Inspired Changemakers Share Their Passions at USD

Three events. Three messengers, each with a purposeful message: One shares that her heartbreak provides determination and focus. One whose desire is to help people take a deeper look at themselves which, in turn, can help others. And, one whose storytelling content and delivery produces a vivid depiction of his world view and how he wants to make a difference.

JustAct! Meet Changemakers

Throughout the day on March 21, the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) and the Changemaker Hub co-sponsored “Just Act! Meeting Changemakers,” inside Maher Hall’s Salomon Hall space. The three speakers were Montgomery Middle STEAM Magnet School Principal Stephanie Brown; international muralist, speaker, author and workshop facilitator Isaias Crow; and Spoken Word Artist Harold Green.

Each brought forth their own means of connecting to the Changemaker mentality and provided attendees with a chance to see just how diversely effective the term is and how everyone can be a Changemaker.

All three of these events were also connected to the 2017-18 USD Just Read! Program, hosted by CEE. The book chosen for this academic year was New York Times best-seller, “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“To Find Your Passion, Surrender to Your Heartbreak”

Being a Changemaker starts, Brown suggests, with finding your passion as she offered up Umair Haque’s quote, “If you want to find your passion, surrender to your heartbreak. Your heartbreak points toward a truer north.”

Brown, a graduate of the Education Leadership Development Academy offered through USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), is living out her passion at Montgomery.

Three years ago, she took the advice of an area superintendent to apply for the principal’s position. Friends and even family advised her against it. Colleagues tried to dissuade her from accepting it. Brown, after weeks of soul-searching and getting over her own fear of being ready to serve as a school principal, went for it.

“As the deadline approached, I got in my car and drove around the school,” she said. “What it needed was a lot of love.”

She looked at the negatives told to her — it didn’t have the best reputation, it was underperforming and it was overwhelmed by the impact of what children there are faced with while living in poverty. “I felt the heat well up inside of me, emotionally, it triggered something in my soul and a sense of moral clarity told me, “you belong here.”

She applied and got the job. She and her family reside in Linda Vista. Her day starts at Montgomery by shaking the hand of each child. “In an unspoken way, it means, I see you, you matter and you’re welcome here,” Brown said.

“I am fueled by a vision that all neighborhoods deserve to have a high-quality school that can serve the needs of their unique community. It breaks my heart that a child’s outcome can be predicted with great accuracy by a zip code, how much money parents make and the color of a child’s skin,” she said. “My mission is to interrupt the predictability of children who are born into poverty by ensuring, first and foremost, that all adults in the building believe each child has a genius within them and it is our responsibility to nourish it.”

Brown introduced two Montgomery students, David Mendoza and Lila Bates, who shared the poetry and art, respectively, they’d created for a recent social justice project. Mendoza’s poetry focused on gun control. Bates’ artwork reflected on struggle for money and struggles that workers face.

“Empathy is the key to being a Changemaker,” said Brown, who noted that after the recent travel ban for Muslims via an executive order by President Donald Trump that she opted to shadow a Muslim student at Montgomery for a full day. The student appreciated her action.

She is keenly aware of the enormity of trying to help everyone who is struggling, but Brown’s energy, determination and focus is all centered on her passion. “The magic happens when you find the intersection between your personal talents, gifts and values and the need we have in this world. What is the issue that stirs you, what moves you to tears and makes you ask yourself how close are you willing to get to that?”

Fueling Personal Intentions; Powerful Spoken Word

The afternoon and evening events, featuring Isaias Crow and Harold Green, respectively, offered attendees several methods of learning.

Crow’s program, "Social Change and Art: A Workshop on Intention Reminders," attracted a small circle of attendees, something the artist was in favor of because he was able to work closer and be more effective with a small group.

“Are you ready?” he stated. “To be open, very open?”

He went around the table circle to have each person state their name, where they were born and what they felt was their life’s purpose. It was followed by having a person turn to their right and say a few positive things about the next person. Other exercises included drawing something that represented who you are, writing down three things you’re grateful for, writing a short letter to thank a person who has been helpful to you, writing down five words that you “need” in your life and finally, taking one of your words and making an intention reminder card to decorate and have present to inspire you.

While students, staff and faculty members participated, it was Crow’s description of his own life’s purpose that resonated: “I’m here to be a gentle, yet powerful reminder of the love, gifts and power that we all have. We each have a lot of power and if we can connect together, a lot can be done.”

The day concluded with an evening spoken word program by Chicago’s Harold Green. Billed as an ever-evolving artist with a skill set that defies categorization, Green masterfully presented storytelling and showed his passion for life, for his family, his inspiration for Martin Luther King Jr. and spoke out against social injustice.

His spoken word performance drew rave reviews from the audience and delight in being present to witness Green’s passion and forthright in what he delivered. His stories connected on important emotional levels on topics ranging from fatherhood to issues around senseless violence.

All in all, the full day at USD served as a fine reminder of the power that can be found within each of us to be a Changemaker.

— Ryan T. Blystone

USD Just Read! programming continues into April as there will be a free film screening of Gook on April 5, a faculty-only event, “The Struggle for Educational Equity for African Americans,” on April 13, and the deadline for the Just Read! Student Essay Contest is April 6.


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