Over the last 19 years of doing this work I’ve been part of my fair share of schemes, plots and plans to change the world. Maybe the first one was in the 10th grade when I decided that my school‘s environmental club was an elitist polo team in disguise and that students from my neighborhood needed to rally against environmental racism and classism. I spent three years committing random acts of justice designed to raise awareness for the injustice in my school, not really changing anything along the way – but definitely righteous.
After that I tromped through the ropes to learn what I know, working in a dozen small nonprofits and created half as many new programs, including a midnight basketball program in my neighborhood, a hands-on animal display at a nature center, and a soccer program for immigrant kids in the Midwest. In my three AmeriCorps terms I did a lot, too – but more importantly, I started stumbling upon people who cooked up ideas as often, if not more, as me. In my third term I learned about NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, when I completed a class from their Wilderness Medical Institute. Thinking of the children and youth I’d grown up around and worked with I decided the greatest thing I could do was create a youth leadership development program in Nebraska that would draw students from across the region to learn the skills I felt changing my life – community organizing, youth development and other abilities I was using everyday. A friend of mine in New Mexico suggested I write that idea down and let it marinate – and that it has ever since.
Since then a lot of other people have come to me with their own ideas: one, a national youth org that was to act like an AARP for youth; another a social networking mechanism for youth activists; another a youth program led by children’s singer Raffi; another, a leadership development center for non-traditional youth leaders (sound familiar?); another, a resource library for youth action. All great ideas that I never saw come to fruition. I’m on the board of advisors for the National Youth Rights Association, and the board of directors of Kijana Voices, both of which are great ideas that have come to something awesome. I SUPPORT IDEAS. However, somewhere along the way I’ve started growing leery.
After having my own great idea go south I’ve become a little reticent to sign onto someone else’s great idea. Maybe its self-deprecating – I let down myself down big time, and don’t want to let others down, either. Maybe its self-insulating, a coping mechanism resultant from a rough childhood couched in feelings of disappointment. Anyway it goes, the fact of the matter is that I’m not as quick to sign onto the dream machine as I used to be.
An important point: I am not subjected to fools, and that’s not what this post is about. I am attracted to a lot of people who do radically cool work and who I would like to work with – and I’ve approached a lot of people as such, including my friend Elizabeth Baker, my mentor Henry Giroux, and Mike Males, all of whom rawk in their own respects. I am just a leery of my own dreams these days though, and I tepidly approach people now. I might be becoming a chicken of the highest order. I may also be recognizing my own inabilities, as well: I can only do so much.
All that said, I haven’t stopped dreaming, and I am addicted to ACTION. I’m still working on The Freechild Project and SoundOut, albeit in a less intensive fashion, and my new work is premised on a great idea. I’m working with a group of people led by the great Dana Bennis on a great idea focused on democratic education. But I’m not sure what is next. It has been proposed that I’ll become a neo-con ex-liberal sell-out, or something to that effect – I don’t think so. But what I do know is that I do want to dream it all up again, and then DO something about it. Who’s in with me?