainable Jersey green teams gear up for a complete count in NJ

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey

sj census

In a little over a month, the U.S. Census will be in full swing. Homes across the country will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census either online, by phone or by mail. The count is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency.

The Census determines how much federal funding New Jersey receives for a variety of programs, its congressional representation, and allows New Jersey to plan and manage public goods appropriately. A complete and accurate count will help ensure that the political power, health, and safety of every community is maintained or enhanced in the upcoming decade. We only get one chance every 10 years to get this right — it is important to make sure that New Jersey gets a fair share of the pie.

Sustainable Jersey is encouraging school and municipal green teams to step up to help improve New Jersey participation rates in the 2020 Census. Since green teams are already engaged in community outreach efforts and are a trusted voice in the community, green team members can have a significant impact on educating municipal and school officials, along with the general public on the importance of a complete count, the safe and easy methods to complete it and connect with those in hard-to-count communities to improve the count across the state. 

New Jersey Green Teams and the 2020 U.S. Census

In Cape May County, the Upper Township Green Team is actively engaged in 2020 Census outreach. With Sustainable Jersey’s guidance and links to U.S. Census Bureau resources, Upper Township Green Team Chairperson Ralph Cooper learned ways to get the green team involved. Under Cooper’s guidance, the Upper Township Green Team became an official partner with the municipality’s Complete Count Committee. A Complete Count Committee is a volunteer committee established by local governments, community organizations and others, to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census.

Through the strength of the green team network, Cooper facilitated having Lori S. Carlin, the partnership specialist for the 2020 Census for Atlantic and Cape May Counties, speak at the January 23, 2020 Rotary Club of Ocean City-Upper Township meeting. Cooper, who is also the co-chair of the Atlantic-Cape May Counties Sustainable Jersey Regional Hub, shares the Census resource materials with all of the green team leaders through Basecamp, an online team communication platform. In addition, the Atlantic-Cape May Counties Sustainable Jersey Regional Hub will be highlighting the importance of the 2020 Census Complete Count as part of its March 2020 meeting on Resiliency and Emergency Planning.

“Sharing accurate Census information is a vital part of ensuring that all towns receive adequate funding for disaster planning and mitigation,” Cooper said. “The green team is using our established communications network to spread the word on the importance of the Census. We shared Census links on our social media and sent a communication to our email list.”

Schools participating in Sustainable Jersey for Schools are also involved in Census outreach. Egg Harbor Township High School, a certified school with Sustainable Jersey for Schools, was awarded first prize in a video contest sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Atlantic County. Students were invited to create videos and songs to encourage their families, friends, and fellow community members to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.  Watch the first place video by Egg Harbor Township High School students Nardeen Saleep and Timothy Medina: Video Contest Winner.

WHY CENSUS DATA MATTERS

Nearly $23 billion in federal funding for New Jersey depends on Census counts, including support for:

  • EDUCATION: School programs and services such as special education, free and reduced lunch, class size reduction, classroom technology, after-school programs, Head Start and more.
  • INFRASTRUCTURE AND HEALTH CARE: Medicaid, SNAP, Transportation Planning, Environmental Programs and more.
  • POLITICAL REPRESENTATION: Census data defines congressional and state legislative districts, voting precincts, and the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. As a result, New Jersey has two fewer representatives in Congress and two fewer electoral votes than in 1990.

2020 Census Webinar: Earn Points by Making Sure Your Community Counts

Municipalities, schools and school districts that are engaged in 2020 Census education and outreach efforts can also earn Sustainable Jersey and Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification points. The details are included in the Sustainable Jersey 2020 Census Flyer. Community members are invited to watch Sustainable Jersey’s 2020 Census Webinar. It was hosted in partnership with the Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). ACNJ is coordinating the statewide New Jersey Counts nonprofit coalition.

The Role of Municipal Green Teams in the Census

Sustainable Jersey municipal green teams are encouraged to work with a Complete Count Committee. Search Complete Count Committees in your area, using the Interactive Map. If your town does not have a Complete Count Committee, green teams can still access Census Bureau outreach resources available online to educate the community about completing the 2020 Census.  Resources include:

The Role of Schools and Green Teams in the Census

As a teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member and education advocate, Sustainable Jersey for Schools participants can help contribute to a complete count by sending information to students’ homes that explains how and why to complete the 2020 Census and the importance of counting all children, especially those under age five or those living in complex households. Complex households are those that include large extended families, multiple families, children whose parents are not living in the home, and children who do not live in the home all of the time. Resources include:

It is up to all organizations and individuals to get involved and make our voices heard.  An accurate and complete 2020 Census is the first step to ensure that everyone has good roads, schools and representation now and in the future.


 

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Posted in Community Building, Environment, Informed Communities, Sustainable Jersey | Leave a comment

An update on our new vision: Announcing our equity theories of change for our program areas 

Posted on by Tanuja Dehne

Program Thoery of Change

For 45 years, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has nurtured leaders, ideas, and institutions that use creative problem-solving to promote a sustainable future. The Foundation’s focus has been New Jersey, carrying out its work in program areas that have adapted over time in response to social, economic, and cultural changes.

In June 2018, the Dodge Foundation adopted a new vision for the future centered on equity with a revised mission, values, a new equity definition, goals, and a strategic plan to guide us. We are proud that from this process emerged our vision for an equitable New Jersey through our support of creative, engaged, sustainable communities. Our board and staff together affirmed that, for Dodge, equity means aligning our resources to address historical, institutional, and structural impediments so that New Jerseyans of all races and communities have what is needed to realize a quality life.

Following the development of our strategic plan, we entered a deep learning and review process to begin to define how the majority of Dodge’s grantmaking would benefit under-resourced and under-represented communities. Supported by Hillombo LLC and Dragonfly Partners, and informed by research, evidence, and best practices in the field, we developed new equity theories of change for each of our program areas — Arts, Education, Environment, Informed Communities, and Poetry. This learning and exploration process has been both challenging and enriching.

The Foundation supports achieving equity in its many different forms, including but not limited to income, race, gender, disability, and neighborhood. This phase of our work places an emphasis on people and communities of color, and yet equity requires the inclusion of all people and organizations. Therefore, our strategies and processes will include and benefit all of New Jersey and will change and evolve over time.

The program theories of change were approved by Dodge’s board in the fall. I’d like to thank the Dodge Foundation Board of Trustees for their commitment and leadership in this process, starting with our new vision and now with our new equity theories of change.

To help translate our theories of change into the day-to-day practices of grantmaking, we continued our work with Hillombo LLC and Dragonfly Partners and developed an equity rubric to frame conversations about each organization’s equity journey and to make our approach more transparent to our partners. We look forward to sharing more about this tool and what we are learning in the coming months.

Dodge has been in transition over the past four years. Throughout this time, most of our grantees have continued to receive funding under our existing guidelines. We know to achieve equity we will need to do things differently. Pursuant to our new program theories of change, we will devote energy and resources to support communities and work centered on equity with both new and current grantees.

Honoring our value of respect and our relationship with grantees, we expect that changes will take place over time as we continue to learn and build new relationships. We recognize that different funding decisions may impact our current and past longtime funding relationships and potentially destabilize organizations or program delivery. Therefore, we strive to be deliberate and transparent as we respectfully phase out grants that are not in keeping with our emerging strategies.

We know our strategic plan is an early step on the Foundation’s equity learning journey and that we have more work to do to align our program, internal, external, and finance goals with this vision. I know from listening to many of you that you are excited that we are centering our work on equity and are anticipating the opportunity to learn more about how that will look in practice.

I am proud of our program directors and staff for their deep respect and commitment to grantmaking and programs that will support an equitable New Jersey. Our work inside Dodge will continue as we lean into our strategic commitment to equity. I am energized and humbled by the progress we have made thus far and the journey ahead.

We look forward to working together with you to achieve an equitable New Jersey.


tdehne1Tanuja Dehne is the President & CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Established in 1974, the Dodge Foundation has distributed nearly $500 million in grants and technical support to New Jersey nonprofits, with a focus on the arts, education, the environment, informed communities, and poetry. As a former Dodge Trustee, Tanuja helped shape the foundation’s new strategy, which envisions an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, and sustainable communities.

Posted in Arts, Community Building, Diversity, Dodge Insights, Environment, Informed Communities, News & Announcements, Philanthropy, President's Message, What We're Learning | Leave a comment

Dialogue across difference: Engaging with polarized perspectives

Posted on by Beth Zemsky, Dodge Board Leadership Facilitator
Two people having a serious conversation. Photo Courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection /Creative Commons

Two people having a serious conversation. Photo Courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection /Creative Commons

In this time of increased polarization, there is interest and concern about how to have productive conversations with colleagues, friends, family, and loved ones about diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice issues.

By utilizing an intercultural developmental approach, we can gain perspectives and skills to reach across divides to be more effective in our interactions. The Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC) provides us with a framework to meet people where they are, engage them in effective dialogue, maintain positive relationships and preserve our personal integrity.

IDI Continuum

The IDC describes the developmental orientation of Polarization as a mindset characterized by an “Us vs Them” perspective. People who primarily experience difference through a polarized lens tend to have a strong commitment to their own worldview, distrust people who they perceive as different from themselves, and discount information that contradicts their worldview. As a result, trying to persuade through sharing data and information tends to be counter-productive. When people are deeply polarized, they tend to have confirmation bias (i.e. selective attention to data that confirms their already existing belief system while discounting all other information). In addition, the attempt to contradict a deeply held polarized belief system can result in a “backfire effect” that contributes to people doubling down on their existing belief systems despite information or facts to the contrary.

So, what are we to do instead?

First, having a productive conversation requires preparing yourself to see if you are ready and able to engage in a dialogue with good intent. Once you are prepared, it is then important to have engagement strategies to be effective in achieving your goals for the interaction. Below are some suggestions…

 Preparation Tips

  • Determine your goal for the engagement. Do you want to reinforce your own worldview? Be right vs effective? Build a relationship? Move someone to consider another perspective? The clearer you are about your purpose, the more effective you will be in choosing the most adaptive strategy to achieve your goal. If you are not clear about your purpose, you might want to postpone the conversation until you are.
  • Know your triggers. It is hard to stay clear, on purpose, and adaptive when we are triggered. What are the physiological signals to watch for to let you know you are triggered? What do you do when you are triggered? Withdraw? Attack? Go numb? Appease? Be prepared to recognize and deal with your reaction. If you are triggered, you might want to postpone the conversation until you are feeling more grounded.
  • Remember authentic relationships tend to be built on curiosity, dialogue and empathy, not on ideology, jargon, or the transmission of data.
  • Reflect on what you know about the other person. Who are they? What matters to them? What are their values? What struggles have they had? Who in their life, particularly those they care about, might be impacted about the concerns or issues you most care about?
  • Be prepared to use your intercultural knowledge and skills. What we often experience in interactions with people whose primary orientation is Polarization/Defense (Us vs Them) is anger. However, most often what is underlying the expression of anger is a perceived fear that something they hold dear (e.g. a belief, a core value, way of life, etc.) is being threatened. The developmental intervention for people with a Polarization mindset is to support them in finding commonalities, even when commonalities with the people they perceive to be “them “are not readily apparent. Being open to empathize with their perceived sense of fear, even if you disagree with its location or target, can be a place to start.
  • Transformation takes time. Shifting someone’s mindset will likely take more than one conversation. Check in with yourself about your energy, level of commitment, etc.

Engagement Tips

  • Listen to understand. Be sure you aren’t just waiting to plan a response.
  • Be curious. Ask about their concerns, fears, hopes, and visions for the future.
  • Empathize as you are authentically able to do so.
  • Share how you are feeling, your concerns, fears, hopes, and visions for the future. Be real.
  • Tell stories that help connect their experience, issues, fears, or concerns to those of someone (or a group) who they might have perceived as a threatening “them.” Try to help them discover commonalities to support a shift from “us vs them” to “we.”
  • Find stopping points so that you can end a conversation in a place of understanding and then revisit the conversation.
  • Follow-up. Once a rapport is established, a follow-up conversation can go deeper through sharing more experiences and stories to support the development of empathy and a more complex worldview

We will likely have a number of opportunities to practice these skills. Remember, in interactions with people who are different from ourselves and/or have different beliefs, our assumptions about their perspectives often get in the way of connection. If you wish to have an authentic dialogue, we have to discover, negotiate, or create commonality. My hope is that these tips will help you do so.


zemskyBeth Zemsky, a Dodge Technical Assistance faculty member, is Principal at Zemsky & Associates Consulting, LLC, and a qualified administer of the Intercultural Developmental Inventory (IDI).

 

 

 


Posted in Board Leadership, Diversity, equity, inclusion, Technical Assistance | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Join us for our live Board Leadership webinars and get answers to your finance and strategic planning questions

Posted on by Dodge

TA illo for website

We are excited to invite Dodge grantee staff and boards and others in the New Jersey nonprofit community to join us for two webinar offerings part of our Board Leadership Series this February and March. The webinars cover topics that are on the top of every nonprofit leader’s mind during these uncertain times: Financial Health and Resilience and Effective Strategic Planning.

Each topic is covered over two sequential sessions, and we strongly recommend registering for both. You do not need to be registered for the Board Leadership Series to participate.

About the webinars

Achieving Financial Resilience, facilitated by Hilda Polanco

Organizations that are financially resilient have a comprehensive understanding of their financial health and are able to strategically anticipate future needs. In this two-part webinar series, we will explore the values, resources, and practices that are foundational to financial resilience, focusing on the board’s role in building a resilient organization. Participants will gain an understanding of what it means to be financially resilient, how your organization stacks up, and strategies for becoming more resilient over time.

Specific elements to be covered:

Culture of inclusion, transparency, and team-based decision-making process;
Multi-year planning, scenario planning, and ongoing financial performance management;
Balanced revenue mix and appropriate capital structure; and
Building and maintaining adequate operating reserves, better known as Liquid Unrestricted Net Assets (LUNA).

Register:

Part 1: Noon to 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 6
Part 2: Noon to 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 13


Building a Strategic Planning Process that Works, facilitated by Allison Trimarco

Strategic planning documents are valuable, but it’s the actual planning process that really makes a difference in the quality of the end product. How can you be sure that the time you spend building a strategic plan will provide you with the information you need to make good decisions in the coming years? This two-part webinar will help you decide how to structure your planning process for maximum effect. Topics covered will include different approaches to strategic planning, methods for gathering data to inform decision-making, ways to engage stakeholders effectively, and strategies for prioritizing goals and objectives.

If your organization does not have a strategic plan (or is using an outdated plan), this webinar will get you ready to tackle the process.

Register:
Part 1: Noon to 1:15 p.m. on March 5
Part 2: Noon to 1:15 p.m. on March 12

Please reach out if you have any questions. Email Wendy Liscow or Judy Ha Kim.


 

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President’s Message: Living Our Vision

Posted on by Tanuja Dehne

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Two years ago, Dodge outlined bold goals in our Strategic Plan, and 2020 is about living our vision.

Living our vision is just that — living, doing, being. Centering our work on equity means centering all of our work on equity, including our internal operations, how we work, our policies and procedures, communications, financial management, and our grantmaking.

To do things differently we won’t be able to do everything the exact same way we did them before. We have to make room, make space, including head space, and make time. This requires a mindset shift — a different way of thinking about and deploying our resources, time, and talent.

During my first 100 days as Dodge president and CEO, it was important to me that we set ourselves up for success by beginning to create structures that will help promote the mindset shift required to do things differently and to live our vision. We began by setting intentional goals that aligned with overarching organizational goals and personal development plans. We then created interdisciplinary and diverse teams to advance these goals and shifted roles and perspectives giving us new opportunities to flex our leadership muscles as well as our listening, coaching, and mentoring skills. We also designed a budget that included resources for additional learning, collaboration, and grantmaking as we welcomed our newest team member, Dodge Chief Financial Officer Camilo Mendez, who brings with him new perspectives and experiences. We tried to remove some of the traditional internal roadblocks for making the shift.

And now we work on time. Mindset shifts and making time are no easy tasks and are deeply personal. During the first staff meeting of the year, I invited staff to observe how we manage our time and energy levels, and am encouraging them to take back the power and control so we can make the shift — and hold ourselves accountable for how we use our time. Thirty days into the year, we still grapple with how we will fit it all in or not.

During that same first meeting of the year, we were also intentional about our intentions for the new year. We gave ourselves the time and space to be aspirational on how we wish to live and be, and how we will show up. My personal intention is to have grace and compassion towards myself, my team, and to everyone we encounter in our work and on this journey. Change will not happen overnight or even 30 days into a new year.

We have a lot ahead of us in 2020 and our journey continues. Our aim is to share with you our story of what we are doing to center all of our work on equity and what has worked and perhaps what has not. Many in the field are on similar pathways.

Over the next months, I will be sharing updates about the progress we’ve made on our program-level theories of change and how we will practice living our vision this year through our grantmaking, practices, and how we hold ourselves accountable.

We hope that sharing our updates and story — both the “a-ha” moments and the mistakes we are bound to make — with transparency and humility will inspire you to share yours.


 

tdehne1Tanuja Dehne is the President & CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Established in 1974, the Dodge Foundation has distributed nearly $500 million in grants and technical support to New Jersey nonprofits, with a focus on the arts, education, the environment, informed communities, and poetry. As a former Dodge Trustee, Tanuja helped shape the foundation’s new strategy, which envisions “an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, and sustainable communities.”

Posted in Dodge Insights, equity, Leadership, Philanthropy, President's Message | Leave a comment

Hiring the Executive Director: Keystone of board responsibility

Posted on by Laura Otten, Dodge Board Leadership facilitator

craig_jessica

Embracing new leadership models: Free Press and Free Press Action recently announced Craig Aaron and Jessica J. González will lead the organization together as co-CEOs, saying in an email announcement, “We see clear benefits in sharing responsibility for the organization’s health and success and in having a strategic thought partner on executive decisions. We will walk the talk on our race-equity values, starting at the top, modeling real power sharing and collaboration in line with our values.” Photo courtesy of Free Press

 

One of the tasks you’re not likely to find on board members’ lists of favorite things to do is “hiring a new executive director.” But, like it or not, there’s a good chance it will be on their must-do lists in the next three-to-five years.

In 2006, a Bridgespan study announced that the nonprofit sector was going to lose 640,000 executive directors in the next 10 years. Fortunately for those on boards back then, that threat didn’t come to fruition, largely because the Great Recession of 2008 delayed a lot of Baby Boomers’ retirement plans.

Fast forward 12 years, and those previously shelved plans are being dusted off now as executive directors of a certain age are beginning to retire, and will continue to do so over the next several years. Add to this trend the employment patterns of Millennials, who, along with Generation Xers, tend to stay at organizations a handful of years and make up the replacement pool for executive directors, and the odds are very good that many nonprofit boards are going to be looking to hire their next executive director from this pool.

Generations

High-performing boards already have a succession plan (see this white paper on succession planning) in their bank and are regularly reviewing it and updating as necessary. They are prepared and ready once their executive director announces their intent to resign. (Really well prepared boards have a succession plan for both a planned and an unplanned departure).

Boards that have not yet created a succession plan should get started, but only if they have at least a year’s lead on the ED’s departure. It will save a lot of headaches and angst when a resignation is announced. Boards with less than a year before their executive director is likely to leave shouldn’t bother with a succession plan for this leader – it’s too late. But once they’ve hired their next ED, they should create that succession plan.

Regardless of whether or not you will be hiring with a succession plan as your guide, there are some considerations that boards either should, or could, be addressing now.

First, and definitely necessitating forethought, is the fact that there is a very good chance that the leadership model you are now accustomed to — a solo leader — will not be the model you will have going forward.

Millennials as Leaders

Millennials like co-leadership, and there is much to be said for that model, at least for nonprofits. Many performing arts organizations have had a shared leadership model for decades, with a managing director and artistic director sharing the responsibility for leading the organization. More often than not, both positions report directly to the board and have equal authority over different aspects of the organization.

The beauty (but don’t get too excited, as there is a beast in this scenario) of co-leading allows an organization to hire two experts: one with mission expertise and the other with business expertise. They need someone who gets the mission inside and they also need someone to run the business side of things — the money, the HR, the systems, the development. In the past, this business savvy was not normally found in the person who knew the mission content; today, however, with the growing number of graduate programs in nonprofits, that is no longer the case.

Despite the fact that today we could find everything we want in one person, millennials prefer to share the responsibilities of the job, or to have a partner in the work. That addresses one of the common complaints that so many executive directors find in their jobs – that they have no peers. In addition to wanting to work with others, rather than going it alone, millennials like competition, something that can only come from working with others. And, millennials are demanding a work-life balance. It is far easier to achieve work-life balance in a job that can suck the life out of you when you have a partner who can pick up half the load.

Embracing New Leadership Models

Smart boards will think proactively about the pros and cons of having a co-leadership model for their organization. They will think about the strategic priorities and the leadership needs of the organization for that point in time.

Another model of co-leadership parallels the model of co-leadership for a board: an internal ED and an external ED. In this model, one ED position focuses inside the organization, paying attention to things like programs, human resources, certain strategic priorities, while the co-ED focuses externally, paying attention to things like building relationships with the community, partners, and collaborators and focusing development and other strategic priorities.

Both would work with the board and collaboratively work “on” the organization.  (The tension for every ED is finding the right balance of working in the organization and on the organization, with too many focusing on the former over the latter.  A co-leadership model encourages more working on the organization).

Now for the “beast” of this model. First: no question, this model costs more money. This is not job sharing in the sense that there is one job being shared by two people, each of whom is paid a half-salary. This model demands two full-time positions, with two full-time salaries, that when worked collaboratively fill one mega job.

The next generation of leaders will not follow the path of Baby Boomers who were too willing to take on a mega job for a miniscule pay, which wasn’t healthy for either the organization or the people in those jobs. Thus, boards that take this on intentionally will be preparing ahead of time by identifying the sources of the additional dollars needed to cover the cost of pending co-leadership.

The second “beast” in this model is that the success of co-leadership is ultimately dependent upon the ability of the two individuals to work well together. That requires mutual trust and respect, something that more often than not develops over time and experience, rather than right out of the gate. While hiring is so often a roll of the dice, despite our best efforts, the roll of the dice with this model is even more fraught.

Proactive Hiring

Here again, forethought is needed, to hire proactively rather than reactively. When boards hire without a strategic plan, they are far more likely to hire reactively. If they liked what they are losing, they hire that. If they didn’t like what they are losing, they hire the opposite. Hiring reactively may seem smart, but it is hiring for the past and not for the future. As great as what you had may have been, it still might not be what will be needed for the future, even if that future is just three years away.

Boards must think about what they will need going into the future, what they will need to increase the likelihood of successfully achieving their strategic priorities. A good public speaker may have been important in the age of oral communication, but going forward, the written word — even if it is 280 characters or less, may take precedence.

Boards always want their executive directors to be strong fundraisers, but depending upon where an organization’s current development capacity and focus are, it may be important that the next executive director be strong in A rather than B.

Hiring the next executive director is one (of many) areas where resorting to the comfort of what has always been done can lead to great harm. Thinking about the possibilities of this important position in the organization is a key opportunity for the board to stretch its generative thinking muscles, think outside the boxes of the past and really imagine that leader for their future. There may be nothing more important that a board does that year.

Embracing Inclusivity

Lastly, give thought to how you will include staff in the hiring process. Those on the board who come from the corporate world may not understand or appreciate the important role that inclusivity plays in the nonprofit sector and, thus, may not see a need for bringing staff into the process.

The downside of that, however, ranges from lacking staff perspective in the hiring process, to a disgruntled staff feeling disempowered, to the extreme of a staff taking out its resentments on the new hire. Given how easy it is to avoid any of these kinds of outcomes, there is no reason to allow any of it to happen.

Moreover, just as there is an array of staff responses to being cut out of the hiring process, there are multiple ways to include them, and none is mutually exclusive.  In fact, the more of these options used the better.

Priorities:

  1. Boards should absolutely seek staff input — be it through a focus group or a survey — on what it sees as essential for the next executive director to bring to the table.
  2. At least two staff members may be on the search committee as equal members of the group. These staff members must understand that they are there as representatives of the whole staff, and not just themselves. In addition, these staff members must have a clear understanding of what they may and may not share with the rest of staff about the process, candidates, etc.
  3. The finalists should meet with staff in some forum. Here again, these options are not mutually exclusive. Candidates could have an all-staff meeting, make brief opening comments and then engage in Q&A. Candidates could meet with a subset of staff, having that subset pull from all tiers of the org chart. Candidates could meet with senior staff only, or just with those staff who would be direct reports. Regardless of the method(s) selected, the board must have a means for getting participants’ feedback on the candidates.

Regardless of which of these options are used, boards must make two things crystal clear:

  • First, it must be clear that while it wants everyone’s input, that does not mean that everyone’s ideas will show up in the final job description or the final candidate.
  • And, second, it must be clear that, ultimately, it will be the board, not staff, that will decide on who is hired.

There is no more important decision that a board member can make during her/his tenure on a nonprofit board than the hiring of an executive director (artistic director, if a performing arts organization).

To not give this duty the care and attention it merits, and that the mission and clients deserve, is the ultimate act of irresponsibility.


laura-head-shot-500Laura Otten, a Dodge Technical Assistance faculty member, is Executive Director at The Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University.

 

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A new leadership collective for professionals of color in the sector

Posted on by Dodge

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The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership are excited to announce the launch of The Nonprofit Professionals of Color Collective, a new leadership series beginning this month.

The Nonprofit Professionals of Color Collective is designed to provide a caucus space for New Jersey nonprofit professionals of color to engage in a supportive community for growth, professional development, and meaningful peer relationships. It will be facilitated by Victoria Fernandez, acting program director of Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership, and Tyneisha Gibbs, founder and principal of 144th & Vine, and held monthly over the course of nine months at locations in Newark and Central Jersey.

At the heart of the Nonprofit Professionals of Color Collective is the belief that “nonprofit leaders, no matter their experience, can benefit from a multi-pronged approach to professional development and that leaders of color are rich with knowledge and will benefit from a nurturing and stimulating support network,” Fernandez said.

The Nonprofit Professionals of Color Collective is not your typical leadership or workshop series.

Over the course of the gatherings, participants will be invited to engage in sessions about relevant topics for nonprofit professionals of color, enjoy facilitated peer-to-peer time, receive one-on-one coaching, peer and executive mentoring, and hang-out with plenty of like-minded social profit sector movers and shakers.

Potential facilitated topics covered throughout the series include: Class and colorism, safe spaces and intersectionality, recognizing inner power, shifting systems, and navigating upward mobility, recognizing and managing allies, politics in the workplace, speaking truth to power and consequences, and fundraising.  

Nonprofit professionals of color working in all levels of service in the nonprofit sector, including executives, directors, direct service staff, entry-level staff, board members, and more. This includes those who identify as, live their daily lives as, and understand themselves as people of color.

Dodge and the Institute for Ethical Leadership are collaborating on the series. As part of our ongoing commitment to providing technical assistance opportunities for our grantees, the series is in alignment with our recent strategic plan and vision for an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities.

Many of our grantees have asked us to support a caucus for professionals of color over the past several years, and we are pleased to partner with Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership. The Institute has demonstrated their commitment and expertise to supporting leaders of color through their multiple training programs.

The series launches with an Opening Gathering from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24 at Rutgers-Newark. Advance registration for each workshop, limited to 50 participants, is required.

 

Posted in equity, Technical Assistance | Leave a comment

At time of tragedy in Jersey City, the arts demonstrate community love

Posted on by Sam Potts, Nimbus Danceworks founder
A file photo of Nimbus Danceworks' Jersey City Nutcracker.

A file photo of Nimbus Danceworks’ Jersey City Nutcracker.

Note: Nimbus Dance’s Sam Potts shared the below letter with its community following the anti-Semitic Dec. 10 attack on the JC Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City, which left three victims and two suspects dead. The Dodge Foundation received the letter and requested we share it with the broader New Jersey nonprofit community, as we believe Potts’ words and perspective shows a deep love of community and offers a unique way to interpret and understand the tragedy and the role of the arts in communities. The stark difference between the space created within Nimbus’ performance – onstage and among the audience – and the shooting spree that was happening at precisely the same moment in another section of Jersey City lays bare the role that the arts can play in envisioning and creating something counter to prevailing realities and narratives.

Our community was recently jolted and devastated by an incident of brutal and hateful violence. At around 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, two individuals targeted a Jewish grocery store, opened fire on innocent people and did battle with heroic law enforcement officers who put their lives at risk to protect the community. A police officer, Detective Joseph Seals, and three civilians were killed; two other officers were injured. Unbelievably, this tragic ritual of American life: senseless gun violence and hate crime has become normalized. Our beloved hometown was just the most recent community to be struck.

At precisely the same moment that havoc was erupting in one part of Jersey City, Nimbus Dance was inviting a group of 150 elementary school students from Rafael de Cordero, P.S. #37, into our theater for a matinee performance of Jersey City Nutcracker, to be performed by our company dancers along with 12 students from Henry Snyder High School, located mere blocks from the site of the shooting. In a cocoon of theatrical warmth, imagination, and shared purpose, our re-envisioned version of Nutcracker told a story of two Jersey City youth whose adventures through the streets of Jersey City lead them to a magical manhole cover. Through this secret portal, the kids emerge in Act II into “a glimmering vision of what our city might one day become.”

During a break between Acts I and II, I went onstage to question the youth audience members, about what they guessed this glimmering vision for Jersey City might look like. They called out: “Clean – no garbage on the streets!” “Reindeer and Santa and lots of presents!” “People care about each other and are nice!” “More slides and swings and playgrounds!” The wide-eyed schoolkids were enraptured by the dance which had opened their minds to new possibilities for what a city could be like, by extension, these Jersey City kids were considering their own community and their own visions for the future. The kids cheered and cheered.

When the performance was over, I was pulled aside and told about the shooting, that the schools were on lockdown and that the students would need to stay put at our facility. We stalled for time – kids asked questions of the dancers, dancers offered to take pictures with the kids. The Snyder High School students, many of whom live in neighborhoods racked by gun violence and poverty, led the younger kids in dance games, ‘Simon Says,’ and other fun activities, demonstrating exceptional empathy, maturity, and leadership under the stressful circumstances.

By 4:30 p.m., we received the signal that students could be released to their parents and the elementary school kids, high school students, professional dancers, Jersey City public school teachers and parent chaperones, each went their separate ways into the eerily quiet and dark early evening. The bubble of unity that had been formed among this diverse and eclectic group of Jersey City people, could be seen as a momentary glimpse of what could be, within a world that had become suddenly more ominous, dangerous, and filled with uncertainty.

A parallel reality existed on that day in Nimbus’ space, and in the alternate universe of Jersey City Nutcracker onstage. While the nation’s attention was directed to more of the horrifying violence that we have endured regularly in recent years, the young people, the Snyder High students, the Jersey City School teachers and the Nimbus dancers, made a statement that will endure for all who were present: we WILL build our reality, our vision for the future, our city of unity, in the face of the darkness that might lurk outside.

 

Posted in Arts, Community Building, Grantee Spotlight, Nonprofit | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

First 100 Days: My gaze is forward and my mind is on our community

Posted on by Tanuja M. Dehne, Dodge Foundation president & CEO

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I write to wish you, our partners and community, warm wishes this holiday season as we head into a new year.

December is a time of reflection, to measure progress, and to set the course for the year ahead. As I close out the first 100 days as the president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, I’ve been doing just that and wanted to share some updates with you.

Since joining the staff in September, I’ve used this time to meet with the Foundation’s board and staff and participate in meetings, events, and conferences in the field to learn about New Jersey’s dynamic social sector. It has been an honor to be in this role at such an exciting time for Dodge and to experience the field and our communities with a new equity lens. My listening tour of learning will continue well into the new year.

A lot has happened in these few months. The Dodge Team, both board and staff, came together three times to strategize and advance our work, we welcomed two new board members, and we launched a search for a new CFO. Earlier this fall, the Dodge Team held a retreat in venues across Newark where we met and learned from partners and community leaders working on several fronts to make Newark a place of prosperity for all. Over two days, we shared stories and reflected on the many forms of impact Dodge has made over its 45-year history – from people, place, community and financially. Looking back with a broad lens allowed us to lean forward into our bold vision and re-imagine what impact toward an equitable New Jersey might look like in the future.

I have worked with the Dodge Team to develop program-level theories of change, and we are excited to share more about that process and next steps in the new year. We also launched our new grantmaking portal and awarded nearly $2 million in our final round of grants this year, bringing our investment in nonprofits organizations serving New Jersey communities across the arts, environment, education, informed communities, poetry, technical assistance and other areas to more than $10 million. This fall we also welcomed the newest learning community of nonprofit leaders in our Board Leadership Series, which has new offerings this year on diversity, inclusion, and equity. And, the countdown to the Dodge Poetry Festival has officially begun, and I am excited to invite you to save the dates— the Festival returns to Newark Oct. 22-25.

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My listening tour has taken me all over the state and my visits with community members have done wonders for my spirit. I have had the opportunity to share my perspectives and early learnings on the NJPAC Women’s Association Leading Ladies panel and address the issue of Trends in Philanthropy at the Center for Non-Profits 2019 NJ Nonprofits Conference. I have also had the good fortune to attend the Dodge Newark High School Poetry Mini Festival, Art Pride NJ’s annual meeting, the Black Media Story Summit Newark, the Black Issues Convention, and to participate in a racial equity workshop facilitated by Grantmakers in the Arts. I am grateful to have been able to immerse myself in understanding how philanthropy is addressing deeply entrenched race and class issues in New Jersey.

Over these months, I have absorbed, learned, and discovered much more than I expected about who we are, our community, our people (the Dodge Team), and myself. There is so much more to learn, but one thing is for certain to me: Dodge builds. Over 45 years, Dodge has built scaffolding, networks, ecosystems, relationships, expertise, the endowment, and community with patience, commitment, and care. With deep respect for our past, my gaze has turned to the future.

The program-level theory of change work has sparked bigger questions about how we might leverage what Dodge has built to create holistic impact in its many forms as we center our work on equity – including what we keep doing, what will change, and what new ecosystems we may build. The Dodge Team will embark on a Foundation Theory of Change in the new year, and we do so acknowledging we can’t do this work without engaging and partnering with the community. It is critical that we listen, learn, and collaborate with humility and transparency so that the impact we make is relevant and accessible as we connect communities and influence social change towards an equitable New Jersey.

We are embracing the opportunity of an ambiguous and exhilarating future, and we look forward to sharing our story and learning from you. It is indeed an exciting time at Dodge.

I want to thank each person who has reached out and welcomed me over these months. I’m so grateful for the outpouring of support and well wishes.

May the next few weeks nourish you and set you up for success in 2020.

Posted in Dodge Insights, President's Message, What We're Learning | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Board Leadership: If I were the king of the forest…

Posted on by David Grant, former President and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

I had the pleasure of meeting Lonnie Bunch through the late great Clement Price when I was working at the Dodge Foundation, and I think the country and the world is lucky to have Lonnie at the helm of the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.  The fact that it is still such a big deal for a black man to have that job in 2019 has me musing on the forces that make that so.

A moment comes to mind from the first workshop of the Dodge Board Leadership series for 2019-20, which I facilitated last month.  We were examining the “Seven Pillars of High Performance,” as defined by the Leap Ambassador Community, and talking about the first and “pre-eminent” pillar: Leadership.

I told the group of nonprofit leaders in the room that the creators of the seven-pillar framework had chosen two adjectives to modify the noun leadership in their naming of the first pillar. Then I asked what they thought those adjectives were.  Effective? Strong? Consistent? Trusted? Experienced?  Bold?

No.  The first pillar is identified as Courageous, Adaptive Board and Staff Leadership.  I asked the participants what that looked like to them, and I would ask you the readers of this blog post now to pause over the same questions.  In your experience, what kind of leadership would deserve to be called courageous? What do you picture when you think of leaders being especially or conspicuously adaptive?

After hearing responses from those in the room, I shared a list of descriptive statements about leadership made by the Leap Ambassadors, including, “In high-performance organizations, executives and boards cultivate diversity and inclusion at every level of the organization.”

Then came a moment I’ve been thinking about since.  I said, “You know, as recently as ten years ago, it would have been possible for white-led organizations to ignore that statement.  But I don’t think it’s possible anymore.”  There was a moment of silence, then enthusiastic finger-snaps from two young women of color in the training room.

They may have been snapping for the idea rather than the reality of change in the social sector, the Smithsonian notwithstanding.  According to the Building Movement Project’s 2017 report, “Race to Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap,” the percentage of people of color in executive director/CEO roles has remained under 20% for the last 15 years.  The report described significant investment in training programs in order to create a pipeline of potential leaders of color.  But it also noted that those trained people are out there and want the jobs; indeed the percentage of people of color who desired nonprofit leadership positions was higher than that of whites.  But they aren’t getting hired.  The report went on, “In other words, while many investments … focus on training and other capacity building for people of color, the real need for capacity building is with the people who hire for executive leadership positions.”

The Building Movement report ended with three recommendations, including: field organizations, like funders and associations (and one might add capacity builders …) can incentivize new norms, set standards, and identify progress indicators for racial equity in the sector.

This brings us back to the idea of courageous leadership and efforts like the Dodge Board Leadership series.  The vast majority of nonprofit organizations and boards I work with, including in this series, are led by white people, and they are all trying to figure out what the acronym DEI – diversity, equity, inclusion – means to them.  They generally are good, dedicated, community-minded, mission-driven people.  But their organizations are slow to change, and maybe framing that change as taking courage is exactly right:

  • It takes courage to face unconscious bias;
  • It takes courage to acknowledge that you don’t need racists to perpetuate systems that foster and maintain racial inequality;
  • It takes courage to challenge and change systems that benefit you and people who look like you.

As Robin DiAngelo writes at the end of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, “Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality; the interruption is by definition not passive or complacent … we must never consider ourselves finished with our learning … It is a messy, lifelong process, but … (it) is also deeply compelling and transformative.”

There’s where the Dodge Foundation comes in, and since I’m no longer there I feel I can praise them out loud for their efforts.  The Foundation has elevated the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in its strategic plan. Their mission and vision statements refer to “an equitable New Jersey” as the goal they are planning backwards from. They describe “a priority focus on elevating the voices and power of those communities that have been historically and systematically excluded from investment and opportunity.”  The Board Leadership Series has added two core workshops in “Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

In short, in philanthropy, a field that many feel does more to uphold than disrupt the status quo, Dodge is leading.  Maybe they can help us all learn as the lion did in The Wizard of Oz, that we had the courage all along.

DG_HeadshotDavid Grant is the former President and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
He is the author of The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals,
Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations (2015)

 

 

 

Posted in Tidbits | Leave a comment

Celebrating a New Tradition: the Newark High School Poetry Festival

Posted on by Victoria Russell

We are so grateful to the city of Newark and the communities that live and work there for welcoming the Dodge Poetry Festival with warmth, kindness and absolute love for poetry when we host our Festival in the downtown arts district every other year. We want to make sure to offer a Dodge Poetry experience for Newark students every fall, not just when the national Festival is in town. That’s why we created the biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival in October 2017, and we were so happy to host the second one last month, on October 24, 2019, at the Rutgers-Newark Paul Robeson Student Center.

About 500 students and teachers from every public high school in Newark attended the festival, thanks to the diligent work of Margaret El, Director of Visual & Performing Arts for the Newark Public School District, who is always the ultimate champion for making sure Newark students get to the Dodge Poetry Festival and experience poetry (and all of the arts) in a deeply meaningful way.

Poets Nicole Homer, Mia X and Naomi Extra talk about "Poetry and Herstory." Photo by Marisa Benson.

Poets Nicole Homer, Mia X and Naomi Extra talk about “Poetry and Herstory.” Photo by Marisa Benson.

Throughout the day, students moved among spaces in the Paul Robeson Center for a variety of different poetry experiences, with sessions led by an outstanding lineup of poets, most of whom have a close personal connection to Newark, or even call the city home: Ana Portnoy Brimmer, Naomi Extra, Reg E. Gaines, Nicole Homer, Khalil Murrell, Vincent Toro, Joe Weil and Mia X.

When they first arrived in the morning, students were treated to a poetry and music jam between poets and saxophonist Irwin Hall. Then the students broke out into smaller sessions—some sessions featured several poets reading poems, conversing and addressing questions about a topic (like politics, the art of storytelling, or “herstory”), while others joined a single poet to learn more about that poet’s life. Still others journeyed to the Dance Theater for a performance workshop. Every group experienced three different sessions, giving them the chance to meet different poets and connect with poetry in different ways. The poets told us at lunchtime that they were blown away by the students’ thoughtful questions and expressed how deeply moved they were by their interactions.

Poets Ana Portnoy Brimmer and Vincent Toro. Photo by Marisa Benson.

Poets Ana Portnoy Brimmer and Vincent Toro. Photo by Marisa Benson.

We want to give a huge thank you to Rutgers-Newark for donating the space for the day, to Sonam Shah, her excellent staff and the lovely NJPAC volunteers for making sure everything ran smoothly—and for being so pleasant throughout it all, no matter what challenges arose.

And of course, thank you to the poets, the teachers and the students for bringing their open hearts and minds, their love for poetry and stories, and their attentiveness to the art and each other. We’re so happy to have started this tradition and look forward to many more.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Archives, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | 1 Comment

Announcing two new members to Dodge’s Board

Posted on by Dodge

We are excited to welcome two new members to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Anisa Kamadoli Costa and Dan Fatton began their three-year terms in September.  

“Anisa and Dan bring strong experience in the social sector and a passion for Dodge’s vision of an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities,” said Preston Pinkett III, board chairman. “We are thrilled to welcome them to the board to help advance Dodge’s goals, which include aligning our resources to address historical, institutional, and structural impediments so that New Jerseyans of all races and communities have what is needed to realize a quality life. 

 

The Dodge FoundationAnisa, of New York City, is chairman and president of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and chief sustainability officer at Tiffany & Co., where she works to drive the company’s global sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts, including the alignment to internal culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts while advancing the business and building brand value. In strategic alignment with Tiffany’s global sustainability priorities, Anisa shepherds Tiffany’s support of nonprofit organizations dedicated to the stewardship of natural resources in the areas of responsible mining and marine conservation.   

She is a board member for the American Swiss Foundation and Oceans 5, and is a member of the Conservation International’s Leadership CouncilShe previously was on the board of Philanthropy New York and chair of the Environmental Grantmakers Association.  

Anisa has a bachelor’s degree in European studies from Barnard College at Columbia University and a master’s in international economic policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.  

The Dodge FoundationDan, of Trenton, is New Jersey state director for the Energy Foundation, where he works to grow and strengthen relationships with grantees and partners leading and engaging in campaigns and guiding the Foundation’s giving in New Jersey. 

Dan is chair of the City of Trenton’s Planning Board, vice-chair of the City’s Green Team, and a board member for the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, New Jersey Policy Perspective, and Arts Ed NJ. He is a former board member of the I Am Trenton Community Foundation and served on Governor Murphy’s Energy and Environment Transition Committee. 

Dan has a bachelor’s degree in media arts and design from James Madison University and a master’s in city and regional planning from the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He has also completed fellowships with Lead New Jersey and the Environmental Leadership Program and was part of Dodge’s emerging leader program. 

“We are so excited to welcome Anisa and Dan to Dodge,” said Tanuja Dehne, Dodge president and CEO. “They bring new energy and ideas as we lean into the future and our new vision.” 

Posted in Dodge Insights, News & Announcements, Philanthropy | Leave a comment

Sustainable Jersey: Graduate students matched with NJ municipalities and school districts to find high-value energy savings

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey

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This summer, Sustainable Jersey provided six municipalities and three school districts with hands-on-help to evaluate, plan and implement projects to help improve the energy performance of their buildings.

Through the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps fellowship program, Sustainable Jersey worked with: Karen Wu (Duke University), Sabrina Vivian (University of Michigan) and Sarrynna Sou (University of Washington). These specially trained fellows were paired with municipalities and school districts from four New Jersey counties:

  • Monmouth County: Borough of Keyport, Borough of Red Bank, Manalapan Township, Neptune Township, and West Long Branch School District
  • Morris County: Mount Arlington Public Schools and the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills
  • Ocean County: Barnegat Board of Education
  • Sussex County: Borough of Hopatcong

The technical assistance program is funded by New Jersey Natural Gas.
“We are proud of our partnership with Sustainable Jersey – now in its 10th year – to help connect communities with the resources they need to make wise energy choices,” said Anne-Marie Peracchio, director of conservation and clean energy policy for New Jersey Natural Gas. “The host towns and schools benefit greatly from this unique opportunity as the EDF Climate Corps Fellows provide guidance and insight to help them address challenges and plan customized energy-efficiency solutions that help advance their sustainability goals.”

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Since its launch in 2008, EDF Climate Corps has embedded over 1,000 trained fellows within more than 500 leading organizations to help advance their energy goals. The result: over $1.6 billion in energy savings identified. Since 2015, Sustainable Jersey, with the support of New Jersey Natural Gas, has placed twelve EDF Fellows to assist a total of 18 schools/ districts and 15 municipalities.

As the EDF Fellows worked with township and school district staff in June and July 2019, Sustainable Jersey provided guidance to help the EDF Fellows advise participating schools and municipalities about resources specific to New Jersey, as well as initiatives that earn points toward the Sustainable Jersey certification program.

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The EDF Fellows helped to get energy efficiency projects on the fast track to accomplishment – simultaneously lowering energy costs and environmental impact. In particular, the EDF Fellows helped the towns and school districts access the many incentives available through New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program and the New Jersey Natural Gas SAVEGREEN Project. In recent years the EDF Fellows have helped the host towns and school districts reduce their own energy usage while promoting the energy efficiency projects within their communities, including the SAVEGREEN Project’s zero-percent on-bill repayment programs that make energy efficiency more accessible for customers.

Learn more about what the EDF Climate Corps Fellows have accomplished in previous years for New Jersey school districts and municipalities: NJ EDF Climate Corps Project Reports.

For more about Sustainable Jersey:

Website   Facebook  Twitter  Instagram   LinkedIn

 

Posted in Environment, Sustainable Jersey | Leave a comment

Newark High School Poetry Festival: Joe Weil

Posted on by Victoria Russell

This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. Joe Weil is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

Joe Weil blog photoWhat is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I’ve discovered I still like to rhyme and have been exploring everything from nursery rhymes to old Irish forms where the rhyme schemes are very tricky.

What poem by another poet do you wish you had written and why?

I wish I’d written “The Soldier and the Snow” by Miguel Hernandez because of its beauty and its amazing control which I guess he picked up while reading the classic Spanish poets.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

My old neighbor Mrs. Sacchia was still alive when a camera crew from NJPBS took me to the street I grew up on. She saw me, remembered me, and embraced me. She was over 90. She said: “Joseph! A Camera? What have you done?” I said: “I’m a poet Mrs. Sacchia.” She crossed herself and said “Well it’s better to be that than a murderer.”

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

The first time I read a poem, the podium was on an uneven floor and I shook so badly, it started knocking about as if it were possessed. I am always a little nervous. Sometimes I write things people might not be able to hear yet. Sometimes I tell unflattering truths about myself.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Don’t over define what poetry can be. Start with the phrase “Acts of language.” What’s an act of language you really like? What’s something you think has been said just so, where the how it was said was just as important as what was said. Begin there. Collect these acts of language, then have them start playing with words, with spacing, with shapes. Go from there.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

I worked construction in my 30’s, at least part-time, and I worked with these guys from Brazil. We sat on a porch in Down Neck drinking beer, and eating chicken hearts on tooth picks with hot sauce. The beer was really cold and we had worked all day breaking concrete and pouring cement. I remember letting the tiredness drink me while I drank the beer. It was off of Olive Street. Chicken hearts taste really good, though I guess they’re not for everyone. You do need the hot sauce.

What are you currently reading?

Student’s poems!

Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poets, Tidbits | Leave a comment

Newark High School Poetry Festival: khalil murrell

Posted on by Victoria Russell

This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. khalil murrell is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

khalil murrell blog photoHave you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

At least half of the things I write I’m afraid to share, but I share them anyway. Part of my draw to poetry emerged from attempting to push past my discomfort, to explore the things that made me afraid.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, what did you write about? 

I actually began writing poetry in college. I saw this movie named Love Jones (1997), a love story that centered around two lovers who met in a speakeasy. Both of the main characters recited a poem, “Brotha to the Night” (Regie Gibson) and “I Am Looking at Music” (Sonia Sanchez). I remember hearing “Brotha to the Night,” thinking, “Man, I want to do something like that.” Later, I started performing at various spoken word venues around Philly.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

I usually watch the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs at Burger Walla on my block. I like the trash talking and the wings.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading two books by my favorite author, Kiese Laymon–a book of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance, and his recent memoir, Heavy.

Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poets, Tidbits | Leave a comment
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