Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays from the Minnesota Humanities Center

The Minnesota Humanities Center Blog will be taking a holiday break for the next two weeks. Please check back for new blog posts starting January 8, 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Senator John A. Hoffman - How were the humanities vital to your life and/or work over the past year?

First elected to the Minnesota Senate in November 2012, Senator John Hoffman represents residents of Minnesota Senate District 36, which includes Champlin and parts of Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids. Senator Hoffman was the Senate sponsor of HF 2812, the successful legislation that created Veterans’ Voices Month in Minnesota. He serves as vice chair of the Environment and Energy Committee and is a member of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee and E-12 Division Committee (Education Finance). He is also a member of the Rules and Administration - Subcommittee on Elections and the Fish and Wildlife Subcommittee.

As a freshman Senator, I chief-authored 116 and co-authored 242 pieces of legislation, all of which were bills that I had a good understanding and knowledge of. I felt each and every one of those bills had purpose for our life in Minnesota. More importantly, I was chief author of three bills pertaining to Veterans, from establishing regions dealing with housing to pursuing funding for renovation of the Brooklyn Park Armory through the Bonding Bill process.

I couldn’t have had the success of many of my bills if it wasn’t for partners. One such partner, the Minnesota Humanities Center, approached me to chief-author a Veterans’ Voices Month bill to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Minnesota Veterans and to educate the public by sharing and studying Veterans’ experiences. With passage of the bill, the month of October would be set aside so that schools, communities, and the general public could not only celebrate Veterans, but would also provide them an opportunity to learn from our Veterans and increase understanding of Veterans and military culture by exploring their stories as told through art, essays, poetry, and other media created by Veterans.

This new partnership between the Humanities Center and I came about from a history of knowing how important it is for us to be thankful to those who served. I learned this lesson as a young child growing up with a father who served during the Korean War, and he would tell me stories of the sacrifices many have given and continue to give. He would get up early and raise the American flag in our yard and then, upon returning home, would take it down. We would participate in Veterans Day and Memorial Day services every year. However, the one occasion that I have always held close, which includes many fond memories for me, is when my father would take me to buy “Buddy Poppies.” He would tell me to wear the poppy proudly and to always remember the sacrifices that were made in order for us to enjoy our freedoms.

True to form the term "buddy" was also mentioned this past year in the process of getting the Veterans Voices Month bill signed into law. One Veteran said the Humanities Center was his "battle buddy." I believe his words to be true. This past year the Humanities Center was my partner (buddy) as I proudly carried the Senate Bill designating October as Veterans’ Voices Month in Minnesota.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ethan Neerdaels - How were the Humanities vital to your life and/or work in 2014?

Bdewakantunwan – In 2012 Ethan was a Minnesota Historical Society History Museum Fellow as well as American Indian History Museum Fellow. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in American Indian Studies and a focus on the Dakota language, where he also was a teaching assistant of the beginning and intermediate Dakota language classes. Ethan is the Director of the Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye (Dakota Language Society). Ethan is an American Indian Culture and Language Specialist for the Osseo Area School District.

Wótakuye is a word from the original language of this land meaning relatedness or kinship. It is the original dream/responsibility of humanity, to be good relatives. An important part of the humanities is understanding where you are. The history of this place, Minnesota, is most accurately narrated in the original language birthed of the land.

Living in Minnesota in 2014 there are many reminders that Minnesota is Dakota land. From the hundreds of place names with mispronounced Dakota words to the historical markers at Treaty Signing Sites marking the illegal land theft that has yet to be reconciled. How can one live in a place and not even know the origins of the name of their state “Minnesota” are rooted in the Dakota language?

Dakhóta Iápi – The Dakota language contains words that express the unique relationships and natural phenomena of human existence in this area from time immemorial. After the first treaties with Euro-American colonizers, the Dakota language continued to accommodate the people’s experience as new terms had to be created to reflect the new experiences and concepts such as land ownership, concentration camps, forced relocation, just to name a few. With the advent of the reservation era, the Dakota language entered a period of darkness, where it went underground in order to survive the government and church-run boarding/residential schools. Many Dakota children were verbally, mentally, or physically abused for practicing their own traditions and speaking their language. These institutionally supported assaults on the Dakota family created a period of trauma and assimilation during which the Dakota language, for the most part, stopped being transmitted inter-generationally by the family. Recent estimates put the number of first language speakers born in Minnesota Dakota communities at less than ten. There are an estimated 5,000 speakers of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota language across the surrounding area of Dakota exile communities, but the average age of a Dakota first language speaker is over 65 years old. Across all Dakota communities there is resurgence among the youth to bring the language back to health.

Even with a strong revitalization movement of the Dakota language, language learners are running into a variety of challenges that most other language teachers/learners do not encounter. For example, there are currently no K-12 immersion opportunities for Dakota children within the original homeland of Minnesota. Why can one easily find and attend an immersion school for immigrant languages, but the indigenous languages of this area are so marginalized? Why is there no state-wide or community support of indigenous language revitalization? If the humanities truly matter in the modern world, we must do everything in our power to ensure the indigenous are not forever silenced by the systematic death of the original language and lifeways of this place, Minnesota.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mike Lotzer U.S. Army Chaplain (CPT) - Gifts for Veterans

Mike Lotzer served as a U.S. Army Chaplain from 2004-2012 and now serves as the Lead Teaching Pastor of Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN.

The Minnesota Humanities Center has given Minnesota Veterans a profound gift—four in fact. Through the Veterans’ Voices program, I have received four life-giving gifts including: acceptance, self-awareness, hope for civility, and a desire to see more Veterans leverage their pain in order to flourish more as human beings. Allow me to elaborate briefly:
  1. Stereotypes about Veterans are being challenged. Consequently I feel accepted on a deeper level. Veterans who feel lumped together and accepted by society find it difficult to flourish after military service. Of course, this is not unique to Veterans. Human beings seem hard-wired with a need to be accurately known and generously accepted—or, if not accepted, at least valued. If the gift of acceptance and/or the value of Veterans as individual people continues to play out on a broader scale, Veterans will contribute more to human flourishing. Why is that the case? They will start to flourish themselves, and are we or are we not people who have been trained to lead in the worst conditions imaginable? Accepted and secure individual leaders who have been trained to navigate unknowns and adversity will be a game-changer in our present culture.
  2. Veterans are being invited to share our stories and reflect carefully on our past—resulting in greater self-awareness. This is a gift that keeps on giving to the Veteran and society. I sense that Veterans who lack self-awareness are perhaps more at risk of simply blending into the background than many others in society—we were trained to blend in by the way; note the uniform. Self-awareness comes, in large part, when we are invited to share our true stories with others. This endeavor is pushing individual Veterans to courageously articulate and live out their unique vocation and identity based on their unique past and that, I suspect, will only help our society and fellow human beings. Why? Consider this: Innovation, lasting solutions, timely progress, and saving partnerships all seem to require some of the same ingredients. Among those common ingredients appears to be—self-aware and resilient people.
  3. The initiative has reminded me that many people do, in fact, have an innate longing to relate with civility and warmth amidst diversity. This is a true gift to anyone who has witnessed the prolonged and radical absence of civility. Some of the people who witness that professionally are called ‘members of the military.’ What they witness is called war. Prideful cynicism is a common side affect of prolonged exposure to a lack of civility and warmth—at least that is what my heart, therapist, and experience tells me. As a coping mechanism, cynical disbelief and apathy towards the common good is a dependable way of regulating painful memories and internal hurts. Yet cynical apathy towards the possibility of a more civil and warm society will certainly produce some kind of result of which I cannot pretend to know. What I do know, however, is that cynical and apathetic Veterans will certainly not help to produce a warm and civil society.
  4. The initiative has urged me not to waste the painful parts of my story by either underplaying them or overplaying them. Something strange happens when you are out of the military for a few years and suddenly find yourself honored among Vets of multiple eras. You notice the universal tendency to feel awkward in relaying your painful experiences. I’ve watched Veterans who I deployed with to the same combat zone exaggerate about the chaos and carnage they witnessed. I think they believed every word they spoke. I’ve also watched soldiers and Military families, who I know well, completely underplay the chaos and the carnage of what I know they experienced. Why is this so common? As humans we seem almost universally uncertain when it comes to knowing what we are to do with the most painful parts of our story. The process of accepting the Veterans Voices Award this year has pushed me to consider that perhaps I am to accurately recognize my painful chapters in the military and then promptly leverage them for the common good of humanity. This is a gift indeed. This world needs less under and over-playing of Military trauma and much, much, more leveraging of that trauma for the flourishing of all people. Consider that the greatest pains in all of our life may be uniquely designed to serve as the launch-pad of our greatest contributions to the common good of all people.
The Minnesota Humanities Center helped me to seek out the common good in people and remember what connects us rather than what divides us. For that I say thank you.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ryan Else - How will the humanities help lead America toward a brighter future?

Ryan is an attorney and proudly served as a member of the historic 2-135 Infantry Battalion of the Minnesota Army National Guard. Ryan carries this experience over to his civilian professional practice by advocating for veterans in the justice system. Ryan is an associate attorney at the law office of Brockton D. Hunter, P.A.; co-editor and co-author of a legal treatise entitled The Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court; and the executive director of the Veterans Defense Project, a non-profit aimed at promoting the effective legal representation of veterans charged with criminal offenses.

The greatest threat to our nation lies inside us all: the inability to see the humanity in those who are different from or in conflict with us. We are a strong nation of people who have proven a nearly absolute ability to defend against external threats, but, we are hurting ourselves at a greater rate than an enemy has ever been able. To illustrate that point, as most of us know, in 2001 we lost 2,977 Americans in the largest attack on American soil by an external threat in over a century. According to the Centers for Disease Control; however, for the most recent year with data, we killed each other 16,238 times in 2011 and another 38,285 Americans killed themselves that year.

Right or wrong, we have felt the need to militarize our police force, indicating that we now view ourselves as a danger matching the threats abroad. The problem goes beyond violence. Political divisiveness has peaked at a point where hatred and fear of each other dominate over working together to improve our physical infrastructure, schools, health care, or for any other constructive purpose. We are clearly failing to appreciate the humanity in each other, as this xenophobia leads to the dehumanization of each other necessary for such violence and hatred.

We need a reminder of our common humanity, the fact that despite our differences we all want the same thing out of the American experience—a safe place to live, raise families, express ourselves freely, and excel in our individual and collective pursuits of happiness. We need reminded reminder that we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We need to see that when we dehumanize a person different from ourselves we are extinguishing the same relationships and consciousness that we hold sacred in our own lives.

The humanities—defined as the study of human culture—force us to recognize these commonalities in one another. Whether it is a play that confronts the civilian population with the difficulties faced by returning combat Veterans or a children’s book that tells the story of a foreign community or culture, the stories are those that make us human. It is very difficult to hate those you recognize as human. They are stories that transcend any specific culture because they are the stories of family, trauma, pain, community, sport, faith, and other universal commonalities. The details change from culture to culture or experience to experience, but the themes are essential to us all.

Once we find common values, we face our differences not as threats but as diverse assets we all bring to the American experience. If we are to overcome the divisiveness we face, we must find common ground and unite around the unique diversity that makes up the United States. To do that, we must first get to know each other’s stories and the humanities can serve as our collective storyteller.

The Minnesota Humanities Center Blog will be taking a break next week for Thanksgiving. Blog posts will resume on Thursday, December 4. Have a happy and safe holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rose McGee - How will the Humanities help lead America toward a brighter future?

Rose McGee

Rose McGee is a Program Officer – Omaha Public Schools - at the Minnesota Humanities Center and the author of the new book Story Circle Stories.

…By Listening. By Listening. By Listening. By Sharing. By Sharing. By Sharing.

One of the basic applications of storytelling is to repeat a key statement three times. This allows the person telling or sharing to place emphasis on the main point which in turn helps the listener grasp the significant value of that being spoken. Our work here at the Minnesota Humanities Center is centered in story and by convening in circle. The circle connects and holds truth accountable among each and every participant in a way that also reinforces a strong sense of respect. Innately, being in circle formation generates effective repetitive narratives as each one listens and shares and listens and shares and listens and shares.

Being authentic and humble are critical traits for moving effectively and creatively into the future. People of the Akan Region of Ghana, West Africa often use the sankofa bird to illustrate a powerful lesson. The sankofa’s head is turned backwards while holding an egg in her mouth. Our learning from such a powerful image is to reflect on the past while in the present in order to step forward with wisdom and confidence into the future. This can be done by intentionally listening to stories from each other with the utmost respect. To be effective, negativity such as egos or entitlement must park themselves outside of a story circle. Everyone sits at the same level and should be able to look into each other’s eyes as sharing and listening occur. This evokes Respect. Respect. Respect.

So much chaos, acts of violence, and mistrust stomp around in our society. Racism is a ‘Boogie Man’ that lurks about, yet few are comfortable speaking out against it. When story circles convene around the topic of race, participants have a chance to get the ugly matter off their chests - whatever that means. A respectful story circle allows that story to be told without placing judgment on the teller. When a Veteran returns home in pain and traumatized from the assignment or sadly, from the mistreatment once having returned home, the circle allows the soldiers to talk about it, release it in a safe place, and somehow regain peace. Youth as well as the elderly who convene in story circles are able to feel as though someone really cares about their thoughts, their questions, and their dreams simply by listening to their stories.

Absent narratives are all around us in many shades, shapes, dialects, on reservations, in urban streets, in nursing homes, in schools, hospitals, in wars, in our homes, the workplace, corporations, the rich, the poor, the lonely. We walk among the silenced voices, and we sit next to them in public places. For a brighter future, an invitation into story circles must be extended to all. Invitation. Invitation. Invitation.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

J.A. Moad II - Veterans’ Voices Month: Listening to those who served

J.A. Moad II is a former Air Force C-130 pilot with over 100 combat missions who served as an Assistant Professor of War Literature at the United Air Force Academy and as a fiction editor for the War, Literature & the Arts Journal (WLA). He writes online essays for the WLA Blog, and his short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. He has performed on stage at the Library of Congress and The Guthrie Theater as part of The Telling Project. He currently resides in Northfield, MN where he flies for Delta Airlines and is working on a novel about an American military in a not too-distant future. 
(This was published as an Opinion piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on October 22, 2014.)

Whenever I speak on the topic of Veterans or war, I always start with the same questions: has anyone ever served in the military? How about your siblings, parents, or children? A few hands climb into the air, but only a few—a reality reflecting the small percentage of people who understand the challenges faced by Veterans. The Minnesota Humanities Center is working to change that in part through a new law dedicating the entire month of October as Veterans’ Voices Month.

Last year on Memorial Day, Sebastian Junger called on Veterans to tell their stories. He said it was a way of sharing “the moral burden of war”—an effort to reach out to the ninety-nine percent who’ve never put on a uniform. I acknowledged the importance of hearing Veterans’ stories, but realized they’d be hesitant to speak to civilians. How could I help to make this dialogue possible?

As a former educator, Veteran, and the son of a Vietnam Vet, I understood that it would require a concerted effort from artists and educators, along with community and government leaders. For me, the solution was grounded in the Humanities—a sentiment echoed by the Veterans’ Voices program at the Humanities Center.

While in discussions with the Humanities Center and key state legislators (Rep. Jerry Newton, Rep. Bob Dettmer, and Sen. John A. Hoffman), we crafted legislation that would dedicate the month of October to teaching and studying the stories of Veterans. It would serve as a prelude to Veterans Day, and with the help of some talented educators and writers in Northfield, we kicked off the project last fall. The results were astounding: the bill unanimously passed both legislative houses and on May 16, 2014, Governor Mark Dayton signed Veterans’ Voices Month into law. Minnesota is now the first state to devote an entire month to honor, recognize, and celebrate Veterans.

It seems all too appropriate that this initiative begins here in Minnesota, a leader in the humanities and the birthplace of Tim O’Brien, one of the greatest war writers of our generation. Much like the post-Vietnam Era, we’ve become a society inured and exhausted by the longest conflict in our history. We hear about Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress (not a disorder), sexual assault, suicides, and a Veteran’s Administration plagued by failures of past and present policies. But we haven’t heard enough of the individual stories. It’s time we did.

Veterans’ Voices Month is only part of a long-term initiative of the Humanities Center that draws on the power of the humanities to call attention and amplify Veterans’ stories and contributions. Veterans’ Voices is building a network of Veteran organizations, artists and individuals to capture the authentic voices of the men and women who’ve served and died on our behalf.

While the project here is a just getting off the ground, it is part of larger endeavor that’s gaining momentum across the country. Over the last few years, I’ve witnessed the power of honest expression by Veterans. Whether it’s a production of The Telling Project, where their stories come alive on stage, a reading by the soldier-poet, Brian Turner, or the Pulitzer Prize-winning exhibit, Always Lost (currently touring Minnesota), the words and images always resonate through an audience. Veterans’ Voices is about bearing the weight of these stories into the present—into classrooms, libraries, community groups, churches and town halls… It’s about discovering what we can learn from these Veterans. It’s the only honest way to share the moral responsibility of war.

This post originally appeared as an Op-Ed in the Pioneer Press on October 21, 2014.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Michael Garcia - How will the humanities help lead America toward a brighter future?

Michael Garcia is President and CEO of the Duluth Children’s Museum and he retires at the end of 2014 after 10 years in this position. Garcia has dedicated his career to the arts and humanities and their importance in the education of every child. He has provided consulting and volunteer services to numerous cultural institutions across the country. Garcia lives in Sawyer, Minnesota.

I cannot comment on the importance of the humanities without paying tribute to my high school humanities teacher, Wayne Slater. As a student at Roosevelt High School in Virginia, Minnesota, I enjoyed two semesters of English electives in survey courses on the humanities. Mr. Slater brought life to the slides, records, and writing during those affluent years in public education. I, for one, benefited from his passion for teaching.

For many of us growing up in remote areas of America the concept of travel even to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, much less the National Gallery or Prado Museum, was only a dream. Typical of that time, I did not see Lake Superior just 55 miles south until I was 15. Imagine that today if you can.

However, growing up in relative isolation, exposure to the humanities in its many forms helped shape and define who I was and what I would ultimately do in my lifetime. From my parents came a love of music through the DECCA hi-fi system that bellowed out the sounds of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and other great jazz artists. The fantastic proscenium stage in our high school was where students honed their skills for the state student one-act play competitions or the school musical. I was inspired by slides of the Monet Water Lilies and The White Girl, which I eventually visited years later at the National Gallery. The humanities provide vision, hope, and aspiration for all and we must not take this for granted.

Growing up in a household of severe domestic violence, at a time when there were no shelters and a code of silence and secrecy was the community norm, theater arts gave me the personal outlet to imagine a reality outside of the confines of my experience. Playing a role in the student play “The Man in the Bowler Hat,” with my name on a program and footlights and a follow-spot, I had a context for creating an alternative reality. This allowed me not only to survive but to thrive.

For some, in moments of deepest despair, an element of what we collectively recognize as “the humanities” provides a life-line that is responsible for providing hope to hang on. And yes, in spite of the violent environment that haunts me to this day, I am fortunate. I did survive, and I have made a lifetime out of advocating for the arts and humanities. We cannot shape the future without looking at the past. The humanities offer the best pathway for understanding history and our collective past.

Many say “these are desperate times” or “our children are at risk.” While I do not disagree, I believe that these are “different times” and that every child is a potential “child at risk.” Assuring access to active participation in the humanities is one of the best investments we can make for our children and the future of our society.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Timothy K. August - Why do the humanities matter in today's world?

Timothy K. August is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University in New York. He recently received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, and has publications appearing in MELUS, Mizna, The Blackwell Postcolonial Encyclopedia, and the Journal of Asian American Studies. He is currently working on a book manuscript that examines the emergence of refugee aesthetics.

In the digital age nearly everyone is an author, researcher, and reader. How we engage with these three positions, in many ways, defines our roles as both national and global citizens. The unparalleled amount of choice that technology provides gives the impression that we are constantly involved in an active and lively dialogue with a limitless constituency of others.

Yet as David Mura reminded us in his October 9th post, even though we have been gifted a golden ticket to a public sphere filled with an immeasurable amount of intellectual and cultural resources, this dialogue often remains remarkably one-sided. In practice, context, histories, and identities are constructed, which determine how we speak and naturalize the ways that we listen.

Humanistic inquiry interrogates this relationship between the producer, the object, and the consumer. As a collective review, the humanities can be the champion of all that is not so easily quantified, and can speak truth to power—particularly when power needs to hear it. While it is understood that the humanities attend to matters of pleasure, the imagination, and beauty, through critical evaluation we also provide necessary checks and balances to both public and private institutions that seek to shape our values and habits.

My goal as an educator is to reverse the trend of, in the words of Henry Giroux, “collapsing education into training.” My students must leave a course having developed a critical humanistic perspective that comprehends: 1) The process by which we come to value certain objects and feelings over others, 2) How power operates through our everyday lives, and 3) How our experience is formed so that we come to imagine we belong to particular communities.

A humanities education slows us down by engaging thought problems that challenge our received modes of thinking. Students who go through this schooling emerge more sensitive to multiple perspectives, understand how and why arguments are made, and are able to make decisions when facing contingency and uncertainty.

However with funding for humanities programs being bled away by reforms favoring programs that instrumentally promote commerce, this form of knowledge formation is being forcibly marginalized. The very act of devoting an entire month of blog posts to justifying the humanities’ presence in today’s world, speaks to how deeply we have learned to internalize that the humanities should be constantly under review.

Considering the massive undertaking the humanities is tasked with—the analysis of culture, identity, difference, representation, space, bodies, everyday life, language, technology, pleasure, aesthetics, interpretation, rhetoric, and power—the real question we should be asking is, in what possible context would the humanities not be relevant in today’s world? And, perhaps, more importantly, who would have us think such a thing?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Andy Gilats - Why do the humanities matter in today's world?

Andrea (Andy) Gilats, Ph.D., is an educational leader specializing adult and lifelong learning in the arts and humanities. After retiring from the University of Minnesota, she helped the Minnesota Humanities Center develop the “Toward a More Perfect Union” series of public conversations about the United States Constitution.

Almost every day, you see, hear, or read that, according to the very latest polls, about two-thirds of Americans are deeply worried about the future of our democracy. That’s a stunning and scary number! Is our cherished democracy slipping out from under us? And have we lost the will to do something about it?

How might we create a secure, vital future for the democracy we love? What might a living, working American democracy look like in a new century? Even transformative change is bolstered by continuity, so how do we apply our most enduring democratic ideals to our increasingly diverse society? In a time of rapid change and constant motion, how do we build a future in which our children and grandchildren can thrive, even when winds blow and sands shift? Given today’s political landscape, how do we even begin to think and talk about fundamental questions like these?

Because the humanities focus on dialogue, reflection, and meaning-making, they offer a perfect path through which to engage complex questions in ways we can understand and embrace. The humanities reveal us to ourselves because they illuminate the full landscape of human endeavor—both public and private—through fields of inquiry and discovery, such as civics, the arts, philosophy, religion, and history. Truly, the humanities offer the kind of multifaceted approach we need if we are to find common ground upon which to create a sustainable future for our democracy.

Do the humanities still matter? Human history tells us that they have always mattered, and efforts like “Toward a More Perfect Union: Talking About the Constitution” are living proof that they matter today, perhaps more than ever. The U. S. Constitution, one of the greatest humanities documents ever created, enables us to connect with one another using the very document that keeps our democracy from falling apart. Where better to find common ground as we engage with our neighbors—those we know and those we need to know—to explore our democratic journey?

By drawing on what we, ourselves, have done and made, the humanities show us that we are all in this together. Exploring our shared humanity allows us to transcend even the deepest ideological, social, and cultural differences to illuminate the past, live consciously in the present, and shape a better world.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

David Mura - Why do the humanities matter in today's world?

David Mura recently published his fourth poetry collection, The Last Incantations. Mura's two memoirs are Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei, which won a 1991 Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland PEN and was listed in the New York Times Notable Books of Year, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity. He's also written a novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire, and three other books of poetry.

Years from now, this summer will be remembered as “The Summer of Ferguson.” Certainly, many will never forget the disturbing images of the past few weeks: The body of Michael Brown sprawled in the street; the video of Eric Garner being grappled and choked to death by police; the video of Kaijieme Powell being shot to death by St. Louis police. The police in combat gear with aimed M4 Carbines and riding MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles), lobbing LRADs and tear gas canisters into mostly black crowds.

Of course, the interpretation of these events depends upon the context in which one views them.

In a tiresome déjà vu, there has been the usual calls for further dialogue about race, so numerous that the Daily Show did a send-up montage of such mouthings. But this dialogue has been present from the time the Puritans arrived on this continent as Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy, and Langston’s Hughes’ poem, provide witness to:
I am the American heartbreak—
The rock on which Freedom
Stumped its toe—
The great mistake
That Jamestown made
Long ago.
Much of this dialogue, though, has always been one sided. And so, in 2014, we are still dealing with the problems of race because no true dialogue can take place if one side is not actually listening to the other side.

I’m a Sansei, a third generation Japanese American. My family came to this dialogue comparatively late, when my grandparents immigrated to this country around 1905. But with the yellow peril ideology that greeted their arrival, with the anti-Asian exclusion laws of 1924, and the imprisonment of my parents’ families during World War II, we too have been part of that history our nation is still trying to acknowledge and bear witness to. In my own portion, my parents, after being imprisoned for their race and ethnicity, tried both consciously and unconsciously to raise me to assimilate into white middle-class America. As a result I grew up hating both my ethnicity and my race. And when, in high school, my friends would say, “I think of you David like a white person,” I would think, “Yes, that’s what I want to be. That means I’m normal, accepted. I am not a foreigner; I really do belong here.”

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized the delusion of such thinking. I was not white. I was a third generation Japanese American. But what did that mean? What was my identity? Where did I fit in this dialogue of race that was such a part of our family history, a history my parents, bearing the shame and ignominy of the internment, never spoke to me about?

At the time, I’d spent five years in English graduate school. But I had read almost no works by black writers or writers of color. And so, I began to read black writers and thinkers, and I found in them both a language to speak about my own racial identity and history and a corollary to my own experiences of race and that of my family. Writers like Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Lucille Clifton; later scholars like Dubois, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., bell hooks and Cornell West, and more recently social scientists like Michelle Alexander—all of these helped me understand the other side of the dialogue that my twenty-one years of formal education had not provided me. Without that tradition of black and African American writers, I would never have become the writer I am today, nor would I have probably gone to Japan and wrote my memoir, Turning Japanese, about my own search for my cultural, racial and historical identity.

Why do we need the humanities? Because without the humanities, and without the specific tradition of African American writers and thinkers, it is nearly impossible for most Americans, particularly white Americans, to even begin to make sense of this summer of Ferguson, a summer which has called up images of Jim Crow, civil rights marches, and the “strange fruit” that Billie Holiday sang about many decades ago. As James Baldwin, far more relevant today than many of his white contemporaries, put it: “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gary Henrickson - Why do the humanities matter in today's world?

Gary Henrickson is a Dean of Academics at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, a member of the Minnesota Humanities Center Board of Directors, and a Vietnam Veteran.

We live in a world in which many individuals, organizations, and nation-states would answer essential questions for us: What is the good life? How do we live together? How can we all enjoy a good life? And sometimes demanding we accept their answers to be accepted socially or to keep our jobs, sometimes at the point of a gun. As a society, we ask our military to engage in conflicts that often turn on the very questions that the humanities pose. The military services do not attempt to answer such questions per se; rather, our service men and women enact our society’s political and military answers to such questions, taking on the risks, obligations, and privations that this entails, often paying a very high price. In addition, in the course of their duties, many of our service members must face those essential questions. In returning to civilian life, our service members bring their military experience to these questions and can often help the rest of us find new and better answers.

In the past few months, the Humanities Center has been working with American Veterans and members of our armed forces to recognize such existing and potential contributions to our society. The Humanities Center recognizes that our service members have voices to add to these discussions, and Veterans Voices represents a deliberate decision to recognize Veterans and gain from their experience. In 2013, the Humanities Center launched the Veterans’ Voices Award, in which men and women Veterans were honored for their contributions to our Minnesota communities. A discussion series with fifteen Minnesota Veterans took place over the winter of 2013-2014, and a “Veterans’ Play Project” culminated in a stage production based on actual Veteran experiences. More recently, the Humanities Center has co-sponsored a touring exhibit, “Always Lost: A Meditation on War,” focusing on the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. This past September, the Humanities Center hosted another award ceremony. Finally, due to the continued work of the Humanities Center, the Minnesota legislature has proclaimed October in Minnesota “Veterans’ Voices Month,” the first such honor in the nation.

In the media, Veterans are often treated either as heroes or as social problems. However, as service men and women return to the civilian world, they just as often bring with them skills, abilities, experience, and hard-won understanding about the world we live in. In doing so, Veterans are a resource. They can help with the essential questions that confront us individually and as a society, the very questions that the humanities continue to engage with now as for centuries before. Do the humanities matter in today’s world? Ask a Veteran.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tommy Watson - How do you see the humanities growing and active in your life/work?

Dr. Tommy Watson is a certified executive and professional coach, bestselling author, and popular speaker. He is a former Big Ten athlete and school principal. He resides in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Watson is the founder of T. A. Watson Speaking | Coaching | Consulting. He is the author of two books: A Face of Courage- The Tommy Watson Story & The Resilience of Champions!™.

I was recently asked, “Do you do diversity training in your work?” My response was, “Not exactly; however, I do conduct humanities training.” I elaborated by sharing, that my work focuses on what makes us similar as human beings opposed to what makes us different. The core of my work is centered on my personal experience of growing up with drug addicted parents, living in nearly 30 different locations, and being homeless while growing up in Denver, CO. I have found that one of the most effective ways to get others to walk in the shoes of someone different and become empathetic is through the use of stories. In my work with the Minnesota Humanities Center and my business, I use my own personal story to inform and inspire educators, parents, and students. In my workshops with educators, I am constantly humbled and amazed by the number of teachers who leave feeling hopeful about some of their perceived most difficult to reach students.

“The ‘I Am Tommy Watson’ activity made me think differently about how I will deal with the students that are a little more challenging.” -Teacher

I also get very excited from those students who walk away from my presentations feeling hopeful and with strategies to move forward and have a positive outlook on the game of life.

“…I loved the way you said that you had rough times but you still managed to make your way to a good and successful future. Thank you for making me have more faith and hope in me.” -Student

This same hope for humanity is what led me to write my latest book The Resilience of Champions!™ that focuses on habits of highly resilient individuals and organizations. At the core of each of us, we have the ability and fortitude to be ‘Resilient Champions!’

Finally, I share in the same sentiment expressed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on humanity:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

The work that we are doing at the Minnesota Humanities Center is the epitome of moving individuals and organizations from the confines of individualism and single stories to concerning themselves with the broader needs of all of humanity. Our work gives hope to all of humanity!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Catherine Allan - How do you see the humanities growing and active in your life/work?

Catherine Allan is a Senior Executive Producer at TPT National Productions. Her executive producing credits for PBS include two Peabody Award-winning productions: Liberty! The American Revolution and the acclaimed feature-length documentary Hoop Dreams. Allan’s American history productions for PBS also include Slavery by Another Name which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, the Emmy Award-winning Benjamin Franklin, as well as Kinsey, Dolley Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.

The humanities were always part of the fabric of my early life and education. My father was a journalist and writer, my grandfather a historian, my mother, an artist, and in college I studied those humanities stalwarts—English and History. And yet, I’ve always felt that my real education in the humanities didn’t begin until I took a job in television.

I was lucky enough to begin my career at a fortuitous time in the late 1960s. Lyndon Johnson had recently signed into law the Public Broadcasting Act providing financing to public TV and radio through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and another law creating the National Endowments for the Humanities (NEH) and the Arts. These two acts had a big impact on my work life. My first job out of college was with public television; I have never wanted to work anywhere else since. Here at Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), I have overseen a body of history series and specials, many with funding from the NEH.

As it turned out, public television and the humanities were meant for each other, as anyone knows who has watched history come to life through a Ken Burns documentary or an episode of American Experience on PBS. Over the years here at tpt, we’ve produced an extraordinary body of humanities content on the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, Dolley Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and slavery in the post-Civil War South.

One of our most recent series for PBS was Constitution USA in which host Peter Sagal travels cross-country on a Harley to find out how the Constitution works in the 21st century. Peter visits Americans caught up in modern-day constitutional debates over same-sex marriage, gun control, affirmative action, voting rights, and immigration. He also talks to some of the leading constitutional thinkers in America today. Our goal with the series was to inform people about what is actually in the Constitution—turns out most of us have not read it—and then get people thinking and talking about the role of the Constitution in America’s history and in our lives today.

It is every producer’s dream to have the content of a program live on after the television broadcast, especially when that content is so rich. So when David O’Fallon first approached tpt about using Constitution USA as a springboard for a series of statewide conversations about the Constitution through the Minnesota Humanities Center, we were thrilled. The Humanities Center’s Toward a More Perfect Union, project, taking place throughout 2014, is a series of dialogues in communities across Minnesota, in which people have a chance to explore the Constitution as a living document in their lives. Few pieces of writing are so chock full of humanities themes as this slim document that forms the basis of our government and sets out our rights as individuals. Toward a More Perfect Union will get people thinking about the values and beliefs embodied in our founding document and, in the process, the essential importance of the humanities in our world today. For me, personally, the partnership between tpt and the Humanities Center is another great example of the missions of public television and the humanities coming together.

Learn more about the Minnesota Humanities Center and tpt's collaborative program, Toward a More Perfect Union, and find an event near you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sakinah Mujahid - How do you see the humanities growing and active in your life/work?

Sakinah Mujahid, a 13-year Veteran of the Army, received the Veterans’ Voices Award in 2013 and this year is co-chairing the Humanities Center’s September 11 award ceremony. Mujahid is the Executive Director of Sisters Need A Place (SNAP), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and advocating for Muslim women in need of shelter and resources. She currently serves as the Associate Program Manager for Beacon Families Moving Forward Program SW where she is committed to ending homelessness.

As a woman Veteran the humanities have taught me that you never know anyone’s full story. Judging a woman Veteran without knowing her full story does not do her justice. Being a soldier does not have anything to do with gender. The humanities allow us—whether civilian or soldier—to listen and hear that absent story of our Veterans, especially on a day like September 11. Just be proud of our soldiers and Veterans, both men and women, and actually open your mind to hear our story.

My life journey has taken a positive turn over the past year thanks to the impact of the humanities in my life. The humanities have effectively erased any negativity I was carrying and really allowed me to accept where I am at now -- opening the door for more opportunities to come my way. The humanities have essentially brought out a side of my life that I never knew existed.

I strive to end homelessness. Through my work with SNAP, the humanities have allowed me to see that everyone is an individual and on a different journey. Each Muslim woman who seeks help through SNAP is at a different stage of her own journey. SNAP is here to help. By accepting each Muslim woman for who she is and understanding her unique story, I have opened my own mind and am more accepting. This change in me has resulted in SNAP openly serving more clients, regardless of their faith background.

A whole different type of homelessness is revealed through my work with Beacon in Scott/Carver County. These families experiencing homelessness do not fit into that stereotype of “homeless”. They could be your neighbor who has hit a hard phase of life. Seeing and working with this different type of homelessness has actually given me the self-confidence to share my own story. By looking at me you would never believe that I served 13 years in the military. The same is true for a homeless person from the Scott/Carver County area who does not look like a homeless person. You would never guess their situation just by looking at them.

This September 11th, as Americans honor and remember Veterans, take time and get to know a Veteran. Don’t judge them by how they look. Hear their stories.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Patrick Henry - How do you see the humanities growing and active in your life/work?

Patrick Henry, who lives in Waite Park, Minnesota, was professor of religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania (1967-84) and executive director of the Collegeville [MN] Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research (1984-2004). Since 2007, he has been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. He joined the Minnesota Humanities Center Board in 2013 and is especially interested in fostering its work in Central Minnesota.

Many years ago, a student paid me the highest compliment I ever received as a teacher: “Thank you for being a freedom fighter for me.” She had a quirky intelligence and a bountiful imagination, and felt cramped by academic convention. There was stuff she felt she couldn’t say because it didn’t “fit in.” She credited me with giving her room to move around.

Many years later, a friend who is a scholar gave me words that identify the way the humanities undergird and enhance freedom: “We need to become caretakers of one another’s stories.” For that student early in my career, I had become a caretaker of her story—a story that started before she came to Swarthmore, went into warp drive while she was there, and has continued in the decades since.

The Humanities Center taps into this deep well, where the humanities are not restricted to a particular set of disciplines (though I’m a champion of the fields traditionally identified as “humanities,” and am alarmed when they are dismissed as unaffordable luxuries, as though outdated in a 21st-century economy). The Humanities Center offers a humanities approach—the humanities are more a way of perceiving things—even of coming at things—than a set of things.

If we are to build in Minnesota a thoughtful, literate, and engaged society (the Humanities Center’s mission) — a society in which what unites us trumps what divides us — everyone must become a caretaker of everyone else’s story. What splits us is so often our caricature of “the other” whom we haven’t bothered to get to know.

The Humanities Center programming stems from these beliefs:
  • Veterans’ voices have more to say about community than about battle;
  • Teachers are more effective when they know the stories of their students;
  • All of us will know each other better if we talk, together, about the actual U.S. Constitution -- not shouting our preconceptions at each other; and
  • Absent narratives, such as those of American Indians, ought to become familiar to everyone.
I learned a motto of the scholarly life from my teacher, the late Jaroslav Pelikan, who received the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity from the Library of Congress in 2004. It is spoken by Goethe’s Faust: “What you have received from your ancestors take now as task, for thus you will make it your own.” To this I would add: Include also what you receive from everyone around you, for in making it your own, you will experience a deeper, broader, richer freedom than you knew before.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lisa Laliberte Belak - What do the humanities mean to you?

Lisa Laliberte Belak is the Board Chair of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Over time, the meaning of the humanities has changed for me. Originally it was the challenging class I had during my senior year of high school. Then it was about my art publishing career working closely with artists, showing their work and telling their stories. After that, it was an awareness of the MN Humanities Center and an interest in Board service. Now it’s a way to connect, engage and understand the people that I work with and represent, as a city councilmember in Roseville, MN.

In the past 13 years, I have come to believe that the humanities are intrinsic to a strong, representative republic which we strive for in this country. Without the humanities, we cannot truly grasp the ideals of freedom and dignity, the obligations of citizenship, the aspects of a good flourishing life and other elements of a genuinely human experience. The humanities help us address the challenges we face together in the growing complexity of our families, communities, and as a country.

How the humanities help me as an elected official – As a city council member, I am elected to represent the individuals in my community. Connecting with people, building relationships and knowing their stories help me to do that. The humanities help me to continually learn and grow as a public servant, to further inform myself and improve the work that I do. Additionally, the humanities provide me with the ability to deliberate about issues and to reflect, argue, debate and think of my community as a whole. The humanities have laid a foundation for my creative and rigorous critical thought processes. This foundation aids in my problem solving and decision making processes and helps me to consider the city’s interconnectedness with other layers of government and to weigh the needs of some against the limits of responsibility by others.

How the humanities help our citizens – People need to know they are empowered actors in their own lives; that they have the power to affect change by being an engaged, active and informed citizen. Our communities function at their best when citizens are capable of independent, critical, innovative and compassionate thought; understand their responsibility to be part of an informed society; and empathize and respect the ability to participate equally among their neighbors.

The humanities help create citizens who reason together about the choices; think critically about what is presented, and know it’s okay to criticize tradition, question authority and hold leaders accountable. And, while Americans of divergent views can always convene for passionate dialogue and debate, it is the humanities that create a safe, shared space for that respectful and effective civic dialogue and well-reasoned debate to occur.

So…. what do the humanities mean to me? For me, the humanities have evolved from a class subject taught in high school to an indispensable set of tools and guiding principles for how I conduct myself as a citizen and public servant, and for how I live my life and connect with others.

I strongly believe that society should reinforce the ongoing importance of the humanities throughout one’s life. For that reason, I appreciate that the MN Humanities Center is putting a light on civic engagement through the Toward a More Perfect Union program. Locally-shaped and facilitated community dialogues are taking place in 9 different cities throughout the state. These conversations allow Minnesotans of diverse backgrounds and experiences to explore together, the United States Constitution as a living document in their lives. The four possible discussion topics include the relationship of the federal government and the states, individual freedoms and the Bill of Rights, equal protection and due process under the law, and popular sovereignty (We the People!) and the separation of powers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gary Gilson - What do the humanities mean to you?

Gary Gilson, a career television journalist whose work earned five Emmy Awards in New York and Los Angeles, served as an infantry platoon commander in the Marine Corps just before the Vietnam war. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, he now conducts workshops in the craft of clear writing.

There's plenty of precedent for the recent scandal about unconscionable waiting times for medical treatment for Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and about the VA administrators falsifying appointment records.

In the midst of those two wars, my public-TV colleague Barbara Gordon and I wrote an essay about the sad and shameful record of America's historical treatment of its war veterans: On Supporting Our Troops.That essay offers an example of how our exposure to the humanities—literature, theater, journalism—empowered us to connect dots and develop insights.

We began with a quote from George Washington:

The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, is directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated.

Except for the benefits Congress conferred on World War II Veterans—for example the G.I. Bill, which included financing for Veterans' college educations—Veterans have been treated shabbily. Vets made the sacrifices. Politicians who sent them to war did not.

Our essay continued:

Political leaders have often, for their own gain, masked this country's economic interests by persuading the public that our troops in the field are heroes defending American ideals: democracy, honor, and glory. Ernest Hemingway punctured that ploy in his novel A Farewell to Arms, writing about the disastrous Italian retreat from Caporetto in World War I:

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the number of roads, the names of rivers, the number of regiments and the dates.

Both Barbara and I had read Hemingway's novels, and we had seen plays and read the work of great journalists. That exposure helped us to harness the humanities, enabled us to see through political rhetoric, and to understand the lives, aspirations, disappointments, and joys of all kinds of people.

What were our own aspirations as reporters and documentary filmmakers? To use our work to bring people together.

The humanities enlighten us about what we as human beings have in common. When we recognize those things, the ways we differ are less likely to cause us to hate and harm each other.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eleanor Coleman - What do the humanities mean to you?

Eleanor Coleman is a life-long educator, leadership coach, and associate of Human Systems Dynamics. Dr. Coleman is currently the project lead for the Minnesota Humanities Education Initiative with Omaha Public Schools.

What do the humanities mean to me? This question is one that has had different meanings at different junctures of my life. As a language arts major in my early years, I thought of the humanities as a set of course work that helped to explain history through the study of art, music, literature, drama, social sciences, etc. While fascinating to experience and teach for me personally, as a young teacher, I often found it difficult to transfer that passion to my students. I remember one student asking me, “Why do I need to study about these old dead white people?” This brought about a shift for me in my own thinking because I had to seriously ask myself, “Why indeed?” What that student taught me was that history should be taught as an ongoing investigation and conversation rather than a dry compilation of facts and dates, or a set of questions easily answered on a test. An inquiry – a genuine humanities approach – would allow students to extract meaning from the past and explore the connection between their personal experience and the author’s own assumptions, perceptions, and values.

Today, my understanding of the humanities is not just about academic subjects but human rights involving feelings, values, and opinions, which must be given at least equal importance if transformative learning is to take place. Educators of the humanities need the courage to resist the safe, purely cognitive approach, and honor and engage in a respectful dialogue and acceptance of the lived experiences of themselves and others.

Anchored in four core values acknowledging the power of story, authentic relationships, and the power of the community to resolve its own issues, the important and impactful work of the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Education Initiative with Omaha Public Schools is providing the opportunity for educators to fully explore and accept the responsibility of honest, critical self-examination, not denying that she or he is susceptible to the social construct of race and its biases, but striving to recognize them and thus to change them.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

David O'Fallon - What do the humanities mean to you?

David O’Fallon, PhD, is the President and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

The future is not written. The future is not a given. We make it as we go. But what shall we make? What kind of world do we imagine? What kind of world do we hope to live in? To what end do we direct our work and our lives? 

The "humanities" are forms of knowledge and ways of understanding that give us both the resources and the tools to imagine and create a future that can hold us all. Given the power of technology and the fact that we are 7 billion people and growing, we have a new responsibility and a new capacity to make a future that includes all of us. A future that is humane and sustainable. A future that values each person and knows and articulates how deeply connected we are.

To live into this responsibility and realize the capacity without the humanities is dangerous if not impossible. It is the difference between Sparta and Athens. The humanities include the knowledge and wisdom of all the peoples that have asked and lived the questions that still live with us – the fundamental questions of what kind of world will we create? What is a meaningful life?  What relationships are best for the individual, the society, and the increasingly global community?

You are invited to actively engage these questions – to draw upon philosophy, ethics, literature, history, the arts, and the wisdom of many cultures.  Of course, there is no single right answer to these questions. However, the humanities allow us to learn and come to new understandings of ourselves and our world.

We now realize how interconnected and interdependent we all are. We now know that water, which once seemed inexhaustible, is a resource more fragile than we previously believed. That the rapid climate change underway affects us all. We feel the public’s concern over the achievement gap in Minnesota schools and elsewhere. We are discouraged and upset by government gridlock and a coarse public discourse.

Why is that? What shall we do?

We see that these are not just technical, scientific, or management problems. They are human problems. They stem from values and beliefs that must be examined.

Where do we turn? We turn to the humanities. Join us. Join in the search for what holds us together and strengthens our common humanity, rather than that which divides and separates us. This is not to create a bland mush – to wipe out the many varieties of human knowledge, perception, and experience. Instead, we learn that we thrive on variety, connection, and relationships. No single point of view or narrative can hold us all. The humanities invite us into the creative work of knowing each other in new ways—eyes, heart, and head all open.