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You Belong Here, Part 2

We continue Raeshma’s interview with Jason Wyman of #wheredoyoubelong. We left off with Jason previewing the April 11th “You Belong Here Event”(photo above)

RR: What’s upcoming for this project?

JW: The April event is just one thing happening in a slew of things. It will be the culminating event for Izza and the interns. This event will be a point that will be connected to other events and plans. So it’s both a culminating and continuing effort.

RR: You have lots of youth experience, how is it different from approaches you’ve taken in past?

JW: I laid myself off of the nonprofit system. Because of the grant cycles and how projects were funded, I would have to continual lay myself off. I did a lot in youth development. I didn’t like where it was going. Due to the recession, things moved toward community school models which I don’t 100 percent believe in. I saw the power that youth development had in the late 90’s, I did AmeriCorp then and other things and I saw direct outcomes as I grew older. I also saw how those outcomes were manipulated by the Gates Foundation and others as school models, charter schools. I saw how this policy impacts youth policy. I saw grants shifting toward a school model and less about youth empowerment and development. People say they are [about empowerment] but I don’t believe it. I don’t know if I believe in the leadership of the field.

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RR: What else are working on now?

JW: This is taking up almost all my time. One thing I’d like known is that I am volunteering to do all this. I don’t have grant funds to do this work. It’s hard to find grants to do this kind of innovative work. For me this is a big piece of this story. Everyone wonders stuff like how they can do something, people are looking for something to plug into or get paid. The real issue is: you just need to do the fucking work! If want to see something in the world, seed values to be cultivated, you just need to have faith in it and get it out there. I’m confident what we’re creating is super ethical, artistic, not compromised. I don’t have to think about how to talk about this for funders.

RR: Curious about how you think of the sustainability of the work?

JW: I’m doing a professional development series this summer, and there’s one session on sustainability. What does that mean for me? Well, really great art projects that are community driven are not sustainable for the first few years. That’s hard: with funders you usually have to demonstrate success before the project even begins.

Sustainability is how we reframe the work and relate to the work. It’s about how to allow the work to sustain ourselves versus how do we sustain a project. These things can be intangible. Someone might have to work corporate job so they can do a values-based project. Sustainability means knowing if a volunteer can’t do the work and you have to cancel something then cancel it! Its volunteer work. How can we let go of that pressure to always perform?

But if you’re not paid it can be freer. I feel much happier but it’s more challenging. I just did my taxes. Raeshma, I had 4 1099s and 4 w2’s – I had 8 jobs- and I made under 30K! With eight jobs! (laughs)

RR: What/who is inspiring you in the Bay right now?

JW: I’m really moved by a lot of the anti-police brutality work going on now. Black Lives Matter is one facet. One of the tragically beautiful things about the Bay Area is that it really is a melting pot and crossroads from all over world. What’s tragic is in the national American conversations, San Francisco gets overlooked at the international level; black lives comes out of Oakland but the victims of violence are not just black folks. There’s solidarity and organizing around Latino lives matter, and the Latino community is inspiring. Muslim community work is inspiring too. There’s a lot of paying attention to intersectionality in the Bay Area. This is not yet scaled up to the national conversation because everyone wants a single simple sound bite. There’s no sound bite to this! I worry about our sound bite culture making something it’s not.

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I’m inspired about political accountability happening across the Bay. Healing circles in Richmond (The Art of Health and Healing), arts wellness in hospitals, some in response to police brutality. Where else are we finding that?

I also get inspired by the bus! I love public transportation in the Bay Area –I might be the only one! (big laugh)

I’ve had incredible moments on the bus! There I bear witness to moments intergenerational and intercultural. I live near General Hospital; I see people get up out of seats for others. Sure there’s sometimes conflict. I see people get on with bags of cans to drop off at the recycle center. Some riders get pissed, but some help them lift those bags and get on or off the bus. It’s a sense of community that people don’t see. The bus forces us to confront that.

“I’m really moved by a lot of the anti-police brutality work going on now. Black Lives Matter is one facet, which is out of Oakland. There’s solidarity and organizing around Alex Nieto and Perez-Lopez, two young men, of way too many, killed by SFPD. The work of Arab Resource and Organizing Center is inspiring too.

One of the tragically beautiful things about the Bay Area is that it really is a melting pot and crossroads from all over world. What’s tragic is in the national American conversation, San Francisco gets overlooked as an international intersection. There’s a lot of paying attention to intersectionality in the Bay Area. This is not yet scaled up to the national conversation because everyone wants a single simple sound bite. There’s no sound bite to this! I worry about our sound bite culture making something it’s not.”   (Raeshma, photos courtesy of Jason Wyman)

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