Addiction—a difficult word to digest—as it encapsulates just about anything we are incapable of controlling the urges and motivations for. The root of the word addiction in Latin connotes it with the act of surrendering to something we cannot control. Like a car stuck in mud requiring assistance to get out, this concept of surrender indicates a sense of causality requiring assistance. The Recovering With Pride substance use recovery program of the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago serves members of the LGBTQ community who may experience negative consequences resulting from substance use. The program’s mission is to provide high quality, culturally sensitive, outpatient treatment for substance abuse through multiple levels of outpatient care. Their program addresses not only alcohol use, but also prescription medications, marijuana, GHB, ecstasy, heroin, ketamine, methamphetamine, and cocaine. I had the privilege to speak with Stacy Agosto, Program Manager of Recovering With Pride, to learn more about this organization and the work associated with helping people who use substances discover freedom and willpower.
How long has the program been in existence?
We have been providing substance abuse care at Howard Brown for more than 21 years. We have received grants to treat specific drugs of choice in the LGBTQ community, but we assist people recovering from most substances. Over the years we have added staff and higher levels of care which offer us an opportunity to assist more people. The program began with one or two staff, now we have five people on staff dedicated substance abuse treatment.
Where is the treatment delivered?
All of the recovery related services we provide take place in our Chicago clinic located on Sheridan Road. In the future as we continue to expand, we may begin adding services in our other locations, such as the Rogers Park neighborhood.
Recovering With Pride provides several different behavioral health programming options. Which do you find people request or require the most?
Most people start with individual one-on-one therapy and add our group therapy options focused on emotional regulation, depression and anxiety, and specific drugs of choice. These groups are focused on a specific difficulty everyone shares and are facilitated by a licensed therapist. These groups are powerful as they are a sharing of stories that align with other people. This process is very effective. For example, someone comes in with concerns regarding their drinking or crystal meth use, they may attend the harm reduction group where they work out their substance use by discussing with others the cost and benefits of the use, why they are doing it, consideration for using differently, or stopping completely. It’s an open space to talk with others of similar struggles or questions.
How is success measured in the programming?
We are currently looking into how we get better at doing this. Customer satisfaction surveys are our current procedure, asking clients how they engaged with their therapist, how we are meeting their needs, is the program affordable, do they find it purposeful. We have started conducting after-care calls, reaching back out to clients once therapy ends to reassess where people are. Sometimes during these call backs we hear about positive paths they are on and other times people really need to come back into treatment. We find this an effective way to reengage if necessary. Overall, through the surveys and after-care calls, clients say they learn a lot about addiction and coping and feedback tends to be very positive.
What does culturally–sensitive mean in the program’s mission statement?
As a collective agency, everyone is passionate about the work we do and the LBGTQ community we serve. We have a big commitment to cultural competency and identify with the community as many of the workers live and breathe the work and understand the issues this specific community faces. For example, there is significant social stigma around substance abuse and within this community its effects and use is different.
What do you find is the biggest hurdle for those who are battling substance abuse?
There are many hurdles and it’s a long road–clients have made positive drastic changes but it can take a while all depending on factors such as age of onset, family history, unemployment or something else in their social situation that complicates things. People can be discouraged with progress and it can be slow and incremental. Relapse is psychologically and at times physically difficult and it can be hard not to get discouraged.
Is there a personal story of triumph that stemmed from the program you can share?
We have had clients that were deep into their drug use that had corresponding health consequences that were monumental, such as psychosis, being terrorized at night with nightmares, hearing voices and other distressing mental illness that made them feel as though they had lost their minds. Some lost their housing and employment. Many of these clients have been successful in turning their lives around for the best, resolving their psychosis, and some have started their own businesses or gone back to school. Often times we hear back from them on their own telling us about their recovery stories and the amazing impact we had on their lives. It’s inspirational to see them succeed in making positive changes.
How is the program funded? Does health insurance cover any of the expenses that clients may incur?
Recovering With Pride is funded in many different ways and we work hard to make our services accessible to the low income or the underinsured. The Chicago Department of Public Health helps us to provide free-of-charge counseling for members of the LGBTQ community struggling with substance abuse or dependence who have limited financial resources and are uninsured or underinsured. For some clients we provide a sliding scale, or small out of pocket fee up front when insurance is involved. Due to all the changes in insurance recently, our issues with insurance are being a part of the proper network and deductibles that people cannot afford. Additionally we apply for grants such as the Ryan White grant that covers services for people with HIV.
What is the biggest challenge that Recovering With Pride has in its administration?
It can be very difficult to watch addiction take its toll on people, which is why we take care of ourselves as clinicians in order to be able to do this work.
What do you consider to be true strength?
I think that from the perspective of the client, true strength is the ability to face yourself honestly. That means taking a hard look at yourself and being honest with what’s happened and take responsibility for it. Picking up the phone or walking through the door for help even when you cannot verbalize your thoughts as your life is falling apart–takes immense strength for anyone.
Consider donating to Recovering With Pride by visiting www.howardbrown.org or purchasing a copy of 30 Days Dry - 10% of sales go to support this organization.
Scientific randomness in the universe goes beyond particles at the molecular level and can extend to everything we encounter in our lives. Random Convo is a series of my random conversations with people, or my overhearing of one. This is an exercise of listening and being aware and mindful in the moment.
This past weekend while I was at a wedding I had a random conversation with a women who told me that she noticed how much her dogs were genderdized liked us humans and took the distinct personality of a male or female. She went on saying that her female dog is such a girl and their male dog such a boy, that they do things that are typical of these human genders. She postulated that this could mean that dogs are intellectual like us humans and that what’s innate is really encapsulated in our gender.
Environmental Works is a nonprofit Community Design Center that empowers the US State of Washington’s most vulnerable communities to create the spaces they need to succeed. Their commitment is to honor the dignity of all people, regardless of income, through their architectural and planning services to those underserved by the profession. Their services include site analysis, programming, evaluation of needs, budgeting, and more, which lead to quality design and high performing places to live, gather, and work. Their motto is People and Places Matter, by making buildings that make people feel good.
The organization was inspired by the power-to-the-people activism of the Vietnam War-era. Over forty years later, Environmental Works continues to practice architecture in the public interest and prides itself on doing the most they can to help society in establishing social equity and environmental stewardship.
Environmental Works has achieved national recognition for their work and are regarded as leaders in the field of sustainable architecture for low-income communities. We had the opportunity to connect with Executive Director Roger Tucker to learn more about this amazing organization whose core value is that everyone deserves resilient communities with decent, affordable housing and vibrant, enriching places to work and play.
What is the founding story for Environmental Works?
Environmental Works was founded on Earth Day in 1970 as a cooperative effort of 64 University of Washington students and others to “make the earth and the Northwest livable, through environment preservation and community development.” Initially located in the University of Washington Architecture School Annex Building, they relocated to the surplussed City of Seattle Fire Station No. 7 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. During the height of the Vietnam War and Urban Renewal, Environmental Works staff were known as "reasonable radicals" because they used their counterculture ideas and positive energy to make lasting change in low income communities. In the early days, the volunteers who worked hardest to bring Fire Station 7 (dubbed Earthstation 7 by the group) back to life and set Environmental Works on a path of sustainability were Dale Miller, Larry Goetz, Jerry Arbes, and a newcomer, non architect Brad Collins. Working with the Seattle King County Economic Opportunity Board, the four secured two one-year grants for the 1971-72 and 1972-73 fiscal years with HUD and HEW respectively. The primary purposes of the grants were to develop environmental awareness in low-income communities and environmental education curriculum for the Seattle Public School District. This early work set the tone for the organization and helped develop the core values that the organization still lives by.
What type of underserved organizations and communities has Environmental Works helped?
Environmental Works’ clients include nonprofit organizations that have limited financial resources and time to consider facilities improvements. We help them to determine facilities improvements so they can better serve their clients and help them leverage funds to make it happen. We also work with nonprofit housing providers, encouraging them to include potential residents, who wouldn't usually have access to architectural services or a voice in the planning process, in the design of their new homes. The organizations we work with typically serve people who make 30%-50% of median income.
We continue to work with organizations that we have partnered with throughout our 45-year history, and we are always engaging with new organizations. In the past decade our work has included:
· More than 40 new affordable housing projects, creating 1,200 homes for more than 2,500 individuals
· More than 40 childcare centers for low- and moderate-income children
· Dozens of public facilities including homeless shelters, food banks, clinics, and community center
How can proper design change people’s lives?
Here are some examples:
Noel House Women's Emergency Shelter - Formerly located in a converted basement parking garage, the new Noel House shelter in downtown Seattle provides a dignified space for chronically homeless women to get back on their feet. Indeed, 78% of clients now find permanent housing solutions within a year, up from just 43% in the old space.
El Centro de la Raza Community Center –Over more than 20 years, EW has worked with El Centro de la Raza to improve their historic former school building (now a community resource center). We provided a master plan of improvements such as energy, plumbing, and seismic systems, and then helping to implement the work over time with our services. El Centro de la Raza’s staff have been able to remain focused on their organization’s core values of inclusion, outreach, and community solidarity–not having to learn how to become facilities experts for an aging structure.
Unity Village Low Income Housing – Inclusive, hands on design workshops with residents led to a development that was welcomed by the neighborhood. Residents feel ownership of the place and continue to respect and maintain the homes that they helped design. With input from the workshops, we created flexible design features that allow people from 12 different cultures to adapt their apartments easily for their own cultural preferences. The design included outdoor recreation space, parking, bus lines, and easy access to a local park.
How can proper design make people feel good?
I would say it is twofold - providing a connection with the natural world and providing opportunities for community gathering. Many of our projects have central open spaces that provide a place for social activities in a secure natural setting. As an example, at One Community Commons, a low-income family housing project in West Seattle, all of the apartments are accessed through a central, south-facing courtyard that is planted with edible plants such as figs and strawberries. It provides a safe place for kids to play while parents do laundry, visit with neighbors or use the common meeting room. The project is located at a busy intersection and the courtyard, located above the street and surrounded on three sides by apartments, is a quiet and secure respite.
What is considered a high performing place?
To us a high performing place is both environmentally and socially resilient. Socially high performing fosters community and provides opportunities for social interaction and support. Environmentally high performing has minimal impact on the earth and reduces energy and operating costs for owners/residents.
What is sustainable design?
Sustainable design is a term that has been diluted by overuse. In its best meaning it refers to design that is resilient and relevant, having minimum long term and short term impact on our planet - a design that is a healthy and invigorating place to live and/or work and ideally has a symbiotic relationship with our ecosystem. Achievable? Yes! Easy? No!
What is a current project of Environmental Works?
We are happy to be working with a private nonprofit resource center for families who are at risk of becoming homeless. We worked together from the start to raise donations for design services and are currently working with the organization and contractor on donations of construction services, materials, and labor. The key project elements were defined through a hands on community design process in which all members of the organization were able to express their vision for the center with drawings, images, and words.
What is Environmental Works’ biggest issue in being able to meet their vision?
In the past grants have been available that allowed us to provide no cost design and planning services to local social service agencies. We are working to restore this funding so we can continue to provide low cost or no cost design services to nonprofit social service agencies. We would love to be able to provide free services for all of the communities and organizations that we serve.
If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be?
The current income inequality and over-demand for resources is leading to an imbalance in our world. A simpler, more equitable culture would lead to a happier and healthier society.
Consider donating to Environmental Works by visiting eworks.org or purchasing a copy of Thought Notebook Journal Issue 4 - 10% of sales go to support this organization.
There is a dark side to publishing, one that takes advantage of artists and writers leaving them starving even though they are doing the work they love. Many times they are forced to give up rights to their work, sign in-perpetuity clauses, follow rigid rules, and give up creative control in exchange for being published. However, we are living in a time when the rich, powerful, and traditional publishers that have built the foundations of the industry are getting weaker by the minute due to the advent of technology and the revolution of the Internet. The traditionally established publishing industry’s high barriers of entry and long history of tactics, processes, and perceptions are now outdated like yesterday’s iPhone. This current situation has provided a landscape of people pounding through the broken glass doors to make their point, proving the need for change, showing direct approval of the masses.
Can you feel a bit of tension in those words?
Yes, I’m kind of mad. I have a love-hate relationship with publishing right now and let me tell you why. I had some precursor thoughts about the publishing world before jumping full fledge into it. Then as I swam among what the tide brought after the dam was broken and experienced the masses walking within the rubble rebuilding where they could apply their talents and expertise. This has led to a complete lack of structure that is driving me crazy. As a former project manager that found planning very natural, this was immediately painful for me. As any successful human needs to do, I adapted, and this state of the union is my overview of what I have observed and reflected upon over the past two years as an indie publisher and literary artist.
This report comes from a very objective point of view. Although I went to college for quite a long period of my life, my degrees were not in English, I had never completed a full book, and all I knew about publishing was the top handful of names like Random, Hatchett, and Wiley. I was in for a shock as I entered this world of disarray with solely pure passion.
Let me begin with emphasizing that the industry is in a state of overflow leading to a primordial state of chaos. Those living in these new conditions have created a diverse array of options, products, and services in so many variations that it’s hard to keep track. There are hybrids upon hybrids of business models that are growing at a distressing rate. Some are sustainable, some are not. The testing of hundreds of different ideas are being done to see which ones have traction and can survive the climate change. It reminds me of the thoughts I have when I read about the asteroids that supposedly hit and killed the dinosaurs, wiping out and creating a new host of life in its ashes. The diverse spawn of life that reemerged was drastically different from what was there before.
The prior purpose of traditional publishing houses was to weed through the available work and publish what they thought would be bestsellers. Just like fine wine, however, reading tastes are very subjective. Consumers of reading material left it up to these houses to make decisions for them on what they should be reading. Now with thousands of indie publishing companies and a multitude of writers and artists self-publishing their own books through online vanity publishers like LuLu.com, readers have a brand new selection of reading material at their disposal like they never had before. Readers can finally choose for themselves what they do and don't like. This mass access has led to a saturated system, making discovery and marketing very difficult, for both the author and the reader.
One of the best things that the traditional publishers did was groom the books they published by removing errors and creating reputable book design by using internal expertise to polish and edit professionally. Many self-published authors and indie publishers do not get the privilege of having this grooming process to the extent that traditional publishers do. This creates a disadvantage to those who don't have the finances to obtain these pricey services on their own, or aren’t educated enough to have a personal process in place for decent edits and design completed. I can’t imagine any reader, especially a seasoned reader, wanting to read something that hasn't been polished. Yes, even traditionally edited books will have errors but some self-published books are beyond acceptable. I must admit it took me time to really understand the depth of this, but now I do wholeheartedly. Readers have now become their own quality control which is almost a foreign concept to them as well as a time-consuming task. At some point, readers will get tired of this and will shy away from new authors, stick to just a few, or continue to only follow books that are published from traditional houses. Thankfully, through kindness and mutual sharing of passion, volunteer editors and designers have kept the breath inside the lives of some indie publishers like me.
This leads us to ultimately the most difficult issue for any publisher, artist, and author: discoverability. The website is the new phone book and an absolute requirement for visual artists and writers. Like it or not, Google now determines which products do the best. We are now living in an era of tags, keywords, and search engine optimization (SEO), and books, art, and online magazines must fit into search algorithms. The Google brand is now a household name that everyone turns to daily. Google is our go to for everything in our life. Google is now not only a company name, it’s a verb. Google is the lifeblood of discoverability. Those who can afford expensive SEO for their websites will reach the top of Google and feed our attentions every time we turn to it. I find when I research on Google that the top front page list results aren’t always the best products, or articles I need. Instead, most of it are companies that can afford to be placed there. Those like me who have figured this out have been privy to experience the Page 3 and Page 10 of Google results. It’s there that I find a tremendous sea of diverse thought, products, and services… driven by passion, and not a lot of money. This ideal of second best has created a sub-culture that has not yet been tapped into. Passion and quality seem to have been removed from Google’s search equations. There is a large sea of creatures that live in the depths with content, community, and value if you swim deep enough. Google has yet to tap into the beauty of its later pages. How can those within the depths be discovered? It then becomes frustrating to grab the attention of those in the light from the darkness when the internet has created an impulsive urge to immediacy and impatience. How can indie publishers and artists find their readers and markets with Google then? Discoverability will remain a hurdle and limitation for quite a while.
Naturally we are then brought to competition, and a lot of it, all trying to successfully evolve out of the primordial pool and survive on land. Since the industry is in a diversity boom, taking the usual approach to competition is not sustainable. Society is used to a handful of competition within industries. Currently that is not the case in publishing, as there are hundreds of thousands of competitors, depending on how you look at what your competition is. The perception of competition needs to change, from one in battle, to that of survival. To that end, I have decided to take a different approach and encourage collaboration instead. Publishers, authors, and artists working together to share best practices, lessons learned, cross promotion, and motivating each other to keep moving along the flow of our passion. We were never meant to do things alone, as humanity in its entirety thrives on being in unison. I am a true believer that when we assist each other in surviving, everyone benefits. Everyone in the publishing industry should cheer each other on, instead of booing the other teams.
The traditional distribution chain is responsible for getting print books into the stores of neighborhood books shops and all the brick and mortar chains we are all familiar with such as Barnes & Noble,Tower, and Blackwell’s. It is nearly impossible for the small indie press and the self-published author to make successful strides in the traditional distribution chain, not to mention getting into libraries. Innovative technology has allowed the ability for books to be printed on demand (POD), removing the need for the traditional distribution and very large and expensive print runs. Although this is of great service to the needs of those who have troubles going the traditional distribution route, this has made book covers the wine labels of the publishing industry – as discoverability now includes the ability to catch an eye as they lie in thumbnail form in a row with the next. Though sales of physical books are still higher than ebooks, this is changing year after year. Further, with the rising inflationary symptoms of our global economy most consumers are saving money wherever they can. As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, this disturbing truth will make it even harder for print books and the shops they are bought in, to survive. Most of the time ebooks are cheaper (although not always) and consumers are jumping in. It is for these reasons I have vouched that every ebook published through Thought Collection Publishingwill be 2.99 cents, as I believe very strongly in equal access to art and literature. I will only spend very little energy and effort on physical book distribution and will stick to the POD until better opportunities exist in the traditional distribution model for indie publishers.
I know and respect the reasons why people and companies hate Amazon, as no one wants a monopoly whose power over prices and just about everything else, can turn into abuse, but none of the other online retailers are giving publishers the tools and access to the market we need like Amazon is. If other retailers worked as hard and thought as smartly about strategy and process like Amazon does, they would be better competitors, but they aren’t. Amazon is the epitome of everything I learned in business school. The company is truly the market leader in many industries, not just publishing. There are people and companies that hate this and I totally get it. I agree in healthy competition. To that end, I challenge Nook, Kobo, Google, Apple, Smashwords, and other up and coming retailers to give Amazon a fair fight. So far these retailers just have not yet figured out how to win. I recommend a book to all leaders and change agents in those organizations – The Art Of War by Sun Tsu. The issue I do have with Amazon is their need for exclusivity. As a writer I enjoy my rights and not having the right to place my ebooks on other retailer sites in order to take advantage of Amazon’s marketing tools really annoys me. This is one of moral aptitude that Amazon hasn't yet included into their guiding principles. The retailer Magzter is definitely doing a good job being innovative in providing free marketing services to their publishers as they understand that when they help their publishers, everyone wins.
Lastly, some other rants I must include in this specialized venting session on the state of the publishing union include:
• Authors and visual artists are now business owners. Gone are the days of just being a writer, photographer, or painter. We must also have some business sense. If you do not, or wish not to, being successful will be difficult.
• Unless you know someone or have the finances to use services that still aren’t guaranteed, press releases will never get published.
• Unless you know someone or have the finances to use a third party company, your books will never be reviewed as much as it needs to trigger online algorithms to make books discoverable to your market.
• Literary and visual artists must now accept the fact that taking time away from their writing and art for online marketing is absolutely necessary. Although many are opposed to this virtual living, embracing the personal online presence is now required. It is this digital revolution that has created the much needed change within the publishing industry, so it must be embraced by its participants. The problem of online marketing lies in where to market, as this is still changing daily. I have spent hours upon hours on marketing that didn’t work. This is wasted time I could have spent writing. It appears that relationship building on the internet is definitely harder than in person. Some of us are still adjusting to becoming social online as it feels almost science fiction, or unnatural, but the rise of social media and online social interactions is because of us; we embraced it wholeheartedly.
Since we are on the verge of a new era, and extreme change is happening within publishing, I propose some traits the newly evolved creatures that arise from the primordial pond should have: altruistic, inventive, clever, independent, original, progressive, visionary, and fun. So what happens in nature when there is disorder? Eventually gravity will make energy coalesce and order will spontaneously appear. I have no doubt that the future in publishing will hold amazing specimens of life, capable of great things. One thing is for certain, however, it will NOT be where it was ten years ago. One of the key laws and rules observed and proved in science is survival of the fittest. Those that can adapt and keep up will be the ones that survive. Traditional publishing companies will never truly accept this fate as they will hold tightly to their attributes and preconceptions that dominated their original form. It is now up to the Indies to rise. Self-publishers and “Indies” of all kinds, it’s now time to unite and spread a different cause. Thought Collection Publishing is building a community of new creatures growing from this global primordial publishing pond. Come visit my side of the publishing world as I attempt to build a community of those likeminded publishers, writers, artists, and consumers. Together in the Author & Artist Collective we can be more effective as a group as we collectively scan the latest developments in publishing, pass on tips, and share experiences. Visit our Marketplace and help us build our opportunity space, ridding competition and collaborating instead.
Community is the answer for now in the current state of the publishing union; strength in numbers.
Update Note: These communities no longer exist, however, Kat still believes in strength in numbers and is working on developing communities in the future.
See other reports on the State Of The (Indie) Publishing Union:
Scientific randomness in the universe goes beyond particles at the molecular level and can extend to everything we encounter in our lives. Random Library Book is a series of my walks down different library aisles and I randomly pick out a book. I bring light to books that might otherwise get lost in the large repetitive physical aisles of a library.
The Government Publications section of the library intrigued me today. Of all the books I went passed, I randomly picked up:
After Katrina: The Role of the Department of Justice Katrina Fraud Task Force and Agency Inspectors General in Preventing Waste, Fraud and Abuse
What a hefty title I first thought to myself. Browsing the pages, I began to think that if we need to have an agency that oversees fraud when dealing with disasters such as Katrina, then what a shame. It’s bad enough we have a natural disaster that changes many people’s lives forever, but then we are confronted with the perils of fraud as well, all while the government is trying to provide help to those in need. This is a perfect example of the balance that naturally comes when good is being done.
The US Government knowing this, formed a Committee on Government Reform to scope out the details of the fraud and abuse that took place during our response to Katrina. Some examples of fraud noted in the book include bribery, issues with debris removal contracts, FEMA hotel rooms not used for evacuees, and much more. This book goes into detail about their findings as its content is the hearing notes before the subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability in May of 2006.
An interesting read of 114 pages for those interested in political science and anyone curious about the type of fraud schemes that can be developed by man.
Often we take for granted the warm when the cold season is around, or a good pair of shoes when a lot of walking is needed. More than we should, we also take for granted our health and access to clean water, employment, and books. All over the world families are living in poverty stricken conditions typically called slums. According to World Health Organization, almost 900 million people live in slums around the world, with 90% of them in cities of developing countries. These slums are characterized by multiple forms of deprivation, and are often overcrowded and vulnerable to disease and violence.
silent tapes is a non-profit series of projects lead by Francis and Stephanie Lane, which focus on documenting the lives of people from various slums around the world and generating funds for those communities through their artistry. Their amazing photography opens us up to the world of slums, capturing their stories and moments, allowing us a glimpse into their world. Their photos make us aware of what life is like for many, which is foreign to a lot of us.
I had the privilege to talk with Francis and Stephanie Lane about their philanthropy, and they believe that through their photography they can make an impact on lives through art. Their social change organization, silent tapes, believes that all humans have the right to a dignified quality of life, which includes adequate basic needs, education, and security.
You create art to help provide needs in slums around the world. What defines a slum and what drew you both towards such compassion for them?
We will leave the literal definition of a "slum" to be googled, and say that what truly defines a slum is much more than anything we grasped prior to stepping foot into one. There is such a vast spectrum of life, and stories untold, in the slums. There are people in desperate need to be heard, and to be cared for, and anyone capable of offering a listen or a hand should do so. On a personal level, we wanted to see the truth in everything each country had to offer, and that included its richest and poorest areas. Experiencing, learning, and growing from every corner of the world, and being open and compassionate towards them, is what we are looking for.
How do families break out of life in the slums?
Aside from the unlikely event that a country's social welfare net brings the people of their country out of poverty, their best tools are education and/or small business opportunities. Micro-financing, education, and prevention of child abuse/corruption all are essential to opening possibilities to families trying to break the cycle of slum life. Gender equality would also have an immense positive impact. If the female labor force was utilized in urban areas to its full potential, it would have economic benefits that would serve well beyond those cities.
What do you think is the basis for this injustice?
Rapid urbanization as well as temporary migrations for seasonal work are just a couple factors that come to mind. There is also a lack of government policy enforcement which creates a vulnerable and stagnant situation for the people living in these conditions. An argument could be made that the current global model of capitalism causes slums to exist, not only because it drives urbanization but because it necessitates inequality in increasing the gap between the rich and poor, eroding social welfare.
When did silent tapes philanthropic work begin? How long has the organization been running?
We're approaching our one-year anniversary! Our Klong Toei project was the launch project for silent tapes, which began March 2013. Our organization works on a one-year cycle program for our selected cities. Our vision is to continue to add new areas of focus year after year, sustaining our programs for all slums through fundraising and outreach, and eventually creating an umbrella of communities all over the world which we have supported.
How do you find non-governmental organizations and communities to partner with? Is this a difficult process or are many organizations ready and willing to partner?
For our launch project, we mostly were looking for an organization that was heavily involved in the local community through grassroots projects. We wanted to make sure we were partnering with someone who had concrete, meaningful relationships with the local people, and that really were invested in helping by working together one-on-one. Additionally, we sought a specific measure of impact on the lives of the children benefitting from our partners endeavors, such as abuse prevention, health standards, and empowerment of families in the local communities. Some organizations may not be willing to partner due to legal or religious differences, but we were lucky to find the perfect match in Klong Toei.
What do you find is your biggest challenge as a social change organization?
Our biggest challenge is ensuring we are creating and supporting projects that have long-term sustainability in order to help shape a better future for people in the slums that we do our work in.
Your photography is absolutely amazing. What are you trying to capture in these images?
Thank you. We try to capture honest moments that truly identify the lifestyle of people in some of the most destitute communities in the world. Most of the time, we only come across photographs sensationalizing their lives, depicting them as unhappy or unfortunate. In our experience, this is not entirely the case.
You had great success with your first project in Klong Toei, Bangkok. Was there a moment, specific person you met, or event, where you felt silent tapes was making a difference? What has changed you the most?
There is a 5-year-old little boy who attends the day care which we support in Klong Toei. We ran into him on a Saturday afternoon, roaming about by himself in the alleyways of the slum. We suddenly realized that if he did not have the daycare to attend during the week, this innocent boy would be more susceptible to abandonment, child abuse, or other harmful activities at his tender age. He wouldn't have anybody to look after him. It is for children like him that we love and care about what we do, because everybody deserves opportunity to a better life.
What do we take more for granted, that the families from these slums cherish the most?
Opportunity and equality, across the board.
Your next project will be in Brazil. Tell us about how this place was chosen? What is your ultimate goal?
Being of Brazilian background, Stephanie's first visit to the country has been long overdue. In seeking a location for our second project, we realized it would be ideal to go to a place where not only was there urgent need for NGO's like ours, but also a familiarity for us on different cultural levels. Our project dates also are concurrent with the World Cup events, so we plan to capitalize on the consequent global attention to raise awareness of the less glamorous side of the country, i.e child prostitution, drug abuse, etc. Our ultimate goal is to have our compelling silent tapes Fortaleza project be an overwhelming success in both fundraising and public awareness in order to provide ongoing support to the children in Fortaleza.
What are some very future projects you’re the most excited for?
We are entirely focused on Brazil at the moment, since we create our projects on a yearly basis, although there are many other areas already in mind for the future! Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Africa, to name a few. Our hope is to one day also be able to partner with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who have inspired us with their incredible advocacy and book, Half the Sky.
Support silent tapes by visiting their website or purchasing Thought Notebook Journal Issue 2. 10% of all sales gets donated to the organization.
Society needs to evolve just as our DNA does.
Human brains are wired for categorization, thought by many to be an evolutionary advantage and a condition for rational thought. It is no surprise then that humans have classified the history of time on Earth into eras of clearly defined periods marked by some characteristic. Some eras are shorter while others span much longer time frames. A person can have eras of their own, viewing their own personal lifetime in various periods, such as being a teenager or married. Or we can view the categorization of something much larger like the timeline of the origins of our universe. In any case, what happens in the eras of any timescale defines the uniqueness of that time.
The usage of chronology for life makes sense since everything alive is evolving into something different from what it was in a prior state. In looking at the life span of the planet Earth, the home to all who are reading this, it is estimated to be 4.5-billion years old since it was birthed from a nebula of particles from our Sun during the Hadean era. Immediately after was the beginning of the Archean era, 4-billion years ago, when the Earth’s first continents were formed, then shortly after, our oceans. It was this blessing of water that created the first signs of life 3.5-billion years ago. Photosynthetic life eventually developed after falling in love with the energy of the sun and produced oxygen 2-billion years ago during the Paleoproterozoic Era. Water and oxygen together created the atmosphere 1-billion years ago during the Proterozoic era leading to complex multicellular life forming in the Cambrian era 580-million years ago.
As these complex multicellular life forms developed, events with sudden climatic changes such as an ice age, shifted the scale of physical evolution of all species of life existing at that time. Diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared 250-million years ago in the Mesozoic Era spawning the dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs became extinct, birds survived helping to develop the next set of life along with great change in the terrestrial vegetation leading up to the Cenozoic period about 65-million years ago. This time marked the proliferation of insects, and fish joining the birds in this process of proliferation. Periods of global heating and cooling over the next several million years created tectonic shifts in Earth’s continental plates and the development of land animals and their eventual migration around the globe marking the Pliocene Era 5-million years ago. Eventually animal migration allowed for the intermingling of species giving rise to a diverse set of mammals from horses to cats and homo habilis during the Pleistocene Era 2-million years ago. As homo erectus spread throughout the world 150,000 years ago, they contributed to the extinction of the large animals that they hunted. Since then, small scale climate shifts and continued migration evolved homo erectus into the humans we are today, homo sapiens. This gives our current Era of the last 11,700 years the name Holocene, dubbed “The Age of Man” as it plays spectator to most of humanity’s recorded history and the rise and fall of all its civilizations since then.
Anatomically, modern homo sapiens evolved within the last 150,000 years defining only 0.004% of Earth’s whole geographic history. While all organisms influence their environments to some degree, few have ever impacted Earth as much, or as fast, as our species has done during our short 0.004% stay. Modern humans are changing the world, ushering in a new era in geologic time, currently proposed to be called Anthropocene. This concept of a new era has been discussed and debated as the time in history where human influences became so great, that it changed the future of Earth and humanity all together. This is the first time that an era is credited to a particular species, the human.
But is this really something so dramatic? The impetus for leaps of growth in life on Earth usually include destruction then recovery. The changes currently being observed in our ecosystem are parallel with major events of past eras that developed the landscape we see today and the photosynthetic organisms that released oxygen into our atmosphere for us to breathe. The only distinction this time around is how quickly our impact has been and who is doing it. Humans have wandered the Earth for thousands of years but never has our capacity to alter the Earth’s ecosystem at a larger scale been more prominent than it is today.
When the Anthropocene Era began is under debate by scholars in various disciplines. To think about when our impact first began to alter the Earth’s ecosystem forever is surely not an easy feat to do. Geologists have been able to observe differences in rock to tell Earth’s story up to this point, but dissecting current time is harder to do since looking back is what Geologists are experts on, contemplating the present is not their specialty. From a philosophical perspective however, there was a beginning point when we became a driver instead of a passenger along the chronology of time.
Some theories based on atmospheric evidence suggest the era kicked off with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century due to human population growth and the rise of carbon dioxide. This was a time when humans first began to play with chemical manufacturing, and the building of machines. Others connect the beginnings to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the domesticating of animals with the Neolithic Revolution 12,000 years ago. This direct change from hunting and gathering resulted in societies being developed and the continued rise and falls of them since. Further, many believe that the very recent onset of our dependency on technology since the 1950s has fueled exponential growth to the point that some call it the “Great Acceleration.”
Then the Internet came, which revolutionized society like no other civilizations of the past. By building an interconnected framework around the globe, using satellites and computers to share data, we are moving energy in a coordinated manner around the Earth like never before, building our collective intelligence that can easily resemble a brain. Several trillion synapses are available in our brain for neuron communication, allowing for the processing of an enormous amount of information every minute. Our global system of communication is too processing data in amounts that are difficult to comprehend. For example, every minute email users send over 200 million messages. In the last 30 years, almost half of the world’s population used the internet connecting 2.5 billion people instantly like never before. This electronic infrastructure allows for the fundamental mathematical laws that nature follows to produce exponential growth. Perhaps we are living with the right conditions set up to allow for another boom of diversification.
Although I agree that today’s technology revolution has provided the catalyst to propel us into the next form of rapid growth and development of our species, I prefer to connect the beginning of the Anthropocene Era with the time homo sapiens’ consciousness expanded into a different form. It can be easily argued that all living things are conscious in some aspect, but many would agree that advanced consciousness like our own is unique. We broke through into a new level of consciousness that hadn’t existed before. This too has arguments about its beginnings, but my general feelings lead me to believe that consciousness began in the 6th century BC with the co-evolution of language and larger brain capacity that allowed humans to discover they had minds.
So when did the proper neuronal connections in our brains happen to allow us to become differently intelligent than other living things? From observing my own children I find that true advanced consciousness begins when a toddler realizes they are separate and distinct from their parents. Toddlers realize that their wants are not the same as their parents, and rebellion begins–leading to the term “terrible twos.” If you extend this idea to humanity, when did we rebel? When were we not happy with what the Earth provided for us to such an extent that we decided to take the wheel and drive? When did we become rational enough to have insights? When did humanity as a whole hit its toddler years?
Prior to our consciousness becoming so advanced we were a lowly species, dwelling on Earth in small proportions. Our lives were simple, our impact to our environment was slim. We weren’t burning fossil fuels or driving cars which made our air dirty. We weren’t polluting the oceans or dropping nuclear bombs. We certainly weren’t socially connected around the globe like we now are. The ability for us to destroy our own habitat was not possible, it was left up to the forces larger than us; the solar winds and the rock particles floating past us in the sky.
Relative to the age of Earth, in a very short period of time we have managed to push the extinction of species like the Zanzibar Leopard and West African Black Rhinoceros, culminating in large losses of tropical rain forests, and dramatic depletion of our ozone layer. To keep pace with our current lifestyle, we need places to bury garbage, chop down trees for paper, use water for new purposes such as doing laundry, breathe pollution from our cars, and destroy land and wildlife as our population increases. People are dying from not having food or water, and being killed over greed. Our love affair with plastic has damaged coral reefs disrupting the oceans’ own ecosystem. It’s estimated that we have affected about 80% of Earth’s surface all by our own doing. This number had recently doubled since the 1960s.
I believe that the Anthropocene Era encompasses more than humans impacting Earth; it’s also about us as humans affecting ourselves. Chemicals we use every day are altering what’s primal to us, leading to cancer becoming more prevalent. Parts of our genome simply cannot survive a situation where the environment suffers from the full overload of toxins we currently live in. Through cancer and disease our bodies are working out new genomic defects experimenting to see what survives. Unfortunately, we cannot evolve as fast as what we are exposing ourselves to via chemicals in the foods we eat and in the air we breathe. Evolution of living organisms takes thousands to millions of years to happen. We simply haven’t given our bodies enough time to adjust to the exponential changes we are introducing to our environment. Further, it is possible we are blocking any type of evolutionary progress we are making. With the rise of medication and prescription drugs, it’s possible that we are sustaining life and the passage of genes that are diseased, allowing nature to keep reproducing that which it is not supposed to.
The correlation between human society and environmental impact has a long history within our short human footprint. The rise and fall of so many civilizations proves that humans have yet gained the ability to evolve into a society that is sustainable. Many upon many have risen and fallen and the phoenix will continue to rise once again until we get it right. From a more current societal perspective, there is a revolution of sorts going on fueled by the new interconnection of the world and its embracement by the younger Millennial and Z generations. The gap between the ideals of past generations and these newer ones is very large. If the governments and societies of developed nations do not adapt to the change that the Millennials and Z’s require, it will collapse as a whole, just as pieces of it have already.
We are at the point of having a changed relationship with our home planet. It’s the beginning of what can be a short or very long “Age of Man.” Depending on how we approach this continued exponential period of growth, it will either be one of decline or one of growth into something fitter. Where will our newfound global awareness and intelligence take us? Research data clearly shows that the exponential growth is not letting up. If we continue to cut down forests, emit more pollution, push species to extinction, and pollute our oceans, something major is going to happen, if it hasn’t begun already. The Earth has survived many eras in the past through the regeneration of its surface as necessary. Humans on the other hand have not held billions of years of precedent like that.
Current aboriginal culture thriving today may be the ones that survive any future cataclysmic changes when they come, as they are the ones most closely living in alignment with the needs of the Earth, away from these perils of modernization. From whichever angle you look at our current situation, it’s hard to deny the culmination of ripe circumstances for change. It is perhaps time for the Anthropocene Era to begin the branching out of its diversification phase, or maybe extinction so that more fit life forms can thrive. When it comes to society and human consciousness, Darwinism still exists in its primal message. Only the fittest will survive; yet there is always life somewhere else to start as the catalyst for the new.
At our basis we are elements from the cosmos. When you bash together many different forms of molecules in any state, new forms develop as the current environment evolves. This theme of constant change is innate, sitting within the molecular dust that has made us into the physical beings we are today. Conditions always have to be just right for changes to begin.
This piece is one of 25 others in Thought Notebook Journal: Parallelism Of Cyclicality. Read the issue to learn more about our observations while studying the cyclical nature of our world.
As I look into my garden, scorching in the summer weather, I see growth and life. What amazes me about my garden, and what makes me pursue one every year, is the beauty of its life cycle. Albeit life in a different form from what we typically know it as human beings, but nonetheless life. Or is it really that different? Water, sun and soil are all the seed needs. Very little human intervention is needed. In fact, some plants grow yearly without any of our help, purely natural. Are seeds considered dead then when they sit untouched by soil, water, and light? When does life begin with a seed? Some seeds never get the chance to have its life-cycle initiated. The diversity of life with seeds fascinates. Not only are there at least 10 different kinds of tomato seeds available, but depending on its environment they can grow so differently from one another. Life that springs from seeds also can undergo disease and genetic mutations, producing an extra limb off a carrot flesh, or an abnormal looking onion.
I had a conversation many years ago with a consultant that I worked on a project with that told me that plants are intelligent as well. They know to bend towards the light to grow, and climb to produce strength, to flower in specific spots and to begin germination when water is present. So I watch my garden year after year, and bask in its diversity, its intelligence, its natural yet flawed process, and reflect on how similar I am to that cucumber. Even the genetic material of humans is of the same process and components of plants. Life on two very different mediums, sharing the same building blocks of life. In fact, Iowa State University states that humans share 50% of the same DNA with bananas.
Unfortunately, like in human life, weeds are a part of this beautiful garden of mine. As they annoy me and the surrounding plants, I tend to think about the human weeds in this world. Whoever made the decision to put the Boston Bomber on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine is a weed, infecting the world around him/her. But like all weeds, even after they are chopped down, they come back, naturally. The nature of annoyance, or evil if you may, is ingrained in our lives, and we have to deal with it, just like the plants that grow stronger to deal with the presence of weeds in their soil. There will be another weed in the future that will try to celebrify evil, and some will be consumed, yet others will be happy to cut them down, only for another to come shortly after.
Yes, I did just create a new word...Celebrify: the process of turning something into celebrity status, and in affect, gaining the perks that come with it.
Scientific randomness in the universe goes beyond particles at the molecular level and can extend to everything we encounter in our lives. Random Library Book is a series of my walks down different library aisles and I randomly pick out a book. I bring light to books that might otherwise get lost in the large repetitive physical aisles of a library.
The New World of the Oceans: Men and Oceanography
By Daniel Behrman
This book was published in 1969 at 436 pages. The book is pretty large and full of lots of information. It is a lot of reading with many illustrations throughout that helps document the author’s voyage to discovery. The author interviewed and documented the science of the sea. He was not trained in oceanography, but instead was interested in the new world of the ocean and decided to take a personal study to enrich some type of internal calling of him. He traveled all over the world and studied the oceans and wrote a book all about it. Looks to be a good read for those interested in learning more about an objective view of the study of the ocean, all the while peeking into the soul of a man on a journey.
The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help enhance the well-being of the artist and anyone else involved. That’s why people all over are dedicating their careers to Art Therapy, whiles are others are dedicating their time and talents for the same purpose by volunteering. People have been using the arts as a way to express, communicate and heal for all of humanity. In learning more about Art Therapy, I came across CoachArt, a social change organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children in California with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics. They rely on volunteer mentors who are matched with patients for lessons that offer creative outlets as a distraction from pain, isolation and other ailments often associated with chronic illnesses. The organization’s guiding principle is to enhance the lives of chronically ill youth by tapping into the resources from the coaching community. Mentors from fields such as music, dance, theater, writing and sports, help bring this vision to a reality. CoachArt participates in the art of improving lives!
In wanting to learn more about the 'art of improving lives', I connected with Thyonne Gordon, Executive Director of CoachArt. She is responsible for keeping the lights on, keeping the doors open and the general run of business. She manages a staff of 14 employees and over 700 volunteers. Her background is in Business Management and Operations and she has a doctorate in Human and Organizational Development. She loves developing and growing organizations and people.
When and how did the organization begin?
CoachArt was conceived in 2000 by Zander Lurie in memory of his father, Dr. "Art" Lurie, a cardiac surgeon who loved teaching and mentoring children. Zander, together with family friend, Leah Bernthal, set out to create an organization that would enhance the lives of chronically-ill children by tapping into the abundant resources of the Greater Los Angeles community, particularly in the arenas of art, music and athletics.
CoachArt received nonprofit status in 2001, and spent the next 18 months creating a program that would fill a critical need in the community. Healthcare professionals, chronically-ill children and their families, and individuals interested in volunteering enthusiastically embraced the concept of matching pediatric patients with mentors for free, recreational lessons. In 2002, CoachArt launched a pilot Outpatient Mentoring Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, enrolling 50 patients in free arts and athletics lessons. Due to the emotional needs of our patients' siblings, the program was later expanded to include family members. CoachArt now serves over 2000 students a year in Northern and Southern California via Outpatient Mentoring, In-Hospital Workshops, Activity Clinics and Special Program Events.
How old are the patients that are involved in this unique program?
CoachArt works with chronically-ill children and their siblings, 6 to 18 years of age. Of the over 2,000 children served in 2012, approximately 70% were Latino, 14% were African American, 9% were Caucasian, 4% were Asian-American, and 3% were from other ethnic backgrounds such as Native American, East Indian or Middle Eastern. CoachArt works with approximately equal numbers of male and female students. CoachArt patients have been diagnosed with any of over 100 chronic illnesses.
Where do you find your volunteers and who are they?
Volunteers are a mix of professionals, community centers and other nonprofit partners (like nonprofits, corporations and organizations). Word of mouth is our best source of engagement while we also use Volunteer Search and other web based programs. We also go to corporate events and display at community events.
What type of lessons do patients like to participate in?
Lessons include Music (voice and instruments), Dance, Visual Art, Culinary, Basketball, Baseball and Soccer.
Where do the activities take place?
Activities take place in the home or local community centers partnering with CoachArt.
What type of effect have you seen these programs bring to the people involved?
CoachArt lessons make our kids and parents smile, laugh and have fun. We have no recorded data that documents healing affects yet, our parents and doctors tell us that they've seen increased motor skills, emotional outlooks and social engagement when kids participate in our programs.
Here's a story of a CoachArt youth:
Meet Brett (African American, music, pre-teen)
Brett’s family was in “no man’s land.” Their son Brett no longer was a hospital inpatient, but he was receiving debilitating outpatient cancer treatments. Brett wasn’t well enough to be at school or do normal activities, and he was sick and tired of treatments. That’s when CoachArt stepped in and gave Brett free lessons in art and music. Suddenly things began to change.
Adele, Brett’s Mother: “One day life was perfect and—boom--the next day it wasn’t. Our son Brett was a normal kid with two working parents. He loved sports. When Brett was 5, doctors discovered that a lump in his mouth was cancer, Embryonal Rhabdomysocarcoma. Brett was quite sick and my husband and I spent all our time taking care of him and researching treatments. To save his life, I stopped working to devote unlimited time to Brett. Our income was cut nearly in half and medical bills came pouring in. Brett couldn’t go to school, because his resistance was too low. Sports were out of the question. When CoachArt came into our lives, Brett was an outpatient undergoing cancer treatments, and couldn’t lead a normal life. His immune system was compromised, so his friends couldn’t visit and he had to stay homebound.
CoachArt changed all that. Sean, his first CoachArt mentor, gave him art lessons, which lifted his spirits and gave him a way to express himself. Sean treated Brett like any other kid, not like a sick kid. And Sean was there for Brett every week, whether Brett was full of energy or feeling totally awful. If Brett looked too tired to paint, Sean would come up with something else fun. Once he suggested that they kick the ball around the house, because Sean knew Brett would get a reaction from me. Brett loved that – a chance to feel like a mischievous kid.
Once Brett starting feeling better, he asked for piano lessons. CoachArt arranged for a new mentor – Tom, to give him weekly lessons. Just like Sean, Tom comes to our house every week, no matter what. I look forward to Brett’s lesson with Tom. Sometimes I even nap to the sound of their music and laughter. Without CoachArt it would have been impossible to give Brett these opportunities to be a happy, regular kid.”
Tom, Brett’s Volunteer Mentor: “I’m a Software Engineer. I have a good job and a nice life, but I didn’t realize what was missing until I found CoachArt.
I love piano, so CoachArt matched me up with Brett. All I had to do was go to this boy’s home and give him lessons. Easy. But little did I know how touched I would be by the experience of knowing Brett and his parents. Over the past two years Brett and I have been on an incredible journey, without ever leaving the piano bench. When we started, his music skills were rusty and his coordination was a bit off. Now he’s playing Mozart! Sometimes we’ll sit at the piano and Brett will confide in me about how he feels or how he’s nervous about a treatment. Other times we’ll talk about great composers.
Brett: “I want to be a good pianist and learn more. I love playing piano and I want to play everything! Right now I’m working on “The Wild Horseman” by Robert Schumann – it’s my new favorite.”
How can people get involved?
It's easy to get involved. Email us at email@example.com or call us at 213-736-2850 or send us a note to 3303 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 320 LA 90010 and we'll let you know exactly what you can do!
Through the arts and recreation programs provided, what success is expected from the patients?
Our programs are for fun and learning. The most we can assure is that the fun and learning will occur. Students will also be engaged so that they can take their mind off the illness affecting the family and focus on fun. We are not a therapy program so we do not proclaim any therapeutic effects. But we guarantee play!
What is the organization’s biggest hurdle at this point?
As with most nonprofits in these difficult times finding resources is always challenging. In particular, we need volunteers who live and can service the South LA area and the Oakland area of California. We also need funding to continue the great work being done by CoachArt.
What has been the biggest success thus far?
Our biggest success takes us back to our mission. We provide quality arts and sports programs for kids with chronic illness and they have LOADS of fun! We created a program for corporate partners to get involved. Our Volunteer Supervisor goes out and teaches about CoachArt and then people volunteer to support. The corporations will take a group of kids and teach them something for about a 2 hour period. We've done gardening, ginger bread house building, pizza making and even golf! The corporate volunteers have fun and of course, the kids have a blast. This collaboration has been a big success as we're able to service more kids and we get volunteers engaged pretty quickly to come on board as regulars.
Consider donating to CoachArt by visiting www.coachart.org or purchasing a copy of Thought Notebook Journal Issue 1 - 10% of sales go to support this organization.
“Together, we’ll work toward a world where everything you buy could have a new kind of
‘Made In …’ tag.” - www.slaveryfootprint.org
I never really thought too much about how the things I buy are manufactured. I have went on living life worrying about other things, that getting to the molecular level of my purchases was an afterthought. I am very encouraged however to find that someone was thinking about the supply chains of what we consume and had planted the seed into what is now the Made In The Free World organization.
In taking the organization’s Slavery Footprint exercise, I learned more about the term Modern Day Slavery and was presented statistics I never seen before of the slavery that goes on in the manufacturing of things I loved. The fact that there are people who are attempting to escape 20 hour days from hard work and sexual assaults to make the things that I eat and enjoy, really hit my heart. I thought about how these types of issues are not on the news and that the concept of awareness here is tremendous. I wanted part in spreading this awareness, as the results of my Slavery Footprint exercise found that it’s estimated that 88 slaves work for me! Next time I see a “Made In…” tag I will think very differently.
I wanted to learn more, as I was very intrigued by what can be done to rid this issue of supply chain slavery. Do we consumers have a demand issue; do we want and need too much? Or should we point the finger at businesses? These were immediate thoughts as I looked at the map of my slaves and learned more about them. I had the pleasant opportunity to discuss this with Ashley Sholer who is a Grassroots Marketing Associate at the Made In A Free World organization. Ashley helps manages social media campaigns and projects, helps create and maintain partnerships, coordinate events and runs the Campus Chapter program.
I learned from the organization’s website that there are 27 million people enslaved around the world. How is slavery defined in the sense of modern-day supply chain slavery?
The terms most commonly used to represent modern-day supply chain slavery is forced labor or slave labor (interchangeable). A victim of forced labor is; anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited, and who is unable to walk away.
What type of items do we consume where the slavery is most prevalent?
Unfortunately, the use of forced labor is prevalent in most industries at any point in the supply chain. However, research indicates slavery most commonly happens at the raw materials level. Meaning, in the mining, farming, aquafarming industries. Those raw materials, such as tantalum, cotton, and produce then go into our technology, clothes, and food.
The mission of Made In a Free World is to empower individuals, groups and businesses with innovative solutions as a means to end slavery. What type of innovative solutions have been found?
Good question, which has a long answer. Our most well known innovation is Slavery Footprint, this is an interactive platform we created with the U.S. State Department to help people answer the question; “How many slaves work for me?” In addition to Slavery Footprint, people can visit our Action Center or download the Free World app and send letters for businesses asking them to become ‘Made In A Free World’. We also have on the ground projects aimed to free slaves from different industries, our first of which was freeing 6 kids from the fishing industry on the shores of Lake Volta, Ghana. We are in the midst of our #IChooseFreedom campaign and are planning another awareness campaign scheduled to launch before the end of this year. Also, this is our very first year having Made In A Free World Campus Chapters. These are a way for students from all over the nation to work with their schools to spread awareness and introduce slave free products.
Your organization believes in changing the systems in which slavery thrives. What can be done to eradicate the conditions that are being found in the slavery? What are some sustainable changes businesses are making?
Slavery is perpetuated in places where consumers and companies have little or no visibility. Companies can implement a supplier code of conduct (many of which are available to the public on the company’s website), they can achieve 3rd party certification for fair labor practices, and they can partner with industry organizations or NGOs to implement better supply chain transparency.
There has been an overwhelming response to the cause and the number of supporters continues to grow every day. What type of influence does this demand for freedom have in the overall current economic market?
Over the last 10 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in consumers’ desires for ethically sourced products. Looking ahead, we expect to see this desire expand from ethically sourced products, to products sourced from ethical companies. In other words, it is no longer sufficient for companies to provide one product that is ethically sourced while using exploitative practices in the rest of their operation. Whereas in the past companies could have a ‘green’ product but mistreat their workers or treat their workers well but destroy the environment, we now see consumer pressure for a holistic approach to business and an emphasis on the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profits).
What types of tools are given to businesses to understand their supply chains and implement changes?
The primary hindrance to transparency in supply chains is cost. If a company buys a component for their product at the right price and with consistent quality, they do not have a strong incentive to dig deeper. Consumers can provide this incentive. Once a company has the desire to better understand their supply chain and where their products are sourced, there are many tools available to them. The most commonly used is a supplier code of conduct, whereby a company sets minimum operating standards as a condition for winning/retaining their business. The company can then conduct internal reviews (audits) of their suppliers to ensure that these companies are upholding their commitment to operate in compliance with the code of conduct. This practice typically ladders up to third party auditing such as Fair Trade, or SA 8000 whereby a company pays an external party to visit the facility, farm, etc., and verify first hand that workers and/or the environment are being respected. As a matter of efficiency, many companies join trade organizations such as BIFMA or create their own industry organizations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop standards and share best practices.
What is the biggest challenge when discussing supply chain slavery with businesses?
The word slavery carries very heavy connotations and because of that businesses actively try to avoid being associated with that word entirely. No company wants to be the first mover and publically admit that there may (we know there is) slavery in their supply chain. One of Made In A Free World’s primary objectives is to create a circle of trust whereby companies feel comfortable opening a conversation about slavery in the first place. This is not yet the case, which is why we are working to inform consumers through Slavery Footprint that each and every one of us has a connection to slavery and can do something to help end it.
The organization believes that the only way to change the world is to “work together,” a term found often on the website. Tell us more about this guiding principle?
Slavery isn’t merely a government or business issue. Nor is it an “us vs. them” issue. It’s an “all of us” issue. Its individuals, nonprofits, academics, governments, community groups and businesses working together. It will take a global movement to end this global and ancient injustice.
Made In A Free World is a place where all of us can leverage our unique strengths and global influence. We make it possible to work together in order to achieve more than we possibly can do alone. We’ve brought together millions of committed consumers from all corners of the world ready to support businesses who demonstrate their shared value of freedom.
What types of activities are non-profits, academics, governments, community groups, and businesses working together and doing to contribute to freedom?
This answer is similar to the one about our innovative solutions. We have people from every single one of these groups working together by learning their Slavery Footprint, taking action in our Action Center, supporting our campaigns and on the ground projects, as well as hosting awareness or fundraising events. In addition to participating in those efforts, people have shown our film ‘Call+Response’ to their companies, community groups, academic institutions and non-profits. In the near future, there will be many other ways these groups will overlap and work together to bring about a time when everyone and everything is ‘Made In A Free World.’
What can we consumers do? Describe what a ‘modern day freedom chooser’ is?
As consumers, you can discover your Slavery Footprint and take action by sending letters for businesses tell them you want products without slave labor and ask them to become Made In A Free World. In addition, keep the conversation going. Let people know that slavery exists and there is something each and every one of us can do to end this injustice. That is exactly what a freedom chooser is. It is someone who uses their freedom of choice to say “I choose freedom for everyone” and then acts upon their declaration.
In Ghana, the organization rescued 6 kids in the fishing industry. How are slaves being rescued and how are the local governments responding?
Unfortunately, for the security of our partner organization, Challenging Heights, we cannot provide details of the rescuing process. However, our project did put 6 kids on a path to freedom. The includes the rescue process, provides one year of schooling and medical treatment, as well as counseling and micro business training for the child and his or her family.
You have a campaign called #ichoosefreedom where people pledge to be a part of the movement. What is the main message of the pledge? What kind of response have you had in this regard?
The main message of #IChooseFreedom is: Whether or not we realize it, the majority, if not all of us, indirectly benefit from slave labor. We all have a responsibility to take action and use our freedom of choice to create freedom for all. We have gotten a positive response from supporters all over the world.
Freedom is one of many Universal Rights that apply to human beings. What other Universal Rights does the organization feel is important to humanity?
Freedom is honestly the most essential, universal right. Without freedom, no one has access to any other universal right. Freedom over oneself cannot be taken lightly, it includes way more than we may realize. Many people who are trapped in slavery are stripped of everything, including their name.
What do you think is the root cause of forcing fellow humans to live and thrive in slavery conditions?
This is a very complicated question, and I do not think there is one right answer. Many people who are guilty of enslaving others do not think of it as a human rights violation. It is a business decision to increase profits and decrease overhead. Also, as consumers we inadvertently allow businesses to continue using slave labor. Does that make slavery any less contemptible? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Does framing it that way put into a solvable solution? We believe so. Actually, we built an entire organization around the belief that slavery can and will end in our lifetime. When people know about the issue and will not stand for it any longer, businesses will not be able to get away with using slave labor and will provide livable wages and safe work environments.
Consider a donation to Made In A Free World at www.madeinafreeworld.com/support_us