Friday, April 24, 2015

Excerpt from my ride journal, #2 (for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry)


            Since I know little about cycling and even less about training, I take as gospel every word that comes out of Jason Roberts’ mouth. During our recent No Kid Hungry summit he said “don’t worry, just put some miles on the bike every day and you’ll be fine.”  So that’s what I’ve been trying to do, even while Roe and Nate and I are on our annual trip to Turks and Caicos during Nate’s spring break.

            It’s not easy to rack up 30 miles a day on an island (Parrot Cay) that is only 3 miles long. At least not without getting dizzy.  The only bikes here are Gravity EZ Cruz, with one gear and tires as wide as a Volkswagen’s.  The chain is so rusted I wanted to give the bike a tetanus shot. The average temperature here is 88 degrees.

 An island vacation is certainly no hardship.  But there is a sense that if I can ride in these conditions I can ride in any. I’ll keep doing what Jason advises. With less than 8 weeks to go, every mile counts. So does every donation. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

letter from my ride journal for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, training day #1


             Ok, this is going to be harder than I thought. Last week I began to train for the upcoming Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, ( @ http://chefscycle.org/ )  I started  by consulting the training guide prepared by our friends at Endorphin Fitness. That was my first mistake. The week of April 13 was labeled week 6 for training purposes.

 On Saturday I took my first ride of the season outside of the gym. 28 miles on the Capital Crescent Trail that follows the Potomac River.  The first half felt great, I was really soaring, and I thought “Jason Roberts look out!”  What I didn’t know until I turned around at the 14 mile mark was that I’d had the wind at my back.   

            I learned some important things during the ride:

-          When a passing rider yells “on your left” it can be shorthand for “I’m passing so fast and close there will be no skin on your left arm and leg after I’ve gone by.”

 

-          Proper cycling shorts are not a luxury but a necessity unless you plan to stand at dinner while the rest of your friends and family sit and eat.

 

-          28 miles down means 272 more to go to complete the Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry 300 mile ride. The math is unassailable. The common sense of it is more questionable.

            Despite all of the lessons being learned the hard way and growing reservations about what I’ve got myself into, my experience tells me that Sharing strength is always the right thing to try. So getting back out there this weekend.   More riders still welcome!

Support of all kinds welcome, especially @ ow.ly/LLscm

Billy

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tom Vilsack and Cesar Chavez, bearing witness across half a century


            Last week USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack led a ceremony to name a courtyard at USDA for Cesar Chavez. Vilsack explained that it was the 50th anniversary of a United Farm Worker hunger strike Chavez led “to bring justice and equality to the people who feed America.”

            The organizing efforts of Cesar Chavez, his grape boycotts and hunger strikes, were a way of forcing the country to bear witness to the injustices suffered by migrant farm workers. Today his legacy stands as an amazing testament to one man’s ability to make a nation pay attention to what was otherwise invisible to most of us.

Secretary Vilsack’s action 50 years later, could be mistaken for a small symbolic gesture but it actually represents a historic milestone. On Sunday night Vilsack told me: “It is hard to believe but until this administration no representative from the United Farm Workers Union ever felt welcomed or set foot in the USDA headquarters. It was long, long overdue.” 

Since Vilsack became Secretary, the USDA has invested more than $200 million in affordable housing for farmworkers. From his first day in office he has championed the vulnerable and voiceless.  A few months into his term he told of how during his job “interview” with President Obama, the president said he knew that there were numerous responsibilities at USDA but the number one thing he wanted him to do was make sure children get fed. Just last month we met with him at his office to talk strategies for protecting SNAP and Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

During the event last week it was as if Vilsack was taking a page from Cesar Chavez’s own playbook and continuing in the tradition Chavez established – acting to bear witness, putting others in a position to do so, insisting that we have a duty to see, remember, and give voice.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

And so it begins: first steps in 2016 presidential campaign


On Tuesday, the New England Council and The New Hampshire Institute of Politics hosted a breakfast for local business leaders in Manchester, New Hampshire to meet former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. It was his first trip to the all-important first primary state since he left the Governor’s office and began to seriously consider challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination for President.  Because O’Malley was such an energetic champion of our No Kid Hungry campaign, and because it’s less than an hour drive from Boston, I went up to take a look, just as I did 32 years ago when a mostly unknown Colorado Senator named Gary Hart for whom I worked set out to challenge the front running former Vice President Walter Mondale.

 

O’Malley was well received though most New Hampshire voters wait to be courted, hopping from one candidate event to another, as unready to commit as a bumblebee to a tulip.  It’s a small state and there are lots of only half-joking comments like “I haven’t decided to vote for him (or her) because I’ve only had lunch with them twice.” In addition to the local coverage, the Washington Post and USA Today sent reporters along to cover O’Malley’s maiden voyage.

 

At one point Governor O’Malley asked for a show hands from those in the audience who thought they had more opportunity and a better life than their parents had.  About two-thirds of the 80 or so people raised their hand.  Then he asked how many thought the same would be the case for their children.  Only two hands went up, and wavered uncertainly. You  have to be my age to appreciate just how remarkable a change that is from the conventional wisdom that prevailed for so long about the meaning and viability of “the American Dream.”   The rest of us stared quietly at those two half-raised hands; a sadness to the silence, even a twinge of guilt for being the first generation to short-change their own children in this way.

 

“It underscores the central question that is on the kitchen table of our democracy” said O’Malley:  “How do we make sure that our economy works again for all of us?”  And by connecting that question to the future prospects of children, O’Malley framed why our work with No Kid Hungry, and the impact it has on educational achievement, child health, and our nation’s economic competitiveness, is both important in its own right and more connected than ever to the emerging national conversation about who the next president of the United States will be.

 

We must make our work and the historic results Share Our Strength has been able to achieve, part of that conversation.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The moment of truth for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry


            There comes a moment in the planning of every major quest when the questions shifts from whether it will happen to how well will it do.  Here at Share Our Strength that time is now, and as is often the case, it is the indomitable passion of chefs that is propelling us forward.   

            Nearly 50 chefs and restaurateurs from around the county have committed to take off their aprons and put on their riding gear for Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry.  From Australia’s Jason Roberts to Shake Shack’s Jenny Conrad, from Jamie Adams in Georgia to Jeff Mahin in California, they are making a statement about the myriad ways to share strength, and committing provide millions of meals to kids in need.

Suddenly, the focus is on granular details. This week Debbie Shore and her team met to plan routes, overnight stops, identify the right food, drink and energy/protein goos for riders, and advance the publicity campaign and social media strategy that will bring the excitement of Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry to millions of people.

            Amazingly, more than $20,000 is already in the door and there remains 10 weeks to go before the two 300 miles rides – from New York to DC, and from Santa Barbara to San Diego, commence.  Check out our website @ http://www.chefscycle.org/   Support one chef, or support ‘em all. Either way you’ll be making a huge difference in the life of an American child.

Yet Again, the Power of Bearing Witness


Our colleague Andy McMahon recently found and shared this clip of President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this month speaking of hunger in the classroom during his famous March 15, 1965 speech to a joint session of Congress on the Voting Rights Act. @ http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4531247/lbj-saw-hunger-classroom That speech came just a week after the infamous violence in Selma, Alabama. In it Johnson adopted the anthem of the civil rights movement and proclaimed “we shall overcome”.  Passage of the Voting Rights bill followed five months later.

            Near the end of his remarks, Johnson said: “My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school…. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes….Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.”

            “I saw it in their eyes.”  When else have you heard a U.S. president speak this way? It’s an all too rare example of how the act of bearing witness shapes a leader’s character, fuels their ambition, and ultimately impacts policy that changes the world. Whatever one thinks of President Johnson, few disagree that his force of personality made him effective as a legislator and later as a President getting legislation enacted into law.  Part of that personality was forged by being in a position to see firsthand how others lived, and to let himself feel something about it.

            “I saw it in their eyes.” This crucial element of leadership too often goes missing in our politics today. In its place we have “I saw it in the public opinion polls” or “I saw it on cable news”.  But it’s not coincidental that LBJ declared war on poverty, or that he was the last president to elevate the issue so high on the national agenda. He was a consummate politician but what he’d seen and felt clearly did not, could not, dissipate even decades later.  Just the opposite. It remained vivid enough to share with 70 million Americans who watched that prime time broadcast and the U.S. government assembled in its entirety under the Capitol dome.

            “I saw it in their eyes.”  To bear witness in this way, to enable others to do so, is not just a task for politicians and elected officials. It also remains the most solemn and powerful of our many responsibilities at Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners.  (Share Our Strength's most recent report on Hunger in Our Schools can be found @ http://www.hungerinourschools.org/ )

Sunday, February 15, 2015

When celebrity, creativity, and collaboration combine to create community wealth



            Celebrity and creativity are not the same thing. Sometimes they do not even overlap. Not all celebrities are creative and not all creative types are celebrities. But when the two come together the results can be astonishingly powerful. 

Witness the phenomenon of Jeff Bridges’ Sleeping Tapes, which he created for the website design company Squarespace, raising more than $100,000 for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign of which he is national spokesperson. It would be easy to assume they wanted him for his draw as a well-known celebrity. But Squarespace was smarter than that. They hadn’t just approached Jeff for use of his immediately recognizable voice and image, but to help create, design and shape the entire project.  

The first thing Jeff did was engage in creative collaboration with other artists such as Keefus Ciancia who composed the score for True Detective  and helped record the tapes’ ambient sound, and Lou Beach a writer and graphic designer who came up with the album cover.

            Known primarily as an actor, Bridges also has a successful band, is an avid photographer, draws, and writes.  On a cross country flight we shared not long ago, he came to the back of the plane to join an informal brainstorming session of Share Our Strength staff.  Jeff spent several hours fully engaged in proposing and vetting ideas for communicating the devastating impact of childhood hunger, mobilizing more young Americans on behalf of the cause, and capturing the attention of policymakers.  He’s always been accommodating when it comes to press conferences or signing autographs, but it was clear that his real strength to share consisted of his creative juices.

            The results speak for themselves. The Sleeping Tapes @ www.dreamingwithJeff.com are a one of a kind blend of sound, humor, philosophy and art that are getting the attention a celebrity like Jeff Bridges can bring to it. The ad agency Wieden + Kennedy brought additional creativity to the communication and marketing of the project, including a much talked about Super Bowl ad. Such combinations of creativity and celebrity are designed to promote commerce and yield wealth, but in this case it was a very different kind of wealth called community wealth because it goes directly back into the community, with 100% of the proceeds used to help feed hungry kids by enrolling them in school breakfast and summer meals programs.

            Celebrity, creativity and collaboration – not a bad formula for changing the world, or at least making it a better place for our children.