After 36 days of non-stop planning for our first ever BACK to School PARTY at El Gran Burrito, I needed at least a couple of days to rest and relax, to enjoy a bit of silence, and to reflect on just what it is that actually happened this special Summer of 2018. A few things in particular stand out now, listed below for all our folks to see.
1. When you have a dream, it’s important to claim it, value it, and also to be able to defend it when necessary. The fact of the matter is, while I spent the last month in particular running around from one area to the next to keep our “Back to School” Party ‘on track’, I had visualized the event as early as June 26, 2018, when I sent the following note to the team of volunteers who helped us put together our Open Mic Saturday event at the Cahuenga Public Library in April:
“As school is out in the neighborhood and the summer has just kicked off, I know there are droves of parents around the library looking for a place where ‘the fam’ can cool off. Thus, I’m interested in putting together a second gathering for the community, probably some time in August. However, first I’m going to do some more walking and ‘surveying’ through the neighborhood to be certain on just what would work best at the moment. At a glance my guess is that any event to do with skating, sports, painting, or other outdoor activities would be key for garnering some interest from our young people, and as with the Open Mic, we’d make it economic and volunteer driven.“
Getting this ‘on file’ was a matter of stating my intention with the event for myself personally, as well as for the larger body of my community to consider. From there, the idea could germinate for all of us, and this was a key factor in what would eventually become a push to move “Back to School” forward.
2. Not everyone will understand your vision, and not only is that okay, it’s great. Not long after sending the aforementioned note to the team of volunteers that helped with Open Mic Saturday, I was first met with silence when I sought feedback for its contents, and then, upon persisting about a response, was told that the idea seemed to be too ‘rough’ or ‘unready’ in its form to see through. Then, to make matters more challenging, on trying to vouch further for the essence of the event I was given an official “no” from the administration at Cahuenga, whose approval was necessary for the event to take place there. I found this to be devastating for the gathering’s odds of moving forward, but would not stay down before too long.
3. You have to defend your dreams, sometimes even from your own doubt. In the days after I was met with the official ‘no thanks’ for the event, I found myself reeling. Even if some greater part of me knew that the gathering still had to happen, to think that there was suddenly no location for it defied the logic of the whole thing. I fell into a kind of deep slumber then, mired by feelings of rejection and self-doubt. And yet, I knew I’d have to pick myself up from that point. So I got my mind off the event for a day or so, took some leave from the neighborhood towards other vecindades where I could speak with a different band of folks about what happened, and determined to get back to the drawing board only after this much needed ‘get-away’. Finally, a few days later on Sunday morning I found myself galvanized enough again to get back out to the ole neighborhood to inquire about ‘this event’ again in a few different directions. Then, from out of nowhere, we actually found a location.
4. When you finally get the ‘yes,’ tell the world what you need next. On landing the support of El Gran, I scrambled to find out what further support I could muster since time was running out for an ample planning period. So I sent out a survey to the community on the afternoon of June 29th, waited to see what responses I could gather, and upon hearing back just enough of what I needed from folks, registered that it was time to span my wings for lift-off. By the morning of June 30th, there were officially 27 days left before August 25th, or the date for which I’d originally proposed the event. That was three days less than there were with Open Mic Saturday, but this time, I knew a few things I didn’t know in the buildup for Open Mic Saturday. That is, just where to go, and where not to go.
5. Any team anywhere is affected by a vision, or lack thereof from its leadership. 27 days to plan the event was cutting it close, but I knew enough from what I’d seen in my ‘visions’ leading up to the ‘green light’ for “Back to School” to reach out to a handful of people. So I searched through my lists, texted and called the contacts I could interest in ‘just a conversation’, and from there, discovered the subsequent pieces to the puzzle through various questions from these contacts in our ‘convos’, as well as through their suggestions and other feedback. Then, once we were able to consolidate our shared visions, it became clear that we had to inform the whole hemisphere what kind of support we’d need. But first, I needed to consolidate one more time.
6. The best investment any ‘leader’ can make with their team is the one of ‘leading’ by example. Even if the contacts who became the allies who would go on to become the partners in the making of the event could agree in sentiment with the vision for the special day in our community, in addition to drawing out or brainstorming the vision together, it was also necessary for us to ‘get out there’ together for the event as time permitted. This meant visiting the site of El Gran together, speaking with Don Pedro and Doña Guadalupe together, meeting with other potential attendants and collaborators of the event together, and more, in order for us to share in the experience of discovering more pieces together. At day’s end, these shared experiences would prove integral in bolstering our abilities to support one another once it became necessary for us to find our respective roles to drive our shared vision through. And so, all of it was like practice for our biggest day of them all as a team.
7. Raising money for a cause is no light stroll through the park, but when you believe in the mission, it’s your mission. In weighing out the different needs for “Back to School,” I realized that it would be something of an exacting request for the base of supporters out there to consider, though not an altogether unreasonable one. But further complicating this request was the fact that there were only fifteen or so days to rally the financial support; there was no guarantee that the team and I could pull it off, yet the unwavering belief in our goals for the event was clear to people “up and down” throughout our networks, and slowly but surely then, like the sunlight in each day, we reached the evenings with just a little more of what we needed than the night prior.
8. Reminders are everything. People need to be reminded of the things they need to do. And we’re people too. We need reminders too. In the rush for the event to make its way through were numerous moments in which even if I thought the goals for “Back to School” were clear and stated for all to see, it was still necessary for me to “go back to the basics,” or touch base with the very reason I asked the team to embark on the effort with me, and to be reminded of that. This wasn’t always easy, but it was 100% worth it each time I could manage to truly listen to the parties outside of myself and respond accordingly to their needs or inquiries. It’s what made me an effective leader as opposed to just a leader in name.
9. Volunteers are life. It’s simple. Following every item the team and I could cross off our lists, and after reaching out to every perceivable ‘end’ in our midst for the event to shine under the sunlight, there were still no guarantees. Where would the people come from? And at what time? Then, how on earth would we get everything we needed to be done in time?
But in our greatest hour of need, our volunteers for “Back to School” arrived like a legion of envoys for the mission. They literally lifted our dreams from the page onto the gates of El Gran, upon the walls of the site, into the hands of the people of the pueblo, and more. They believed too. And thus these volunteers literally completed the team and I on Saturday, August 25th. Finally, when setup was wrapped up and everyone was in position, as the music fluttered into the airwaves while the clock ticked away, from out of nowhere, como palomitas llegaron…a rescatarnos. Otra vez mas. Nuestro Pueblo. Los Angeles.
10. Thank. Everyone. Thank those who said yes, thank those who said no, thank those who never responded, and more than anything, thank everyone who came through. Do. Not. Forget.
Thank you Los Angeles. Thank you team. Thank you supporters from afar. And thank your people, too. Thank the daylight. Thank the planet earth. Thank the Milky Way galaxy. And thank even the Black Holes for not swallowing these living quarters into their midst yet, too.
And one more note; a bonus note: Our pueblos DO need these days in our community, and so our pueblos WILL have them. As such, this is only the beginning. The future is no longer waiting. We have arrived.