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Congratulations to the Carlisle Community Action Network, including network organizers Margee Ensign and Jennifer Love, for receiving one of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council's first ever Heart & Soul Hero Awards! The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown brought many challenges to cities and towns across the world as they adapted to social distancing and other health and safety requirements. Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania’s residents showed their resilience and strength by working together to meet the needs of their neighbors. To acknowledge some of the many people who supported their communities during this time, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created the Heart & Soul Hero Award. The award honors local heroes in communities that PHC has partnered with through Community Heart & Soul, a humanities-based initiative that uses resident stories and community conversations to spark collective decision-making and action. The Carlisle Community Action Network, nominated by Lindsay Varner (Community Outreach Director of the Cumberland County Historical Society), was among six recipients recognized as Heart & Soul Heroes for their outstanding community service. Each awardee receives a certificate, virtual award ceremony, and a spotlight article. “The recipients of these awards displayed resilience, compassion, and action in time when their communities needed it most,” said Jen Danifo, PHC’s Senior Program Officer and host of the Heart & Soul Hero virtual award ceremonies. “This is what Community Heart & Soul is all about and PHC is honored to have the opportunity to uplift their work.” Carlisle Community Action Network (CAN) is a group of 70+ community members that meet weekly via Zoom to discuss actions and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking the lead in coordinating this group is the President of Dickinson College, Margee Ensign, with support from Dickinson’s Assistant Chief of Staff, Jennifer Love, and other participants. Ensign, Love, and all of CAN were selected as Heart & Soul Heroes for quickly jumping into action to meet the needs of Carlisle and reaching across cultural divides to ensure everyone had a voice in the process. CAN hosted weekly discussions, helped launch an online resource page to keep the community informed, connected local businesses with Dickinson College student helpers, supported a food bank, organized the bottling and provision of hand sanitizer to residents, and engaged in outreach to vulnerable populations in the community. “Whenever a new issue arose there was never the question of ‘could we do it?’ It was ‘how quickly can we move, and who wants to be involved in it?’” said Ensign. Related Content Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul site (Orton is a statewide partner of PHC) Local and college leaders honored by Pennsylvania Humanities Council for effective, collaborative work (Dickinson College) Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul
Jean Kosha's remarkable life journey has taken her from working with the teachers of child refugees in Liberia and Sierra Leone while with the International Rescue Committee, all the way to serving youth at the Municipal Branch of the Upper Darby Township Library in Pennsylvania. She cares passionately about meeting the needs of young people and recently received support from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) to bring Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) to the library in order to further deepen their engagement with the humanities and social justice issues. The PHC-created program combines immersive conversations around the humanities with real world civic engagement and cultural activities. "It seemed to be the perfect fit," said Kosha. "Teen Reading Lounge provides a space where we can talk about these issues that our teens face every day." The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of schools and libraries, along with the cancellation of many youth development opportunities. The Upper Darby Township Library had just launched Teen Reading Lounge when the statewide shutdown orders went into effect. Rather than cancel the program, they decided to move it online and keep their teens engaged at a time when it seemed they needed it most. We reached out to Kosha for a Q&A to check-in on how she's navigating this new virtual terrain and to learn more about how the humanities are impacting the lives of young people in Upper Darby. First, how are you doing with all this? You okay? The short answer is yes! There’s a lot packed into that question. From a personal view, I feel like the virus is always hovering just out of view. I worry about my husband, who drives for Uber and Lyft, being exposed to it. I worry when I go out to shop. I wonder how long it will last, whether my son and daughter will be able to go to their college campuses in Fall, and when the library will be open. I believe there’s always a silver lining to every cloud and I’ve found with the pandemic, being apart physically has allowed me to connect more frequently with my family and colleagues. Tell us a little about why you moved to Upper Darby and how you became involved with Teen Reading Lounge. My husband, who is Liberian, and I wanted to live in a diverse community where our children could grow up surrounded by people with different ethnicities, religious beliefs, and cultural practices. We wanted them to feel part of the world community. Since they are biracial, we didn’t want them to live in a place where they would feel isolated. In Upper Darby the community is so diverse and they have made friends with people from all corners of the world. It is a great place to live! When I first moved here I worked at the library helping at the children’s desk. I gradually began doing programs for children and teens. I decided to start a Teen Advisory Board (TAB) because our young people were eager to create their own programs at the library. Last spring I learned about Teen Reading Lounge and it seemed to be the perfect fit for our library. It was a chance to read and discuss great books with our teens, but it was so much more. We could focus on the humanities and most importantly incorporate social justice issues. What was your Teen Reading Group working on before the shutdown? The teens chose the theme of “Representation Matters” for our first cycle and we focused on the book Black Enough. It led to discussions about identity, privilege, and representation. Right before the pandemic hit, we started a project where the teens had their photo taken and cut out the silhouette. They were in the process of cutting out words and images that they considered part of their identity. The resulting work of art was going to be hung in the library in a display. Unfortunately, we only got half way through before we had to close the library. How has the coronavirus situation impacted Teen Reading Lounge and the young people you serve? Of course, initially all of our efforts just stopped cold and we had to reassess how we could continue to meet with the teens and continue our program. The first time we met online it was a chance to check in with our youth community. A lot of our discussion was about how they are dealing with the pandemic, being stuck at home, trying to do school work, and listening to the sometimes frightening news reports. We spoke about self-care and some strategies they could use to deal with the stress that they may be facing. Just before closing we had received two more books, American Born Chinese and Free Lunch that are related to our “Representation Matters” theme. We had the funds through PHC’s grant to mail participants their copies. This past week we met online and played games through Zoom that we learned about at one of PHC webinars I attended a few weeks ago. The teens loved it and we plan to play them again at our next meeting. I’m happy to say, we are moving forward. We’ll be wrapping up this cycle soon and then in June we’ll start our second one. The teens have decided on the theme “Finding our place in this world.” I think we will have some very engaging discussions! You managed to get a Zoom conference with the mayor of Upper Darby and your youth. Why was that important and how did your group respond? Our recently elected mayor, Barbarann Keffer, was interested in meeting our library’s youth community as a part of her townhall tour that she planned for the spring. Fortunately, we were able to shift that meeting online. She met on Zoom with the participants of Teen Reading Lounge and our Teen Advisory Board and listened to their ideas about the needs of young people in Upper Darby. They were able to share their thoughts, including how important it was to have a safe place for teens to gather and hang out with friends. One teen mentioned how Upper Darby was part of the Underground Railroad, but that this fact was not highlighted in the community. They felt it was important for the township to celebrate that. It was an amazing chance for the teens to voice their ideas and influence the direction of their own community. The mayor even invited them to nominate four young people to serve on the historical and recreation committees. How great is that? She wants to meet again in June to continue the conversation! After the mayor left the Zoom meeting the teens continued to talk because they were so energized by the conversation. They thought it was one of the best meetings they’ve had. When I asked who would be interested in being on the committees everyone raised their hand! What is working remotely teaching you about engaging with the library’s youth community? The teens are still there! They still want to meet, engage and discuss. They want to be involved and they want to participate in building our community. During one of the first online meetings I held with teens, one member who was particularly quiet in the “in person” meetings was much more vocal through the chat box online. Through text she shared her ideas and cracked jokes. Everyone in the group noticed and we all got to know more about her and her personality. While we may think of having to meet online as a hindrance, it can actually open doors for some teens in ways that we hadn’t realized. Finally, why are the humanities important for young people during times of crisis? Many teens are stressed about what is happening with the pandemic. They are concerned for themselves and their family. Having access to good literature and peer conversations, where they can immerse themselves in stories and ideas, is so important. Through the humanities we are able to constructively contribute to the shape of our communities and become leaders. The humanities are essential to all of us. One of the things I keep repeating to the teens is that they are living through an incredible time in history. I have encouraged them to keep a diary, record their thoughts, capture this moment. While it seems surreal now, in 50 years their grandkids will be asking them, “What was the 2020 pandemic like?” and they will have many incredible stories to tell. Related Content Youth Engagement in the Time of Social Distancing: An Introductory Conversation Teen Reading Lounge
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) is pleased to announce the recipients of their Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers, a new rapid relief program created in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The recipients represent arts groups, museums, historical societies, libraries, and cultural institutions from across Pennsylvania. Social distancing measures have caused the closure of museums and libraries and the cancelation of in-person programs, historical tours, festivals, and other major events that bring people together and support local economies. Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers provide up to $2,000 to help arts and cultural organizations adapt by supporting events, programs, and projects delivered through virtual or other forms of distance-based engagement with the public. “These are challenging times but Pennsylvania’s cultural sector is creative and resilient,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “These pop-up grants will directly support cultural programming that builds community and inspires hope and humanity at a time when we need it most.” PHC received applications from hundreds of affected nonprofit organizations and secured funding to support 47 of them. Among the projects are: Ogun & the People Project, a series of facilitated online discussions centered on the Afro-Cuban pataki, or sacred parable, Ogun & the People, facilitated by the Kule Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble (Philadelphia); Our Food, Ourselves, a virtual exploration of how food writing and nonfiction storytelling open windows into larger aspects of the human experiences, hosted by the Creative Nonfiction Foundation and featuring scholars and food writers (Pittsburgh); Going Viral, a series of conversations and creative workshops for young people at the Lower Macungie Library that includes “Pandemic Packs” with history books and supplies (Macungie); Revival! (Social Distancing Edition), a virtual dance party and live performance, hosted by the BlackStar Film Festival, celebrating the visual and sonic frequencies contained within Black spiritual and ecstatic experience (Philadelphia); Talking Portraits, an interactive website from the Lackawanna Historical Society where visitors can meet animated, Harry Potter style portraits to learn about local history and participate in discussions with historians (Scranton). All of PHC's grants and programs generate avenues for civic involvement and community development. These creative pop-up projects build on this work while also addressing the immediate relief needs of cultural organizations and those they serve. The full list of Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers recipients is as follows: 3 Dots Downtown African American Museum in Philadelphia Ars Nova Workshop Arts without Boundaries Barrio Alegria Belle Vernon Public Library Beyond the Bars Black Lily, Inc dba BlackStar Film Festival Bosler Memorial Library Boyertown Community Library Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center Cliveden of the National Trust Creative Nonfiction Foundation Delaware County Historical Society Elkland Area Community Library Erie Center for Arts & Technology Fairmount Park Conservancy First Person Arts, Inc. Friends of Hershey Public Library Harmony Image Productions & S.I.F.T.Media (Sisters in Film and Television) Higher Grounds Music Highland Community Library Hill Dance Academy Theatre Jamaaladeen Tacuma Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia Johnstown Area Heritage Association Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble Lackawanna HIstorical Society Lehigh University Lower Macungie Library Meadowcroft Rockshelter & Historic Village Nichole Canuso Dance Company Nueva Esperanza, Inc. Office of Public Art, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac Painted Bride Art Center Performing Artists Collective Alliance Philadelphia Folksong Society South Philly Acoustic Jam Taller Puertorriqueno The Colored Girls Museum The Rosenbach The Soapbox Community Print Shop & Zine Library Tiny Farm Wagon of CultureTrust of Greater Philadelphia Ujamaa Collective World Cafe Live York County History Center The Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers program is made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, individual donors to PHC, and an anonymous donor who offered additional funds for Philadelphia-based projects serving artists and small arts organizations. This grant program is not part of the CARES Act, which allocated federal funding to be distributed by state and territorial councils through the National Endowment for the Humanities. PHC will provide more information about its CARES Act opportunity soon.
by Jeff Siegler* Beaver County Community Heart & Soul Volunteer and founder of Revitalize, or Die The timing was not ideal. Just as we were getting the go ahead from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to embark upon the Community Heart & Soul program, we got notice from Governor Wolf’s office that getting together would be impossible. Needless to say, this put a substantial wrench in the works. At the heart of what we are trying to do is build community, and not getting together in person makes that quite a bit difficult. As I have endlessly shouted on my own platform, we will not be able to build community online, and in fact, it is our over dependence on the internet that has helped to degrade our sense of community. So this is awkward. Nevertheless, social distancing restrictions were put place, but the problems the community was facing were not going away. I am new to both the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Community Heart and Soul program, but community struggles are my speciality. I have worked in community development and revitalization going back to 2003 and became particularly interested in issues of civic pride and apathy while overseeing the Ohio Main Street Program. I took some time to think about how we might move forward considering the fact that we could no longer actually meet up to get this thing started. While this was not an ideal situation, it did provide us with a rare opportunity to do something we nearly never do, take our time. I am fortunate enough to be working with two communities in Beaver County, Beaver Falls and Rochester. I grew up in a Rustbelt town in Northwest Ohio that reminds me a great deal of both cities. These communities had once been prosperous and vibrant, but fell on hard times when the nature of the economy changed and are now looking at themselves from the view that their best days are behind them. This is a painful and damaging situation to get into, but it is one that thousands upon thousands of communities are currently in. The psyche of most smaller communities in the Rustbelt is complicated, and has been shaped by decades of bad news. So many of these cities have been knocked down so many times that they stopped trying to get up. They have learned not to trust what people tell them, they have learned that it is too painful to have hope, they have learned that this may be as good as it gets. What people on the outside don’t understand about these places is that they have every reason to feel the way they do. They may be easy to pick apart and deride their disfunction, but their behavior is the only reasonable response to a situation in which they have suffered. We get so much wrong when we think about community revitalization because we overlook that fact that cities are made up of people. Cities take on the characteristics of the people that populate it. We would do far better to think about how people feel and function if we want to tackle some of these community problems. Because in the end, if we want to help a city lift itself up, we have to figure out how to help its residents lift themselves up. I don’t mean to sound so negative about any community, particular not the two communities I am extremely excited to be working with, but I have also come to realize, that there is no use trying to gloss over reality. If we really hope to start making some headway on these issues, we can’t pretend that everything is fine. We can’t just keep hoping that tomorrow will be better if we don't behave different today. There is no sense going to the doctor and pretending that everything is great only to not get treated for what is bothering you. The whole point of embarking on this process is to attempt to address the issues that are holding us back. There are problems, there is no sense in denying it. There are issues, there are struggles. A community is complicated and things happen. Apathy takes hold, disfunction can set it, trust erodes. This isn’t an indictment on all the people that live there. It’s simply recognizing that things needs to change and that brighter days are ahead. "Instead of just sitting back and waiting until things cleared up to get started, we could instead seize on an opportunity to take our time and have some deeper discussions." So it comes back to this, if we want to revitalize a city, we have to revitalize its people. As with anything then, we first must understand what is wrong. This is the reason I feel like there is not nearly enough progress made in the fields of community development and revitalization. We look at the city as a whole and then consider how do we fix this singular entity. We throw planning at it, we throw infrastructure at it, sometimes we throw money at it. These are all solutions to a very different problem and not the problem that needs addressed. These are physical problems, problems we can see with our eyes, but just as it is with people, often times, the most challenging problems are the ones we can’t see. The ones that exist inside. So with this in mind, we decided to hit pause and consider that maybe this break was giving us a chance to start to explore some of these ideas. Instead of just sitting back and waiting until things cleared up to get started, we could instead seize on an opportunity to take our time and have some deeper discussions. As one does during a pandemic, we logged onto a Zoom call and we just talked. We talked about what it feels like to live in a community that doesn’t believe in itself. We discussed the impacts of not knowing fellow community members. Someone mentioned that one of their biggest issues was a lack of trust, and we spent a long time talking about how that affects a community and its residents. This lead to a deep discussion of how trust is lost and what can be done to restore it. We kicked around the subject of apathy and how it seems people just don’t care as much as they used to. Then we talked about how pride can combat apathy and steps we might take to start down a new path. With both communities, we were afforded a really fortunate opportunity to talk about some things we rarely get to talk about. We got deep and dirty in the subjects that really affect a community and not the superficial stuff we typically spend so much time on. "We got deep and dirty in the subjects that really affect a community and not the superficial stuff we typically spend so much time on." We didn’t solve any of the world’s problems in our discussions, but I believe we went deeper than we usually go. We at least had a chance to consider some of the root issues we need to address when it comes to community revitalization. We may not know all the solutions to these issues, but it is so rare that we even discuss the real problems. I love having a chance to work with passionate community members and be a part of these discussions. It is not ever for a lack of love or concern that a community struggles, but often a lack of not knowing what to do. There is a lot of bad advice out there and many towns don’t ever take the time to address some of the root issues they are struggling with. I believe the Community Heart & Soul program will give us that chance. We have a long way to go and plenty of issues to deal with, but we there is no shortage of passionate people willing to do whatever it takes to make their community stronger. It is hard to say where this process will end up, but at least we were afforded the time to have the conversation about what issues we really want to address. * The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Jeff Siegler is a community revitalization specialist partnering with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council on Community Heart & Soul in Beaver County. Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Uncommon Strategic Partnership Advances Applied Humanities Work In PA Community Heart & Soul
On April 22 PHC hosted its second online webinar for youth development professionals. Over 250 people across the state participated in a 90 minute session addressing Low-Tech and No Tech ways to engage youth. The webinar acknowledged systemic barriers to technology access within communities of color and low-income families, shared strategies for staying connected with youth, and built collective agency. Moderated by Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass, the panel featured Jeannine Cook from Philadelphia-based Harriett's Bookshop, Kelly Rottmund from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and Emilia Autin-Hefner from FabYouthPhilly. Panelists answered questions from Dr. Adams and audience members who participated in the chat, and shared challenges, successes, and implications of moving to remote programming. Maintaining relationships to address the social-emotional needs of youth was a central focus of the conversation. The discussion also touched on ideas for tapping intergenerational wisdom to bridge young people’s tech-savvy capabilities with elders' experience with utilizing things like radio, the postal service, and the telephone. Each panelist shared valuable insights and represented the perspectives of a small business partner for community initiatives, a library afterschool program, and a youth-development organization. Audience members remained engaged throughout the webinar, sharing ideas, resources, and contact information with one another. Resources and ideas from the audience and panelists are compiled here. The conversation concluded with a call to action for advocacy towards equitable access to technology and for solidarity in this moment where our interdependence is undeniable. As our ways of programming and interaction shift in response to the pandemic, PHC is interested in understanding the bigger systematic issues that cultural producers and educators face in maintaining relationships with our community and keeping them connected to the humanities in ways that are vital to growth and development. This webinar is supported by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
On Wednesday, May 13th, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s hosted their Teen Reading Lounge network for an informative 90-minute conversation exploring how we can center marginalized identities in both on and offline learning opportunities for middle and highschool students during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. The webinar featured Jean Kosha from the Upper Darby Municipal Library, Fatima Hafiz from Transformative Educations Associate, and Daniel Egusquiza from Barrio Alegría. They discussed how they plan and facilitate humanities-based programs that foster belonging and honor the diverse strengths and needs of our youth. Panelists primarily represent library and afterschool humanities programs, however their insights may be applicable to other youth engagement and education services. Check out the webinar recording below! Here is a list of research and resources about affirming student identities, remote learning, personal growth and reflection, and humanities education. More virtual offerings are in development at PHC and we hope you will join our future webinars!
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced new grant guidelines designed to rapidly distribute CARES Act funding to cultural nonprofits affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This new funding opportunity, NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations, will provide grants of up to $300,000 to sustain humanities organizations and preserve jobs in the cultural sector. This grant opportunity should not be confused with the CARES Act funding allocated for distribution by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and other state councils. Information about that opportunity will be available soon. Please sign-up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
Each one of us is a grassroots advocate. Simply put, being a grassroots advocate means that we—no matter who we are or where we are—have each other’s back, in good times and in bad. I was reminded of this beautiful synergy when I recently sat in on a meeting of The Cameron County Project team in Emporium, PA. A small coalition of citizens who are transforming their county into a Heart & Soul Community in partnership with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Orton Family Foundation, these everyday women and men—accountants, teachers, an environmental specialist, school custodian, factory laborer, nonprofit director, bank teller, school nurse, stay-at-home parents, small business owners, retirees, and others—are each a blade of hope doing their part to sow seeds and improve the lives of their friends and neighbors. In just the few years since The Cameron County Project’s Community Heart & Soul initiative launched, they’ve connected one-on-one with over 500 of their neighbors to gather stories and taken part in 20 outreach events. Collectively, they’ve identified the local attributes that are most important to them: sense of community, nature, local economy, arts and culture, accessibility, and safety. According to The Cameron County Project’s leader Jessica Herzing, at the very top of this list are the genuine, kind people who live in this rural area of The PA Wilds. “We were all surprised at the amount of people we didn’t know that live here,” she said. “We have about 4600 residents, and you feel like you know everyone, but even in a small county, that isn’t true. There are demographics here that are surprisingly wonderful!” And more recently, The Cameron County Project pivoted down yet another new pathway, adapting to more immediate needs by launching a Facebook touch-point effort called the “Cameron County – Covid 19 – Community Resource Group.” As grassroots advocates, we are planted in the soil of our backyards, neighborhoods, and the many communities to which we belong and with which we most identify. Broader still, we each are a thread uniquely sewn into the tapestry of our country and our world, with a purpose and mission beckoning us to go above and beyond. Our single thread—an original sliver of color and light—helps hold all the others together. And occasionally when our own thread snaps, the others hug and hold us in place. From our single thread the world radiates, and the sun, moon, and stars dangle and shine. The Cameron County Project team members are prime examples of how our individual and gathered threads of living, breathing grassroots advocacy—even as minute as they may seem amidst the larger patchwork of life—truly can move mountains and shift tides. Our efforts can reroute darkness and divert disaster, or simply bring a smile to a stranger’s face on the street. This being the greatest gift we, as grassroots advocates, can give to one another: the gift of connection, of letting others know we are all in this precious orbit called life together. Our threads can, and do, make all the difference. I always sit in awe of folks like those leading the charge of progress at The Cameron County Project. I look into their eyes, and see the hope of today and the bright light of tomorrow reflected back. I love them most for even taking that first step to impact a need they see. I admire their perseverance through challenges, like the often-arduous task of initially getting strangers and neighbors alike onboard to understand the mission at hand amidst the noise and clatter of misinformation and disconnection. I applaud their willpower in moving forward one step at a time to first form the portrait of a need, and then to strategize a blueprint for how they can best steer from there into a more promising future. And, I respect the very personal, gut-level struggle many of these modest folks confront as they sometimes question their own worthiness and abilities in leading a marathon of good works. This journey can often feel more like the trenches of battle than goodwill. Still, even amidst incoming missiles of misunderstanding and petty grievances from others—whose hearts these grassroots advocates will have to work a little harder to convince—they walk with heads held high. “YOU ARE HEROES!” I told The Cameron County Project team, as we sat around a table at the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce office on a Thursday night a few months ago. “You’re too humble to call yourselves that, but that’s what you are.” They looked at me wide-eyed, carefully and slowly letting the recognition set in. Compliments aren’t a currency most grassroots advocates barter in, or even expect. For them, it’s about a higher calling than that. Even so, kind words and gratitude are deserved and hold value at the heart and soul level. “Yes, you are true heroes!” I repeated. “Your names may never be carved into monuments, nor will streets or auditoriums likely ever be named for you. But your footprints here, and the work you are doing right now, will outlive you. You embody the essence of what it means to be authentic grassroots advocates at their very best!” A pause . . . then they finally accepted my compliment with smiles in return. I’ve learned that sometimes being a grassroots advocate myself simply means being the cheerleader in the room, helping to rally others forward. Each one of us has a skill set, natural gifts, and a reservoir of passion. By rolling this foundation of heart and soul down the sidewalks and streets just outside our front door, or channeling it through our fingertips tapping across a keyboard, we can ignite change, in ways great and small. As a longtime member of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s Board of Directors—where I’m surrounded by even more of the most awesome grassroots advocates, I’ve especially gained an indelible appreciation for the sheer power that emerges at the crossroads of storytelling and advocacy. Time and again, like during my visits with the team in Cameron County, I’ve seen how both the telling of and listening to our individual stories, our community’s stories, and our universal stories translate spoken and written words into unstoppable calls to action. Through these stories emerge transformative roots to the past, a firm grounding in the present, and the glistening seeds of innovation that we then get to plant as we ourselves pass this way ever so briefly. My own evolution as a grassroots advocate began by me looking deeply at what passions really make my heart sing and then looking at what platforms I have available to me as an author, artist, and educator. I challenge you to do the same: What are your passions, and what are your available platforms, and where can these resources cross paths to help others, even in the quietest, unseen corners? No matter who you are, or where you are, you have a voice, and a heart, and a platform. It can be a one-on-one connection—face-to-face, or via text, email, or handwritten note—or a more extensive outreach and involvement within your community, state, nation, or world. You, my friend, are the pebble that can launch many ripples in the water. As an author writing books across multiple genres—memoir, essay collections, entertaining/culinary, history, how-to, and next up children’s literature, I discovered that I have the opportunity to connect with many different audiences across the country and advocate for things like healthier living, adopting rescue dogs, ending abuse, embracing forgiveness, cross-generational friendships, creativity, or simply reminding people to have fun. Just as I’ve been blessed to be placed in front of millions of people during appearances on programs like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, EWTN’s The World Over, and home shopping’s behemoth QVC, I’ve also had amazing one-on-one interactions. Whether it’s a single person in the aisle of a supermarket who stops me because they need a hug and someone to just listen to them or audiences watching on the other side of that TV camera when the green light flashes on as I’m sitting on a set in Hollywood or New York, each of these platforms is an opportunity to connect and to advocate. As an artist, I’ve discovered the impactful possibilities of creating Participatory Art projects that everyone can come together to create, either in-person or via social media. These include THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) and the 5 Day PEACE Challenge / #5dayPEACEchallenge. Whether exhibited in the bustling flow of a museum as the first was for one of its many installations or performed quietly along an old dirt road where I planted my final PEACE letter during the early days of the National Emergency amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, each has been a chance to reach out and to advocate. And, as an educator and professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, I quickly became a #1 Fan of Generation Z—young people born between 1997 and 2012. The unprecedented courage of these young people in sharing their truths out loud—especially regarding their mental health challenges—and, in doing so, flipping the script on stigmas and stereotypes, has energized me as a grassroots advocate on behalf of Gen Z and mental health. Looking at the platforms available to me to shout this new mission from the rooftops, I penned two essays—“Who is Generation Z?” for Huffington Post and the cover story “X meets Z” for Portraits Magazine—to start putting the faces on this extraordinary new generation. And now, wherever I travel, I always sit down for roundtable discussions with Gen Zers and mental health experts, and other audiences to further these discussions. Gen Zers have even emboldened me to step out more than ever before as an advocate and, for the first time, to share my own family’s legacy of suicide: my great-grandfather and two of his brothers all died by suicide. I’ve watched the impact of those deaths shower down through every generation of my family, often festering as stigmas, mental and behavioral health issues, addiction, and still more tragedy. Sharing my family’s story has helped open the door of healing for others to also walk through. As grassroots advocates, we are learners just as much, if not more, as we are teachers and doers. We are listeners just as much, if not more, as we are communicators. The Cameron County Project’s team leader Jessica Herzing puts it this way: Grassroots advocates are “people who steward their influence, in such a way, to help others grow theirs. They’re just community bridge builders, creating more accessible ways for more people to be heard.” Big thumbs up to that! So in this moment, I invite you to ask yourself: What passions do I have? What gifts do I have? What platforms, great and small—social media, professional contacts, community relationships, etc.—do I have? What needs do I see that could use my help? And, if you are already active as a grassroots advocate—first off, thank you!—then I suggest asking yourself a question I ask myself every day: What more can I do? Then, look deeply within and know that you are the thread meant to pull all those answers together into action and hope. And also please know, by doing so, you too are a hero! 5 Super Easy Ways Anyone Anywhere Can Be a Grassroots Advocate Right Now SPREAD JOY! At the core of being a grassroots advocate—locally, regionally, nationally, or globally—is connection. Whether you are new to recognizing your potential as a grassroots advocate or a seasoned pro at it, simply smiling and waving, and perhaps offering a kind word, to more people—friends and strangers alike—as they pass by is Grassroots Advocacy 101. USE YOUR VOICE! Our words—spoken, texted, emailed, or however shared, and no matter how articulate—can be very powerful and encouraging. Talking to friends and family about positive causes, issues, and organizations you believe in can send many ripples out into the world. EMBRACE YOUR ONLINE PLATFORM! Whether you have one follower or 100 million, you can be a social media influencer. Use whatever social media you’re active on to both follow and share information about causes, issues, and organizations that inspire you. STUDY UP! Being a grassroots advocate means being a teacher and a student in ever-reversing roles. It’s important, and personally motivating, to take a few minutes here and there to research a cause, issue, or organization that speaks to your heart in order to further inform yourself and to better help you spread the message. SAY THANK YOU! Yes, money talks, but a well-deserved “Thank You!” speaks even louder at the heart and soul level. Combine the best of both by writing a check to a favorite charity (giving whatever works for you) and including a note thanking the staff and volunteers for their incredible service in making the world a better place. About John Schlimm John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, advocate, artist, and the author of 19 books. He has served on the Board of Directors at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council since 2015. For more information or to connect with John on social media, please visit: www.JohnSchlimm.com.
PHILADELPHIA, PA -- The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) today announced Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers, a new grant program supporting efforts to sustain public engagement during the COVID-19 crisis. Due to social distancing requirements, cultural organizations have canceled in-person programs, festivals, and other major events that bring people together to build community and uplift local economies. Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers was created to provide financial assistance to Pennsylvania organizations migrating to virtual or other forms of distance-based cultural activities. “This crisis is impacting everyone but the cultural sector is particularly vulnerable,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “Whether it's a Zoom dinner-time book discussion or a podcast with local creative entrepreneurs and historians on downtown development, we want to quickly give affected organizations the support and visibility they need to champion their big ideas and help people stay connected at this crucial time.” The grants will be between $500-$2000 with a fast turnaround to get programs quickly off the ground. Applications will be accepted through April but the deadline may be extended as needed. This opportunity is open to small and medium sized non-profit organizations (budgets under $3 million). Interested individuals can work through local nonprofits to realize their projects. Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers is a PHC initiative and not part of the CARES Act, which has allocated additional federal funding to be distributed by state and territorial councils through the National Endowment for the Humanities. PHC will provide more information about CARES Act opportunities in the coming weeks. More info for Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers, visit: https://pahumanities.org/conversations/2020/03/31/pop-up-grants-for-cultural-producers Please note that the application period is now closed.
Artists thrive through adversity because art is a marvelous transformation of adversity. No matter how difficult the times we face, artists smile, rise and get back to the life of art. What do Chester artists do in tough times like these? They Reclaim, Repurpose, Rebuild and #RemainCreative! #RemainCreative is a Chester Made social media campaign that will keep our audience engaged and thinking creatively during this time of limited in-person interaction. Facebook & Instagram posts as well as E-blasts to our mailing list will show Chester artists continuing to thrive in their field while staying at home, healthy and safe. We will also post videos that will flash back to past Chester Made events, workshops, and activities that might inspire a creative post of your own. #MOTIVATIONMONDAYS On a compelling #MotivationMonday, we heard from Sistah Mafalda, a Chester Made Artist and Storyteller resident and creator of #StandTall, a stilt-walking story-telling movement in the city of Chester. We hope you enjoy her message of resilience and freedom to #RemainCreative. Click here to watch all of the videos. #THROWBACKTHURSDAYS What a joy it's been looking back at the many experiences of the Chester Made project. Throwback posts give Chester Made partners a chance to reflect on the lessons, connections, and successes from the past that continue to inspire and help us #RemainCreative today. On one #ThrowbackThursday we replayed a clip of N. Davina Stewart, a Gary, IN-based artist who utilizes satire, speculative fiction, and performance poetry to create compelling narratives and interactive public art projects that challenge the status quo and encourages participants to re-examine / re-imagine / re-invent the spaces they occupy. This is one of seven videos made documenting the 2016 Chicago & Gary peer exchange with local artists working to make change in their communities. Listen to what Davina has to say about owning your legacy and reflect on how this has informed many Chester Made activities. SITTING ON CRATES In his new series, Sitting on Crates, Chester Made Artistic Director Devon Walls interviews Overtown artists, including Kenneth "The Art Monster" Picasso and Emmanuel "Fitz God's Gift" Fitzpatrick, about their most recent work. In episode one we are introduced to "By Any Means," a mural paying tribute to Malcolm X and Huey Newton, located on Edgemont Ave, Chester, PA. Hopefully you've had a chance to experience it in person! What's Coming Up That's right! Chester Made is officially making podcasts! Check out our first one here featuring Devon Walls and Ulysses Slaughter talking about Chester's art scene. Listen on Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and more, all for free! Finally, stay tuned for the brand new Chester Made Website coming soon! This website will have everything Chester Made and will be a hub for information about past, present and future Chester Made events and projects. We can't wait to hear what you think! Don't forget to share with us what you've been up to by emailing us at email@example.com. #KEEPMAKINGART