Tag Archives: Washington DC

Welcome to the Trenches

18 Feb

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Fresh from the classrooms of Butler University, I moved to DC this fall to participate in Public Allies. I was partnered with Metro Teen AIDS, where my job involves facilitating Spanish-language comprehensive sexual education workshops in DC Public Schools. On my first day, a school social worker pulled me aside and declared, “Welcome to the trenches of reproductive health. When you enter that classroom, you’re truly a foot soldier, so prepare to get your feet dirty. Are you sure you can handle these students?” doubt inscribed into the lines on her face as she sized up my small frame and bright, eager eyes.

At the school of the skeptical social worker, I led a game called “myths and facts” with my class of 30 Latino students. One of the most common myths the students believed was that, if a woman has an irregular cycle, she is definitely pregnant. I asked them to recall our previous lessons and to brainstorm other reasons why a person might skip her period. One young female raised her hand and responded, “Ooh I remember! When we were learning about STIs, you told us that it can be a symptom of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea!” Immediately upon hearing this fact, a 19-year-old male student in the front row began shaking and shot his hand into the air. “Ms. Angela, Ms. Angela!” he exclaimed, “I haven’t gotten my period yet! Does that mean I have Chlamydia?” Several students laughed, others looked equally concerned. My poker face intact, I calmly explained the basic concept of menstruation and its link to reproduction. He seemed reassured, but my conception of common knowledge was shattered.

My mission for my Public Allies’ year is to empower DC youth by giving them the information they need to make responsible life choices when it comes to their health. Every day, this task is challenged by the complex realities of our nation’s capitol. My students face a multitude of barriers- from a lack of resources to stressful home lives to language differences- in their quest to climb out of the trenches and to reach adulthood safely. However, these obstacles only solidify the importance of organizations like Public Allies and Metro Teen AIDS. For students in DC, the partnership between PA and MTA embodies the audacious belief that youth from all backgrounds have the agency to live productive and healthy lives.

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As an International Studies major, I was accustomed to discussing critical issues. I could rattle off alarming statistics, such as that “three in ten teen girls in the US will get pregnant at least once before age 20” (www.itsyoursexlife.org). MTA has given me the opportunity to work with the youth behind these statistics and to put my critical thinking abilities into practice. For young professionals, the PA year represents an opportunity to learn about vital topics through an immersive experience. When combined, my undergraduate degree and my PA experience have endowed me with the skills required to succeed in today’s complex society. After all, the real world is much messier than any textbook (or blog post) could convey.

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~ Angela Miller

Photos from top:

Despite snow flurries, Jamal, Angela, and Mike give condoms in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC.

Angela, Mike, Ona, Charlie, Januari, and Zoe hand out condoms outside the Anacostia Metro Station.

MTA’s testing van enables youth to get tested anywhere in the city.

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United in Service

30 Jan

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“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Saturday, January 19th, the city of Washington came together to honor Dr. King. Public Allies led a day of service, bringing together 250 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. Our community that day included 125 Public Allies staff and corps members from Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC. We were joined by over 100 high school students and teachers from Anacostia and Friendship Collegiate Academy. Our special guests for the day included Chelsea Clinton, chair of Inaugural National Day of Service, Paul Schmitz, CEO of Public Allies, Senator Harris Wofford and Bill Basil, current AmeriCorps Director.

The day was divided into three units: Let’s Serve, Let’s Move, and Let’s Lead. In the Let’s Move station, Playworks corps members invited teenagers and adults to embrace the benefits of exercise, swirling hula hoops and running around the gym. In the Let’s Lead room, allies facilitated a discussion on the legacy of Dr. King, brainstorming how his teachings can shape our lives. The Let’s Serve unit focused on a number of hands-on projects, ranging from a mural painting to a food drive.

My team had just entered the Let’s Serve station, located in the school’s cafeteria, when Chelsea Clinton arrived. We gathered around the lunch tables as she gave an inspirational speech about how her upbringing emphasized the importance of community service. Her father, former President Bill Clinton, established AmeriCorps under the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. After sharing her personal story with us, Ms. Clinton said that she was eager to lend a hand. She joined our group, helping to put together 600 bags of food for Bread for the City. Beans, noodles, and tuna fish were passed along an assembly line as we all joked and chatted, getting to know one another. The high school students on our team opened up, confiding in the former first daughter their goals and aspirations for the future. Several stated that they wanted to join AmeriCorps, others wanted to go to college or to join the military. All seemed encouraged by the message of the day: “We Still Have the Dream.” In other words, we, as a community, will support you as you pursue your dream.

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In my experience as a recent transplant to our nation’s capital, DC remains segregated by ward, class, and ethnicity. There’s Congress, and then there’s Congress Heights. Living here, it often feels as though there are multiple cities, intersecting only at crowded metro stations as strangers impolitely bump against each other in an attempt to quickly get out of the tunnels. Through events like the National Day of Service, Public Allies connects people from different worlds. For four hours on a Saturday morning, we were united by the idea that we all have the power to be change agents in our communities. But the effort has to reach beyond one day of action. I plan to continue working to bridge the gaps in DC, and I hope that you will join me.

As Dr. King argued, “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

For more pictures of the day, check out the Public Allies Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publicallies/sets/72157632576862845/

Community work day at Wangari Gardens

29 Mar

I’ve never really had a green thumb. In college they gave each incoming freshman a plant to care for. I showed up late to pick mine up and ended up with a wilted fern, already not long for this world. Needless to say, it was dead by October break.

So, it is a little strange that, of all of the possible hobbies to pick up, gardening became one of them. On the surface it seems to combine everything that I hate (insects, being outside in the heat) with everything that I am terrible at (following through with things, manual labor). But, this weekend I found myself back in the garden, this time working with Wangari Gardens here in D.C.

One of our three TSP teams has taken on Wangari Gardens as their project for the spring, and they kindly invited the rest of the cohort along for the first work day. I was really excited to be involved, both so that I could get my hands dirty, and because of the fantastic mission that drives Wangari Gardens.

The project is a tribute to Wangari Maathai, an inspirational Kenyan Nobel Laureate, Professor, and founder of the Green Belt Movement. In 1977 Maathai began encouraging women to plant trees in response to a lack of firewood. This seemingly simple act not only gave the women a degree of financial independence, but also addressed some of the challenges of deforestation, soil erosion, and water scarcity. They became stewards of their own natural environment and began to work outside of the western-dominated system that had been oppressing them financially and ecologically.

Wangari Gardens has a similar goal — offering an alternative to a largely corrupt and unsustainable food system by allowing residents to plant and maintain their own garden plots. Growing your own food is such a tangible and effective way to control what you put into your body. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, we vote on what kind of food we want to eat three times a day. If, instead of eating heavily processed food, we choose a locally grown, fresh, organic option, we are demonstrating our awareness of the ecological pitfalls of factory farms, the socioeconomic drawbacks of an agricultural industry built on corn subsidies, and the public health risks associated with a diet rich in processed food. But that will have to be fodder for another blog entry.

I will say that the workday on Sunday went really well, with huge turnout from the surrounding community, and an astounding amount of work getting done. If you are in the D.C. area, I’d encourage you to check Wangari Gardens out to see how you can get involved. If you are not in the area, I’d still encourage you to check out the project and some of the information on Wangari Maathai. She is truly an inspirational woman, and her work is not often recognized in America. And to see how much work we did in one day, check out before and after photos below, courtesy of my fellow ally Kate Stritzinger.

Taken at 10:30 AM

Taken at 4:50 PM


MLK Memorial – Washington, D.C.

6 Dec

This past weekend, I took a road trip to Washington, D.C. with a friend and three other Public Allies from Connecticut. We left directly from our Continuous Learning day on diversity and institutional racism. Continuous Learning is one of Public Allies’ Five Core Values, so most Fridays the 29 first-year Connecticut Allies gather for a full day of training. I’ll use three pictures from last weekend’s trip to the newly opened MLK Memorial to briefly discuss three themes from recent Continuous Learning days.

On October 28, two Kingian Nonviolence Educators from the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence led a full day workshop on nonviolent conflict reconciliation for first-year Allies. The training consisted of a discussion on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence, songs and video from the Civil Rights Era, and conflict reconciliation role-playing activities. I’d been thinking about a trip to D.C. ever since the MLK Memorial opened, but this training really sparked my motivation to make it happen.

The second half of our November 4 Continuous Learning Day was led by our three Public Allies program managers and focused on team dynamics. We discussed the lessons a team can learn from a flock of geese, which proved both humorous and helpful. When I saw a flock of geese flying towards the MLK Memorial, I knew it was a moment that needed capturing. I think the picture turned out quite nicely, if I may say so myself.

 

Last Friday’s Continuous Learning Day was on diversity and institutional racism. Interestingly, while much of the training was focused on race and racism, the group conversations repeatedly turned to poverty and economic justice. This made me think of the Poor People’s Campaign that MLK launched in 1967, less than six months before his assassination. The quote in this third picture is from a speech of his a few years prior to the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign, but I think it does the topic justice.

MLK Day is less than two months away. Take action with 40 Days of Peace.

Philip Drew – Hartford, CT