Friday, June 4, 2010
A blog of a different color...
When I graduated from college many years ago, I went into VISTA - what was then described as the domestic Peace Corps. Having grown up in the Bronx, moving to very rural St. Mary's County, Maryland was a real change. The project was grass roots, founded by local people who had led civil rights activities in the county in the 1960's. It was still a turbulent time with several VISTAs being burned out of their homes. However, I met many wonderful people and, after my year of service, went back to New York.
Eighteen months later, I was surprised to be invited to return as the VISTA supervisor. I accepted.
So, at the age of 25, I found myself supervising 19 young people who wanted to make a difference.
One of the issues that struck me as important then was finding a pathway for our staff once they finished their year of service. How could those who wanted to turn their experience into a career.
At that time, I started reading about a Catholic priest who had come from the coal fields of Pennsylvania to the inner city of Washington, DC, where he had walked the streets with other civil rights leaders during the DC riots. Geno Baroni went on to found the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs and that's where I began to refer our VISTA Vilunteers and where I met Geno and his operations director, Jerry Ernst.
Geno and Jerry and others were building a netowrk of neighborhood and ethnic organizations focused on values and sense of place. Like many great men and women, Geno had one great speech, one great message. His was built around the idea that neighborhoods are the building blocks of cities and families are the building blocks of neighborhoods." As the son of an immigrant, born one year off the boat myself, Geno's message resonated deeply with me.
Recently, my friend Carmella, invited several of Geno's "alumni" for dinner. It was a great night. The best part was her sharing of a video that none of us knew existed. It was excerpts from one of Geno's last speeches before he died in 1984 after his thrird recurrance of cancer.
What was on the video - and the memories it triggered - reminded me how much I learned from Geno and the others I was privileged to work with in those days. Those lessons about building organizations and working with and managing people toward a goal have never failed me and are the root of how I have approached my work at PHA.
I converted the videos to DVDs for Geno's friends and posted them to You Tube (in two parts) for their value to another generation. Both parts are below.