Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Use Design to Change Fist Stick Knife Gun

Over the past few weeks I have had a series of fortunate coincidences. I know the universe is always talking to us, that we are always in receipt of messages that connect us and bind us together, that point toward the way we are supposed to take. In my heart I know this, though given my surprisingly thick skull, those messages some times have difficulty reaching my brain. That surprisingly thick skull of mine often has to be clobbered over the head several times in order to "get it".

The series of some of the fortunate events has unfolded as follows:
1.) A few weeks ago I had my very rough draft of Innovation Station, an after-school program, accepted by Citizen Schools, an outstanding organization that exists to help average folks like me put together a curriculum we're passionate about to teach in public middle schools.

2.) Just about the same time that Citizen Schools accepted my proposal, my former boss, Bob, sent me an invitation to attend an event on design thinking hosted by the Rotman School of Management. Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo and one of the featured speakers at the event, just released his first book called Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. It is a powerful "blueprint for creative leaders" in a variety of sectors. Hmmm....sounds like a brilliant jumping off point for an after-school program about innovation, doesn't it? (I'm attending the Rotman School event and writing about it for Examiner and for TJCC; I hope to meet Tim and get his take on Innovation Station.)

3.) This week I have come across dozens of articles about the renewed focus on after-school programs, both from a funding and legislative perspective. Here are some examples: Home Alone, Peering at the Future, The Uneducated American, Paterson Proposes Cuts to Close Deficit.

4.) Last week, my friend, Wayne, took me to the annual meeting for Children's Health Fund, an organization that got its start at a grassroots level in one tiny area of Harlem and has grown to an international organization with the mission to advocate and assure healthcare for every child, everywhere. I want to do the same thing for education and their model and messaging is such an inspiration. They work with Harlem Children's Zone, an organization started by Geoffrey Canada that is a holistic system of education, social-service and community-building programs aimed at helping the children and families in a 97-block area of Central Harlem.

5.) About a month ago, my friend, Dan, told me about a podcast that featured Geoffrey Canada. I just picked up his book Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America. I can't put it down and I think I just found my calling. I googled Harlem Children's Zone tonight and discovered that the two schools where I will be teaching for Citizen Schools are in the same area as the Harlem Children's Zone.

6.) My friend, Amanda Steinberg, and her company, Soapbxx, designed the Harlem Children's Zone website.

7.) The PhD program I've been looking at within The New School was recently highlighted by Bruce Nussbaum, a journalist whom I greatly admire. He writes about design and innovation. He is a professor at Parsons, one of the other schools within The New School. He has been writing a lot about design thinking, social entrepreneurship, and Tim Brown's book. He believes that Design Thinking can transform systems like healthcare and education. So do I. So do a growing number of people. This is about to get very exciting.

As I was getting off the subway tonight and heading home I had the distinct feeling that there is no turning back for me now. I finally get what the universe is trying to tell me. I will not be able to sit still knowing that what I have to offer in the way of business, product development, an appreciation for design, and a passion for education as a tool to build a solid future, so clearly matches an unmet need in the world. This is the mash-up of work I was meant to do.

This journey was a long one. My life's work has been in front of me all along, since I was a kid facing a lot of the struggles that too many kids face. I just didn't know that it should or could be the work of my life. It took me the better part of 33 years to figure out what I was meant to do with my time here. And now that I know, the fear has dissipated completely. The anxiety about my future evaporated and has been replaced by only excitement and a feeling of purpose. Goethe would tell us that there is magic in commitment. He was right. I know that now.

I had lots of wrong turns, lots of dead-ends, and lots of disappointments. Nothing ever felt right, though I had a ton of fun in the exploration process. I wouldn't change any of it. I'm just grateful and glad that I won't have to die with the music still in me, as John Lennon lamented about so many people. Finally, finally, finally I know I'm on the cusp of my life's work. It's stretched out before me like a beautiful winding road, and it's time for me to hop aboard and get going. In those poignant, truthful words of Theodore Geisel, my mountain is waiting.

The beautiful image above is not my own. It can be found here.

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