Hi ABCD friends!

This is a piece I just published in a local community news/blog group that I write for. I've included the first part and a link to the rest of the article below that.

Please click "Like" on the main page it takes you to if you do indeed like it, and PLEASE share your thoughts, stories and insights as well as any critical feedback on the article itself. I'm trying hard to create a style that everyone can be inspired by and relate to while presenting these totally different ways of seeing community and society (ie. ABCD) from the norm.

I can really use your help!!!




Last Thursday, I was lucky to be one creative cog among many in the wonderfully un-defineable local phenomenon known as"The End of the Dial Tone Radical Experimental Collaborative Music Band Band"atThe Rusty Hook.

Besides being great fun at every upredictable moment, this project has taught me about the art of leadership that's creative, effective and enduring. I'd like to share those lessons as best I can, as well some tantalizing photos and live-art from the evening, and attempt to describe the experience itself.

What is "The End of the Dial Tone?"In its own words:

A collaborative performance deconstruction of the traditional musical jam, featuring musical egos in free fall. Comprised of top-tier musicians who wouldnt normally play together----totally unrehearsed---in a venue-agnostic nomadic musical caravanserai.

Total sensory meltdown.

Personally, I haven't seen any event that rivals this for originality, spontaneous energy and continuous evolution in this community. (Check out TWIS contributorJessi Smith's"Behind the Scenes" articlefor more background.)

Live-art by Van Jazmin and Eric de Barrios.

Beneath the surface, to me the Dial Tone is a mini-model of community at its best. I'm REALLY into community. And artists. These two passions motivated me to join with like-minded artists in 2010 and formUprise Art Collective. Building an organization with a small group of other people has been one of the greatest challenges and joys of my life. One of the things that has kept me going is to be able to know and watch other people who are making things happen based on their passion. John Lichtenstein of The End of the Dial Tone is one of those people.

Andrew Sink, Mitchell Englander, John Lichtenstein

What is "Leadership," anyway?

This is an important point I need to quickly explore. I don't want to fall into a common trap of thinking on leadership. That is, thinking that these people---"leaders," as we call them---are a unique breed of people with magical powers to bring people together and make things happen. In the bookEverybody Leads, Public Allies founderPaul Schmitzoffers a new way of thinking about of leadership: rather than a role for a special and select few, it's a set of actions that anybody can take. Schmitz lists three new ways of seeing leadership:

  1. Leadership is an action many can take, not a position few can hold.

    Figure model Erin Hood

  2. Leadership is about taking responsibility---personal and social---to work with others for common goals.
  3. Leadership is about the practice of values that engage community members and groups to work effectively toward common goals.

The reason I think this is so important is that our times call for leadership, and our old way of seeing and trying to engage leadership is not keeping up with the demand. Also, it's just not as fun to wait around for magical leader people to make things happen. Schmitz writes, "It is our goal to change both the face and the practice of leadership, thus unleashing the energy of thousands of leaders who have the skills not just to build programs and organizations, but also to build community capacity and sustainable solutions."

Chris Flannagan and Alix Sun

I know that you may not think a regular artistic improv project fits what many of us think is a "world-changing" effort. More on that later. Basically, leadership to me is about making things happen.The Dial Tone has been happening for over a year now, with a consistent and consistently enthusiastic cast of performers and fans. Its success points to something being done right that, in my view, applies across the board to other kinds of community efforts.

Here are the things I've noticed from John Lichtenstein and the Dial Tone about creative, effective leadership:

1. Be a little selfish

In other words, if you're going to undertake an idea together with others, you don't have to be Mother Theresa. Make it about something you actually want to do yourself. Just by creating a space for people to join you in some kind of activity---whether its playing music, knitting, walking your dog or figuring out ways to end homelessness---you will be improving the world.

"Dial Tone" organizer John Lichtenstein

When you realize it will be more fun, more interesting, more creative and effective with other people doing it with you, you have a good starting formula for a great project. John's a musician. While he's motivated by the desire to see more local musicians playing together, and could probably explain to you how that benefits the community, he also has a "selfish" desire to play with other musicians too.

And that's okay! In fact, I'd say its crucial. If he were doing all the legwork it takes to pull off not only the Dial Tone events but also the elaborate and equally outside-the-box promo video shoots out of a general humanitarian desire that never hit on the things he enjoys doing most, I'm pretty sure he would have burned out after the first couple of shows.

Furthermore, not only does making that choice help initiatorsnotburn out---it provides an ever-available source ofenergy from within that person that is also a magnet for others. In other words, by starting with your own passion, you are more likely to attract others who have that passion, because the energy is already there---in you and in them.While in one sense I do participate in the Dial Tone because it's something I believe in, it meets my own "selfish" needs and motives: I get to make art together with others, I get recognized for my contribution and I get to develop my skills. (Show off time: here are some of my drawings from evening!)

More live-art by ... me! (April Doner)

Live-art, April Doner

ArtistVan Jazminshared with me that he participates because, "Being a cartoon artist is so restrictive, having to always restrict myself to what the client wants ...I like being there and drawing what inspires me---and that is what people want to see! Being in there in the room and creating things that are desirable both to the project and to me."

This "selfish seed"/"magnet" approach also saves energy. You don't have to add the task of convincing others that your project is something they should join---they are already ready to jump in. In my opinion, we've forgotten that having and acting upon our own personal interest, skill, or passion is a good thing in itself, and the action of acting upon that interest, skill or passion in concert with others in a community setting should be celebrated as highly as "selfless" philanthropy and other more traditional models of social contribution.


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Youthful Musings

By April Doner, 2011-12-02

One theme that keeps showing up in the conversations I've been among people neighborhoods, spiritual organizations, nonprofits, government-- is the lack of youth engagement in important local matters. This concern came up again and again when a bunch of us ABCD-ites got together in Chicago a month ago, and this morning I was talking with a colleague about our own experiences as the 'youngest' in certain rooms. The following is a somewhat stream-of-consciousness musing on this topic that was sparked by a song I like very much.

First, this song, which came through my pandora music service just now:

"Handlebars"by Flobots

Have a listen -- and here are some lyrics:

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars

Look at me, look at me

hands in the air like it's good to be
and I'm a famous rapper
even when the paths're all crookedy
I can show you how to do-si-do
I can show you how to scratch a record
I can take apart the remote control
And I can almost put it back together



It starts out sweet, innocent and cocky all at once. It's a kid enamoured of his abundant abilities, singing it to the world. A beautiful image of youth.

The confidence grows:

I know how to run a business

And I can make you wanna buy a product
Movers shakers and producers
Me and my friends understand the future
I see the strings that control the systems
I can do anything with no assistance
I can lead a nation with a microphone

With a microphone
With a microphone
I can split the atoms of a molecule
Of a molecule
Of a molecule

Then full volume on dominance, corruption, destruction and egomania--ambition with no morals, power with no reigns:

I can do anything with no permission
I have it all under my command
I can guide a missile by satellite
and I can end the planet in a holocaust

In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust

Finally he shifts back--innocent, pure, free:

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handle bars


What strikes me first about this song is its skillfulness and its insight.

It's a clever thumbing of the nose at how we're seen by the older world while simultaneously criticizing that world and, I think, nodding to each young person's own potential to give way to that world's frequent disintegration into selfish dominance, manipulation and, in its final equation, full-blown horror.

To me this song communicates what I think a lot of us in Chicago kept arriving at... thatthe "youth engagement" problem is not a problem of youth not caring, not being ready to do something, and not being capable. It's not even an issue of youth not being ready to do something--many youth ARE doing something--it's just that we don't have the kind of conversations with folks in older generations that let this information slide over. Or if it does slide over, it makes it halfway, and crumbles as our feelings, yearnings, ideas and efforts are appreciated halfway by older people who see us as 'becoming' rather than 'being' full citizens and full people, what we bring is often valued as such. Halfway, with a pat on the head. I know this because I do this to people younger than ME (and hate it!) In this song, the singer is flipping this system saying clearly, "I can teach YOU."
What this song says to me is what's often lost in the conversation about "youth engagement" -- that is, like anyone else, youth want to be viewed for what they bring to the table.Right now, not as who they'll be in five or twenty years and how can everyone mentor them toward greatness. We need to hear what this guy is saying and demonstrating in this song:

- i CAN..., i CAN,... i CAN...


"Me and my friends understand the future
I see the strings that control the systems"

To take it a step further, in Chicago a month ago we talked about shifting from a mindset that tries to "involve" people in what WE're doing and instead "involving ourselves" in what the PEOPLE are doing. It's a subtle but mega distinction that I'm still wrestling to wrap my mind around. ...So, the youth who's walking down the street, not at the table--perhaps what's important to find out iswhat they hold in themselves, or where they're headed. Perhaps the most important question is what the incredible Judith Snow asked during our conversation in Chicago... [paraphrased] "How can I [a non 'youth'] become a person to the young people on my community center's porch that they will speak honestly to? How do I become a person that they trust?"

So, to return to a much-hammered point... maybe it IS all about relationships?

What I see around me these days is a vibrant, pulsating, conscientious, smart, creative and beautiful youth culture. It's in my hometown, it's probably in every town. But who's checking it out? Usually, it's just other youth. There's been inspiring cross-over through the Occupy Movement from what I can tell. Yet in general, I understand that there's barriers and don't mean to sling blame in any direction. I know how freaky and often out-of-the-way difficult it is for older people to go to where the youth are. 20_blogs.jpg?width=400

Rather, I see an incredible potential for bridging this divide through places, spaces, groups or conversations that open up the creative capacities of young and older folks in each others' presence. Something is freed up with culture--it comes from deep within and, for that reason, people can find and see each other fresh when it's leaping forth.

How can music bring us together? Maybe what young people are into is not THAT different from their interests than older people think (and vice versa). Or maybe we could have a very entertaining and enlightening exchange of different thing, and realize that beneath is a compelling, redeeming human drive for self-expression and appreciation for creative expression in others.

Here's a couple of examples.

First, These are images from "The Big Eclectic,"an eventorganized by Van Jazmin, a talented young artist who attends the RIngling College of Art & Design here in Sarasota. Van who blows me away with his energy to bring people together in creativity and support of local artists. He called together talented people of all ilks to perform at Big E's, a little coffee shop much-loved by a diverse crowd for its dedication to community over profits. This event is an example of the good explosion of youth leadership I see.


I'd ask folks worried about the lack of youth involved in their groups or organizations to consider these questions (as I ask them to myself):

Where are youth taking the lead ALREADY in your community, who are acting on what you care about too?

How can you get to know them?

How can you support what they are doing?

Another example of spontaneous community-building across generations, sparked by art, is this scene from Realize Bradenton's ArtSlam this October. A truly amazing event, ArtSlam happened when this innovative organization recognized that it can make a big impact simply by doing what ABCD Faculty member Henry Moore called "Leading by Stepping Back." They made a call to local artists and artist groups to "do their thing" at a huge outdoor event sponsored by a partnership of local arts institutions. It seems they were smart about connecting with young artist--or more likely, both young artists and this organization were smart about connecting with each other--because at least half of the street projects were led by young people. I love this video of my friend Fez igniting freedom on the "dance street" with his killer moves, followed by some nice fire-spinning by my friend Misha of Urban Spiral Dance Company:


So, to summarize:

The Flobots song and the following stories inspired me because:

- They epitomizes the mind-blowing skill, sensitivity, insight and ambition present & overflowing in the youth of today

- They represents something I feel is a powerful doorway for bridging persistent rifts between the generations: CULTURE

Youth engagement is not about "getting youth involved" but about involving ourselves with each other across generations--as humans do naturally, through things that inspire and move them, with curiosity about what the other brings to the table that can be valuable, used, admired and respected RIGHT NOW.

I write this aware that I repeat the mistake of my elders with my juniors, and that to be powerful, my thinking must concentrate on what I can and am willing to do, as a young person, to make this shift (not what others are doing wrong). I'm committed toblurring damaging generational lines

  • through my active and unprejudiced enthusiasm for culture that moves me

  • by exercising with frequency my power to attend, enjoy, invite others to drink from what humans of all kinds feel moved to create in my vicinity.

  • making a point to celebrate great skill and effort that risks being overlooked, especially that of my age-peers.


...And, I'll do my best not to get mad when I feel myself being seen or treated as 'less than' by elders After all, I DON'T ACTUALLY know everything...

I STILL can't ride a bike with no handlebars.




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Breaking Down Artist Stereoptypes

By April Doner, 2011-09-09

This is really just the beginning of what I feel will be a long string of essays/blogs, but it's been rolling around inside me for all these months and I have to let it out!

I have come to appreciate after half-a-year working on my own business as an artist and building up an artists collective with other artists, that we fall into that category of "Labelled People" that become hindered by the deficiency-shadow of their label.

You would think that "Artist" is a great label, right?

Well, it definitely can be. It implies creativity, often a unique sensitivity to both inner and outer patterns, and an ability to express in any myriad form something with which other humans can resonate, but not always express themselves. It's a role and set of skills celebrated throughout history and drives some of the most lucrative branches of our economy.

Which is nice because it means we don't have to go about asking people to call us something different like many groups do. (sidenote: one of my favorite lines uttered by John McKnight: "The best kind of label is 'John' or 'Mary.")

However, I can't begin to count how many times I've heard, in my life and even more in the past 6-8 months, the negative stereotypes about artists. Can you name them? Probably:

~ Disorganized (and UNorganizable)

~ Eccentric

~ Isolated

~ Starving

~ (perhaps) Selfish

~ Horrible at self-promotion and money/business matters

One of the key goals in my life, now, is to deconstruct for artists and community members alike this over-inflated negative aspect of the artist image.

I offer my critique of the label from two angles:

1. There are as many kinds of artists out there as there are people.

2. Where these qualities emerge in artists, it's often as much an environmental reason as it is connected to some kind of inherent quality of artists as creatures, as well as an internally-fed crutch that holds us artists back from realizing our true potential.

Two resources I've found super helpful, besides the ABCD framework and all my buddies out there doing ABCD, are the books:

"The Creative Habit" by Twyla Tharp

"I'd Rather be in the Studio" by Alyson Stanfield (arts biz coach)

Point 1 -

The more I do this work, the more I reaffirm for myself that there are as many different kinds of artists out there as there are people. I've met agrophobic artists, unorganized artists, super organized artists, businessminded artists, non-business-minded artists, eccentric and completely 'normal' artists. Plus, the fact that our town has not just one but about 8 developing artist collectives sure proves that there ARE artists out there that think about more than themselves, are capable of being quite organized, and can work together with each other.

Additionally, one thing ABCD does is remind us that "Artist" as a label includes more than just those who self-identify as artists but do have a gift for creative expression -- keepers of cultural traditions, or ordinary folks who can sing, play guitar, dance well, or draw/paint/sculpt but would never present themselves as 'an artist' to others, without prompting. (Calling out these people as artists in public has become one of my favorite pasttimes, by the way :) Try it!) When we consider this, how much less does this stereotype hold true? Of course, some would argue that an artist is one who makes it their identity fully, but for me the important thing is that the gift is there. I'd go so far as to back up Picasso's statement that we're all born artists, and spend our lives trying to unlearn society's message that we're not.

Point 2 -

I think so many professions involve 'training' and the influence of mentors and just a community of practitioners of whatever you're doing--most jobs provide a path of developing one's skills in a variety of ways to either sharpen where you're already gifted or 'fill in' where you're challenged... artists are most often completely on our own. Not only that, we're barraged with icons, images, opinions that tell us we are inherently unorganized, hopelessly 'different', and often irresponsible. No wonder a lot of us kill ourselves, or flounder, or never quite get on top of all that's involved in really beeing able to contribute what we have to society and get back what we want for it.

So what's the way to break down these stereotypes? I think it involves a few things like

1. Building up a strong community of mutually supportive artists. this breaks down the perception that we are always isolated, selfish, and unorganizable, and we can complement each others weaknesses and strengths and show how many different traits artists actually have.

2. Promoting artists as full people in community

3. Holding artists accountable when they act like assholes because they think their label gives them license to

4. Seek out and celebrate those who don't identify as 'artists' automatically to round out our understanding of what artists really are and capable of being

My passion in lfe, I'm discovering, is to help create that supportive structure for the kind of person I most understand because I'm one myself--artists!

I look forward to sharing specific stories and pictures to go along with these ideas. But for now I'll put this out there and really want to hear your thoughts/ experiences /challenges etc.

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Rekindling Responsibility for our Elders

By April Doner, 2011-06-09

(i want to share some writing done on April 14, 2011)

Today my dad called while i was busy at work to tell me that he had bought a house.14_blogs.jpg

This is big news for two reasons--one, he hasn't had a house in I think about 8 years, living as he has with his wife, happily, in a very nice snazzy motor home (I mean, really quite snazzy) out past 75 off Fruitville Rd. Two, this decision was made over the course of a week, immediately following the decline of my Great Aunt Ruth's health.

What touches me and moves me as I get ready for bed is this -- they have completely changed their lifestyle and finances to embrace the aging of our precious Aunt Ruth. Now 94, deeply spunky as can be and of course battling the inevitable deterioration that comes with her age, Ruth inspires all who meet her with her joyful way of living, her matter-of-factness and her friendliness and genuine care for others.


It hurts me that our community is so segregated... in many ways, including by age. And it hits home when I see my Aunt Ruth in an island of houses left empty for the summer, remembering what a connected neighborhood felt like but without the energy or ambition to weave hers together (she already did that back in Toledo!), missing the sound of kids around and anxious of her own frailty and vulnerability.

It hurt me several years ago to see one of the other significant elders in my life, my grandother ("Nana-goat"), put into a place where all the people were older and sicker than her... and tho I saw it was logically the 'only way to go' for all the family, with full time jobs, kids to raise, etc etc, it just felt wrong. I wanted her where she felt dignified, part of a group and surrounded by people who interacted with her not because they felt it was a chore or were going out of their way, not because they were being paid to, but because she was a real integrated, woven-in part of their world, and they of hers. I'd walk down the hall to her room seeing the people zonked out in their chairs along the hallway thinking, "This is not the place for her." -- followed by, "This is not the place for anybody."

Besides the feeling of wrongness, (and an accompanying vision of communities where ages live close to one another and look out for each other in the ways they best can), the other feeling that's stayed with me is one of helplessness. Never being able to quite convey to my family members how I felt, without fear of them feeling judged... not being able to temper my anger or direct it in a positive way... and not feeling I knew of any clear way I could REALLY move the world in the direction I dreamed about, beyond theory and ranting about the reality I hate.

So... my father is truly my hero today. He has lifted up his ENTIRE life to embrace the dignity, well-being, and wholesome healthy aging of Aunt Ruth. (Side-note: my father isn't who i'd tell you on any given day is the most 'aligned' with me philosophically, politically, emotionally, or who i feel closest to. So, there go our assumptions about that stuff!) He as one person (two, counting his wife) is shifting this segregation into integration. He's doing that with his actions, his choices.... by responding to what he feels deepest in his heart. I know this because when he talks about the sense of responsibility he feels to take care of her and make sure she's not 'put away' where she'll waste away miserably, this ever stoic man begins to choke up audibly.

I am so proud to be part of a family that is ignoring the trend and blazing its own path of real, not paid, care and re-integration of the ages. i love that my father sees it as repaying a debt of gratitude for all she has given HIM... not of just helping her as charity because she's broken or needy, in some saviour kind of way. I want to challenge myself even more to spend time with my Aunt and with my family, and when the time comes, be as equally ready to adjust my life to accomodate my parents as they get older and require more regular care.


To me, this is such an important issue today... and I wanted to share this glimmer of hope that lies in those little and big things we can each do to shift it in a happier, healthier, more heart-felt direction.

I'd really love to hear of others' experiences with aging in your life... how you have dealt with the isolation of your elderly loved ones, or how you have witnessed their inclusion? what gives you hope?

With love,


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"Collective" - A Story

By April Doner, 2011-02-18


This painting is based on a photo shot from the audience at the debut of the music video, "BeAware." The video wasproduced on the sweat, tears, and bond of friendship between a diverse collective of artists and musicians in the heart of Chicago. What I saw and heard and felt there that night would impact my life immensely. It all began with a lost wallet

In February of 2009, I travelled to snowy Chicago from Sarasota for a three-day meeting with other ABCD practitioners to discuss the creation of an ABCD Center.

My friend Jessica, an old buddy from New College, was my gracious hostess. She lived in the mostly Mexican neighborhood called Little Village. Jessica, a native Floridian turned huge Chicago and Little Village fan, took me to her favorite local place as part of my tourCafe Cathedral.trans.gif

The interior of Cafe so enchanted me that I abandoned my wallet in a photo-taking haze. (see photos below) In the morning, I came back to the Cafe, hoping my wallet would be waiting for me. It was. I explained to the charming young man working there how Id lost it. He asked, am I a photographer? Well, its not exactly a jobits something I do. Oh, a hobby? Yes, I suppose so. He replied, Thats a beautiful hobby. This stayed with me.

Later that day I returned and got into conversation with Marcos, another young man working the cash register abouthishobby/passion of making music. Marcos invited me to a music video debut that evening. I left with an address and the name Black Gate Studios written on my receipt.

I arrived at the North Chicago address that evening with my friend DeAmon (another community-builder who does amazing work withBroadway UMCin Indy.) We pushed through the unmarked black gates with a shared feeling that this was the kind of place we wanted to know. Alongside the inner snow-covered courtyard was a fantastic mural full of color and depicting the faces of Aztec-looking Gods together with urban style decorations.The inside door had no markingagain, we just pushed through and entered.

Inside, we met a sparse group, from teenagers to folks in their mid-to-late 20s, some in their 30s or 40s. The crowd was a mixture of races and ethnicities. There was a fantastic stage set up with a painted tree extending real branches outward. Art decorated the walls. We mingled and learned that some were part of Black Gate Studios while some were just there for the show. DeAmon asked about BGS and learned it was a collective of visual and musical artists from the city working together to get good music and art out into the community. We asked, Is there a person or group who organizes thislike, a leader? Their reply excited me heavily: We all are.


Find more photos like this on ABCD in Action

Various hip-hop artists performed. The crowd grew. The energy was electric, the performances passionate, lyrics ranging from playful to political to spiritual. Several times an older and younger person performed together and the younger person gave props to the older as his teacher in both hip hop and life. You could feel the bonds.

Finally, the music video crew introduced Beaware. To be honest, I was not expecting something of professional quality. Despite the high caliber of the hip hop Id heard earlier, I was expecting it to beamateur.Wrong!!!I was struck dumb by the outstanding quality of the videothe music and performing, the creative sets, directing and editing. As a final surprise, the credits revealed that the director and producer of this video was none other thanArturo Lizalde, the guy who had called my photography hobby beautiful at the Cafe the day before, as he handed me back my wallet.

Almost half a year later, I made this painting. I made it for various reasons To show my admiration for the efforts of these young creative people. To express my solidarity with their struggle and vision, and my belief in the power of ordinary people creating something extraordinary together, starting with what they have.

Ive always felt that the most amazing things happen not when a big organization is funneling money and expertise and publicity at an idea or a program. Rather, the most amazing things, to me, happen when people pool their ideas and resources to realize a possibility that excites them. This experience reinforced my conviction that the most powerful resources we have are our talents and skills, our personal passions, and our capacity to connect with others and work together toward a dream.

In addition to admiration, solidarity, I made this piece out of gratitude. Meeting BGS and witnessing the good, electric, inclusive quality of their projects had a huge influence on me. It inspired me to take on the challenge of becoming a full-time artist in when my non-profit job ended; to begin organizing an artists collective in my town; and to focus my community organizing skills on the intersection of arts, community, and economy. These ventures are now what make my life exciting and fulfilling.

What similar things have you come across that had a huge impact on you? How is that influence or inspiration taking shape in your life?

For more info: Black Gate Studios

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When Buddhists Invade Philly

By April Doner, 2010-07-27

I want to share with you some bits of one of the most amazing weekends of my life participating in the Rock the Era Youth Culture Festival with my Buddhist group SGI (Soka Gakkai International).

I sang for 11,000 people! I was one of over 2,000 youth performing around a personal determination to make a peaceful world by realizing our full potential and helping others do the same. Apart from being an incredible personal experience, it reinforced a couple of key ABCD concepts. In short, for me this is an amazing example of what ordinary people can do based on personal passion and unity.

Initiated in January, these 2,500 total youth performers and the festival coordinators became ready in just 6 months. The theme was , Dream Big, Change the World and involved groups such as Taiko drumming, band, chorus, dance, and gymnastics. Last weekend these youth (ages 12-35) came together from all over the Eastern US and solidified one unified performance. Many started with NO training or experience (including coordinators!), and many were not connected to or aware of this organization before January. Many have very little access to money but, determined not to miss the festival that meant so much to them, they found the resources. My group of over 100 youth performers and participants from Florida travelled approx 24 hours by bus to get there.

One of the lessons from a community stand-point is, when ordinary people are impassioned and working together with one another, they can do just about anything. Having what seems like nothing at the beginning doesnt have to be an obstaclerather it can spur people to pool their resources and pull out resources they didnt even realize they had.

Secondly, this festival speaks to the capacity of youth to organize and lead powerfully and effectively when they have the opportunity, and when they have encouragement and support from older adults. The festival was organized with youth (people aged 12-35) in the leadmaking key decisions, spearheading all different aspects of coordination, and of course, performing.

The final lesson is that voluntary community groups like those based on faith can have incredible impact on the lives and futures of young people. In the same way, community groups can creatively and effectively impact many other pressing issues facing our communities. Through this event, youth learned major life lessons, brought out potential, skills and aspirations that were never before called upon, and made lasting relationships with people from different age groups (including men and women), social and economic backgrounds. Perhaps most importantly, they adopted and strengthened a philosophy of personal responsibility for making the world what they want it to be and of doing this in unity with others, even when its tough.

Based upon shared values, the gifts and capacities of members, and strong person-to-person relationships, voluntary groups are a major resource for realizing change locallyand globallyand should be considered in discussions of how to tackle the problems that face our communities.

As youll see below, the festival was a huge success with amazing turnout, wonderful performances, and many personal breakthroughs. This was the last of three festivals with a similar theme held in Western, Central, and Eastern parts of the US. You can read more about the Festivals/movement here.


singing If Youre Out There - (lyrics)

Finale / Chorus Rise - (this is the last part the video
doesnt capture whole song, which was composed and written by SGI youth members)

(Im in the second row from bottom, third in from the left)

Dance (part II the first part had African dancing and Salsa!)

Poetry Performance - George Yamazawa shared his story of overcoming drug addiction/entanglement and bursting forward in a career in his poetry. This is the poem he shared.)

Taiko Drumming


Elementary Division hundreds of elementary students performed the traditional Japanese fan


Hundreds of behind the scenes young men and women who took responsibility for the safety of all participants and the success of the meeting. This aspect also organized by youth themselves.

(for more info on SGI, visit

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Kids have it all

By April Doner, 2010-05-20

A few weekends ago I found myself driving behind schedule to the East Coast of Florida to take on a huge schedule of social and faith-based activities. One of those included a "Sayonara Party" being hosted by my friend Kate from high school to celebrate her upcoming trip to Japan. The party was Japanese-themed and folks were encouraged to dress up. Talking with my mom on my drive over the day before the party, I realized I had run out of time to gather any dress-up materials and wasn't going to have any time or resources with my super tight schedule. I was a bit bummed until we came up with the idea, "Let the girls dress me up!" -- the girls, being my 9-year-old nieces Ariahna and Kendra.

After a pretty hectic visit at my brother's, I realized I was now running late for the party. I thought we'd probably run out of time but when I proposed to the girls they might dress me up as a geisha, the energy exploded and I was swept up in a whirlwind of delightful talent and creativity in action. In an amazingly short span of time, they gathered together the perfect materials and had me whipped together, white face (baby powder) and all. I just did the eye and lip make-up.

Pictured here are the two gifted costume designers of my Geisha party experience.

This brings home to me a few ABCD principles-- when you think you're deficient, you're usually not. I had apparently no time, no energy to spend on thinking this thing up, and no dress-up materials. But when I looked around (with Mom's help) and invited the gifts of others into the picture, I learned I actually have abundance.

The other main principle is that getting creative about finding gifts in others builds equality and creates that intangible richness that is relationships built upon mutual appreciation and shared creation. I actually have a lot of trouble knowing how to connect with my nieces, and often feel like I'm torturing them over the phone when I try to 'go deeper' by asking what they're up to, how they like school, etc. When I needed them, everything changed. It was genuine and it had none of the ickiness I have come to associate with token 'engagement' of youth that's based on the assumption that adults have more to teach and give to children than children do to adults. My first 'aha' on this theme came when I heard John McKnight's story of watching a relative of his get more and more frustrated with her daughter constantly 'bugging' her to let her do something in the kitchen. The girl wanted to help, but the mother was too occupied trying to get it done herself. "Can I help you mix?" No. "Can I help with that?" No.

This, I feel, is a trap we fall into so easily and is a core barrier to really making headway on what people like to call the 'youth problem.'

[In this vein - I very much like this video ]

Incidentally, I didn't win the costume contest, but I'm convinced it's just because I didn't stay until the end of the party. And having failed to report to them this fact, I received a very pointed phone message a couple days after my return--"Auntie April, this is Ariahna. We want to know: Did you win the contest? And if you did, what was the prize? And if you didn't, who did win, and what were THEY wearing?"

In my work it's always a big challenge to get this point about seeing youth differently--as needed contributors and equals--fully across. So often youth "engagement" ends at asking youth "what they want." The problem is, this line of questioning by itself ends up with youth as consumers, unless there's the added questions like, "what do you want to do to make that happen?" In my personal life it's also not easy to shift out of the adult-doer, child-receiver mode... until I'm up against a wall like i was that weekend!

I'm curious about how others relate to this...

Where have you found or built spaces where adults and youth can come together as co-producers, or kids can take the lead as main "doers"?

What stories stand out for you in your personal life or work experience?

What else does this make you think of?

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Aspergers an Asset

By April Doner, 2010-03-04
Interesting"> like that this was begun by a mother who believed her son had more to offer than what everyone else believed, who went deeper than the label.My nephew Jonathan is being fearfully diagnosed by my family members as having some form of autism... and the feelings that brings up for me are huge.... of fear for him to be in a world that can only see that label, frustration at not being able to protect him from that, but faith in the truth that when gifts are seen and put to use they outshine deficiencies and determination to make this a world where that is understood and practiced every day, all over.Peace,April
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April Doner