A Beedazzling Spellebration: Li•ter•a•cy (noun)

The Rapidian was honored today by the Literacy Center of West Michigan with the Marshall Pitler Public Relations Award. We were one of the last to be announced at the Beedazzling Spellebration and had the chance to really steep in all the emotions that played across the stage. The tutors, students and families recognized for their diligence – Eritrean, Mexican, American – were just a few swatches from the gradient that fills in the Literacy Center.

Before we went up, they played a video compiled and edited by various students and tutors who couldn’t make it tonight. Among the testimonies was a Vietnamese woman, Hai (2:13), who shared that the Literacy Center equipped her with the confidence to serve her community better by being able to translate for her neighbors at medical appointments or childrens’ school functions.

It resonated. My mom moved to the States a couple years ahead of our birth (twins), and even though her English is versatile, her understanding is blameless, she never trusted herself. At the doctor’s office, in banks and on the phone, she insisted that I stand nearby, always checking her own understanding against mine.

There must have been something like the Literacy Center in the South Bay, and seeing Hai beam, I wish my mom had had the same.


Filed under: Grand Rapids, Immigration, , , , , ,

Carnival of Journalism – First-generation youth and context

Recommendation 12: Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities

This is probably one that’s closest to my heart, and the most organic entry point for me.

In the full description of the recommendation, the Knight Foundation sets the scene for a “Geek Corps” that assigns post-college volunteers to public institutions to help them leverage digital media technologies. There already exists something like this, a program of which I proudly call myself an alum: the Digital Arts Service Corps (formerly the CTC VISTA Project).

But when I first read the recommendation, my mind gravitated toward youth rather than young adults. More specifically, first-generation youth in minority communities. Most of my experience in media has been imagining how to leverage everyday tools for media creation by sources that are not traditionally seen as information providers. This has ranged from mobile media creation by immigrant communities and Millennials to my current position as the citizen journalism coordinator for The Rapidian, a hyperlocal news site for Grand Rapids, Mich.

When we look at the purpose of information, it’s to acquaint communities with the intricacies of issues and phenomena that have a direct effect on them. There are patches of media that serve youth, that serve immigrants but there is a whole swath that straddles the line between cultures, and youth has proven to be a volatile time across the board.

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Filed under: Ethnic groups, Ethnicity, Journalism, Storytelling, Technology, , , , , , ,

Frittered lives

My friend and I went out for food and drinks midweek at The Winchester. At some point, the subject of death came up. Since Drew passed away in October, I’ve cycled through a couple frames of mind.

It wasn’t my own death I was concerned about. As far as I know, people can’t think postmortem. Rather, it’s when someone else dies that we’re left with baggage to sort through.

Death was an ancillary subject to whatever it was we were talking about. Relationships, probably. And as we were dissecting relationships and loss, I tried to melt down, as quickly as possible, a concise description of why death was so confounding.

How much we can give to someone and the person’s capacity to absorb our thought and affection can be cavernous, I said. Suddenly, it ceases.

The conversation moved to other things, but my mind lingered on how bittersweet it is, as it has for the last several months.

I wrote an editorial piece for The Rapidian right after Drew’s death.

“Perhaps it isn’t my place to wonder about it, but if we really do have last thoughts or that final moment of clarity, what were Drew’s? I don’t know if there’s an afterlife, but I don’t want to bank on it. At that millisecond—no, nanosecond—that the curtain hit the ground, was Drew comforted knowing he had landed his dream job? That since he had the ability to love, he had lavished most of it on the love of his life and high school sweetheart? That he had two beautiful and precocious daughters, a best friend? A good relationship with his dad and brothers? That’s more than most people can hope for.”

What was left on the cutting room floor:

“Whatever his last thoughts were, I’m sure they weren’t about work. I also desperately want to believe they were not anxiety and dread for everything undone. “

Since October, other discussions have come up. Nihilism. Human nature. Depression. These are often symptoms of our struggle between ephemerality and meaning. We get worn down as we dig deep into these issues, and even when we think we’ve dug deep enough for a spring, it turns out the answer might not be indestructible.

Are there answers to such big questions as what we’re working for, whether we’re alone? Can we have happiness if we don’t know the answers to these questions?

I was turning them over in my head on today’s run. So much heavy thinking. I’m glad I’m running.

When we come home at the end of the day, boil up instant noodles and let ourselves get swallowed up by the couch, these are clues to our mental exhaustion. It must be very easy in our type of society—first world, white collar, consumeristic, a barrage of [sexual] marketing—to separate mind from body.

Yet physical activity is the easiest recipe for happiness. It is the instant gratification of happiness. Go out for a run, and even if you don’t get into it sometime during those 30 minutes, there’s a sense of accomplishment when you make it back to your front porch. More likely than not, at some point, endorphins flooded your bloodstream.

Daily satisfaction doesn’t need to stem from something deep. Happiness isn’t romantic; it’s base. There will be moments when we can savor all the complexities that melded together to result in our happy accident, but those are too far in between to sustain us. What I’ve learned since Drew’s death: Each day is its own challenge. You miss so much if you’re planning too far ahead.

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