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.