Focusing, Re-branding, and Including

Focusing, Re-branding, and Including

In March 2018, I was one of 15 people from Mansfield who went to the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. The original intent of the trip, which was funded by a grant from the Richland County Foundation, was to come back with ideas on how to continue the revitalization of the central business district in Mansfield. What evolved from that trip was the Mansfield Rising Plan which the Foundation now uses to prioritize its investments in downtown

Prior to our departure, Richland Source President Jay Allred, who has attended many SXSW conferences, described SXSW to our group as drinking from a firehose of information. He said we would feel like our hair was on fire.

That was an understatement. 

The amount of information was unimaginable, the quality of the information was mind-blowing. 

Mind Body Align Founder Annamarie Fernyak speaks about being mindful and present. Being among 30,000 people in a six-block radius does not lend itself to being mindful and present but you find yourself quickly becoming just that. You cannot possibly think about which session you will attend later or tomorrow or three days from now. You must focus on where you are and who is speaking to you in that moment. The hustle and bustle outside your conference room door or down on the street is not for you. 

I would love to tell you I heard one speaker at SXSW who changed everything for me but that is not true. I heard many speakers whom I gleaned tidbits of information from to bring back to Mansfield. 

One of my favorite speakers was Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer with Uber at the time. She spoke about rebranding while unapologetically wearing a sequin jumpsuit in the middle of the day. 

Listening to her speak about the importance of branding and sometimes re-branding, I started to think about the things that come out of our mouths when someone tilts their head to the side and says, “Mansfield?  Where’s that?” We all say the same thing. We say, “About an hour between Cleveland and Columbus.  Have you seen Shawshank Redemption?” Bozoma made me think… What if we re-branded Mansfield?  What if we mentioned Cleveland, Columbus, and Shawshank after telling people about how amazing Mansfield is to live, work, and gather?

Bozoma also spoke about the need for racial and gender diversity. I think we can do better with both. She said people like to say, “there’s a pipeline problem” with equity in diversity in the workforce. Bozoma says, “That’s bullshit.” She talked about the need for white men to look around in their office and say, “there’s a lot of white men here. Let’s change that.” Why does she, the one black woman, have to change it? She believes it’s a comfortability issue, not a pipeline issue. The question becomes, are we reflecting the population we’re trying to serve and are we willing to make the changes necessary to do so?

Back to her sequin jumpsuit. She said, “I’m a woman who wears sequins in the daytime. I’m not afraid of a lot. There’s a lot happening around women and diversity empowerment. I intend to step right in there with my sequins and bust it right open.” 

Let’s all be more like Bozoma. Let’s invite more people of color to the table. Let’s open more doors for women. Let’s include those who haven’t been included before. Let’s reach back and lift up someone younger. Because let’s be honest, we can all think of a time when we didn’t feel included because of our gender, age, race, otherness. Let’s do what we can to be more like Bozoma, although I’ll do it in a plain black dress and pearls instead of sequins.  

 

Looking at the Big Picture

Looking at the Big Picture

In the year-plus since our journey to Austin, I’ve been asked numerous times about the experience.  The questions drive at both the experience itself, as well as the post-Austin endeavor to write the Mansfield Rising plan and the post plan experience related to implementation.  Looking back, I easily point to three main takeaways I’ve had from this experience that have stayed with me and will continue to impact the work I do in downtown development.

Keep the big picture mindset in focus.

In my day to day work at DMI, we balance long term plans with short term needs on a regular basis. We are always thinking long term about goal projects, midterm about milestone marks and short term tasks to get there.  However, the reality is that with a small staff and budget, short term is where we live day to day. Events, marketing, and new business projects have immediate needs that can’t wait. As a result, the short term problems demand more of my attention than is ideal.  

In Austin, with those short term demands miles away, I was able to learn a great deal from big-picture thinkers who work and live globally all the time!  SXSW is packed full of big-picture people who are working globally on intelligent solutions to complex problems. Networking with people with that global mindset was one of the most impactful opportunities.  When we talk about complex issues like housing, equity, and diversity, Austin gave me a great opportunity to see the bigger picture and discuss projects and problems from a global point of view. Rahm Emanuel said, “if you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger.”  This resonated with me. While problems can live in the short term, real opportunity exists in a bigger picture perspective. In the real world here in Mansfield, there is always trash that needs to be picked up, but balancing that with creating solutions for the bigger picture has changed my mindset and reminded me not to miss out on opportunities to find global solutions to local needs. 

Creating and maintaining relationships drive progress.

The team that went to Austin had one thing in common, our love for our community and desire to make it better.  We are a mixed bag of community members with scattered experiences, goals, and perspectives. Many of us had worked together over the years on a variety of projects, but we hadn’t worked together this close and on such a broad spectrum of projects.  It seems like a side note to the actual plan and implementation, but a critical part of the work we did was to build trust and common experiences to cultivate a stronger sense of community within our team. Learning and exploring concepts and ideas together helps us understand the depth of the projects we’re working on, and writing and vetting them through the planning process allows us to listen to each other and understand the variety of perspectives that make the ideas stronger. As we move forward with the project, our collective buy-in helps us accomplish goals that might not have ordinarily had as much broad-based support.  This relationship-building among community members is a critical part of our community revitalization story as we move forward. We don’t all agree; we won’t ever all agree, but what is most important is listening and building better projects because of the diversity of perspectives that we bring to the table. 

It’s going to take as long as it takes; you might as well enjoy it.  

The pace of community development can be excruciatingly slow.  The project development process can often feel like a rush compared to the time-stands-still process of full implementation.  I get it, we all want these ideas that seem the easiest and most logical to happen right away. I do too. When dealing with community and economic development, though, that just isn’t always the case.  There are so many factors involved, not to mention personalities, that time can feel like it’s standing still, meanwhile, we are just wanting it to be completed! I feel that way all the time, especially with complex problems with little to no funding, but money doesn’t solve the problems, either. 

When I was in Austin, I was able to meet people from all over the world who were looking at the same exact issues we are looking at in Mansfield.  These aren’t Mansfield problems or Ohio problems or rust belt problems — these are community problems, and that’s ok. In fact, looking at our community from that global standpoint, our problems, while unique, weren’t as trying as they seem to be close up.  In one of my favorite sessions, we learned about how a community used interpretive dance to sell an important funding issue to their city council. I could feel my blood pressure spike just thinking about it. Who has time to learn an interpretive dance?! I mean, it sounds insane, but it worked! In the rush to get things accomplished, drawing the quickest and shortest line between the two points seems the most efficient, but in reality, when dealing with people, it just doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes looking at an opportunity and finding your way through it with other humans while tossing in some joy and celebration can have the most impact.  

I don’t know if these are the top three things I was supposed to learn during the SXSW process, but they are for sure the most impactful to me in my daily life and at Downtown Mansfield, Inc.  SO… Who is up for some interpretive dance at City Council?! 

 

Every Child is Potentially the Light of the World.

Every Child is Potentially the Light of the World.

“Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time it’s darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary most importance.” Bahai writings

The keywords in the above quote are; potential light, darkness, and education. Throughout history, education has been a fundamental factor in the advancement of civilization. At times this education has brought mankind light and at others darkness. Education has given man the ability to place manned rovers on Mars and acquire new medical knowledge. Advancements in communication have made the world flat. At the same time, mankind has created a world laden with moral dangers: selfishness born of materialism, children alienated from their parents, and a society in decline.  These conditions are not confined to race, class, nation, or income status. 

At an early age, children are asked,” What are you going to be when you grow up?” We send them off to school to find the answer. In school, they study various branches of knowledge in order to choose a profession based on demand and earning potential. In the end, the future is one of studying to work, working to earn, and earning to spend.  It’s a materialistic treadmill. The result is a society aimed at earning more and more money. Despite all the success and material gains, most people are still not happy and we are raising a generation of people who are living for themselves. This reminds me of the lyrics from the Broadway play Bye Bye Birdie, “Kids! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today! Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way, what’s the matter with kids today?”

Ask a child today what do you want to be when you grow up and they still don’t know, and now, many don’t care. What caused these young people to disconnect? When did the light of education dim in so many eyes? The methods for educating children are well established as evidenced in our technological and scientific advancements. But these advancements have come at a cost. Somewhere along our journey, we lost our children. As mankind enters a new age of maturity, we must develop a new purpose for educating our children. The tree of educational knowledge must add branches that evolve the inner and outer child as well as develop useful skills that benefit mankind.

I don’t think anything is wrong with today’s kids. Their true essence is there, often hidden inside. Through good counsel and education that essence can be brought to light. A quote by Alexander den Heijer may shed some light, “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” Instead of focusing on “fixing” the child, let’s focus on adapting the environment to ensure the child’s success. As the child gains inner and outer success and perfection, his light begins to shine.

Our primary and most urgent responsibility is the education of our children.  And, their teachings don’t only come from books. In early childhood a firm foundation must be laid; a foundation focused on refining character, learning virtues, and developing good behavior. Knowledge achieved through traditional book learning is praiseworthy when coupled with ethical conduct and virtuous character. These traits must be taught and practiced every day at school.  Fortunately, mindfulness, wellness, meditation, yoga, and art classes are appearing in school systems all over the world. 

The evolution of mankind is in full display in every child’s face you see. As each child’s inner light shines, it will surely brighten the world. As Neil Diamond sang,” Turn on your heart light. Let it shine wherever you go. Let it make a happy glow for all the world to see.”  It is truly our responsibility, as those that have come before them, to cultivate and support these additional branches of education. If we do not equip them with the social and emotional skills they need to conquer a rapidly changing environment, then their failures will be ours. Let us plant the seeds that will one day grow into a canopy of success in the hands of today’s youth. 

 

 

 

   

 

Transforming the World, One Mindful Student at a Time

Transforming the World, One Mindful Student at a Time

Imagine you are a bear hibernating for the winter. When bears hibernate, they take long, slow, deep breaths in and out, through their noses. Take a long breath in through your nose, and let it all the way out. Take another long breath in through your nose. Let it all the way out. Keep breathing like this and feel how relaxed and warm and safe you are in your cozy bear cave. Once more, take a long breath in through your nose, and let it all the way out. 

Now imagine this is how teachers lead the first minute of math class for first graders all across the country. The room becomes calm, and the teacher is able to start the lesson on time, with the focused attention of the students. These are bite-sized mindfulness practices, and when they’re done consistently, they can be a powerful tool to help our children live healthier, happier lives. They are simple to execute, they take very little time, and they cost nothing. In a world that’s increasingly fast-paced, where kids are bombarded with media and screens, where they have less and less downtime to just be, these practices can teach kids essential skills. Like- how to calm themselves. How to focus and pay attention. How to manage their behavior and emotions, and how to practice compassion and kindness. They can also help kids cope with and release anxiety and stress. 

Anxiety is a serious problem for teachers, parents, and children. When I go into schools to help them bring mindfulness into the school day, I hear over and over from teachers, principals, and school counselors that the teachers and students are stressed out. Even very young children are displaying more anxious behaviors than teachers have ever seen before. 

Anxious kids have a hard time in school and in life. Anxiety causes them to have difficulty focusing and paying attention. They can have behavioral and emotional issues. They’re not ready to learn, and even the greatest teacher in the world can’t get a lesson across if students aren’t ready to learn. We have the tools to help them and to help every child who will undoubtedly, at some point, suffer from stress and anxiety. 

We don’t have to take mindfulness on faith. 40 studies a month are coming out on the positive effects of mindfulness in the classroom. Science and research demonstrate it’s positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships. An organization called Mindful Schools looked at 400 elementary school students in four areas of classroom behavior: paying attention, participation, self-control, and respect for others. The students did a simple mindfulness program three times a week for five weeks, and they found significant gains in all four of those areas. 

Just think about that for a minute. Improvements in self-control and respect for others are a total gift for teachers everywhere but are also critical skills kids need to learn just to get along in life. Paying attention in class and participation directly leads to academic gains. They benefit not only the students in that classroom, and benefit the teacher, but also the school will perform better, the school district will begin to improve, and the positive effects ripple outward into the community. 

Now, as a former elementary school teacher, I know that teachers don’t need or want one more thing to teach in the classroom. They already have too many standards to meet, and mindfulness is not on the state tests. My reply to teachers and parents who don’t have time is this: take just one minute for consistent mindfulness practice and you’ll get it back. Your classroom will be calmer. Your students will be better able to pay attention. The lesson will go more smoothly, without interruption, and you will have more teachable minutes. We all know it just takes a few slow deep breaths to help us feel so much calmer because studies show controlled breathing sends the brain a signal that all is well, and the brain begins to calm the nervous system and to slow the body’s stress response.

In order for these practices to work, the kids have to like doing them. So they have to be built around concepts that kids enjoy. They have to be fun. For example, we take a cup of hot chocolate, but it’s much too hot to take a sip right now. So we have to blow on it to cool it off. We take a long breath in and we blow toward the hot chocolate. Repeat that six, seven or eight times. Or we see a big beautiful flower that we’ve never seen before. We’re curious how it smells, so we bring it up close and we take a long sniff and then let our breath all the way out, and we repeat that five, six, seven or eight times. 

When I go into schools and I have 20 super wiggly kids sitting in front of me all smashed together on the floor, I lead them in bear breath or flower breath and they become totally engaged and quiet. The teachers are generally pretty surprised, but the kids are not still because I taught them the benefits that deep breathing has on their central nervous system or because they have been reading up on how trendy mindfulness is. They’re quiet and still because it’s a concept that speaks to them and because it feels good and because it works. 

Like any other skill, constant practice is the key to its effectiveness. Paying attention is the skill we constantly ask kids to do, but we don’t teach them how and we don’t have them practice it. The act of paying attention over and over to our breath coming in and out of our bodies teaches kids to pay attention to other things. Consistent practice for schools means fitting it into the schedule at a non-negotiable time. The same time every day and everybody knows what to expect. 

It takes one minute, but over time it begins to build the muscles for practicing focus, emotion regulation, compassion, and kindness. This isn’t an enrichment program. This is an essential program. 

Think of a child who is caught in a cycle of acting out and discipline and punishment. In school, she disrupts the classroom. She is removed from the class. She misses the lessons and gets behind. She gets frustrated. She acts out some more. Her grades slip. She eventually gives up on school altogether. This happens all the time. 

Now imagine if that student had a grown-up in her life. A grandparent, a teacher, a school counselor. A parent who consistently taught her simple mindfulness practices tailored right to her age.  Over time she learns to calm herself. She also becomes self-aware so she recognizes that she’s about to act out and can stop it in its tracks. She practices showing kindness to other people. She’s able to stay in the classroom, keep up with her studies, graduate, and go out to be a force for good in the world. 

This one simple tool can literally change the trajectory of a child’s life. Now think of this effect multiplied by hundreds, by thousands, by millions of kids and you begin to see it’s so simple, but it can be so powerful. Imagine self-regulation being taught alongside academics in all of our schools. Imagine a whole generation of kids who are self-aware. 

We’re talking about an approach that can be implemented in every home and every classroom tomorrow morning. We start with baby steps, but they are powerful baby steps. We don’t need to wait for the school system to change. In fact, we can’t wait for the school system to change because kids need to be learning the skills now. Start now with the kids in your life. 

 

The Power Of Owning Your Story  

The Power Of Owning Your Story  

Confession time: I used to be kind of a snob about journalism.

When I was earning my degree at The Ohio State University, social media was just beginning to take off. I only made a Twitter account because it was a requirement in one of my journalism classes. We were only just starting to understand the impact of “citizen journalists” with access to post whatever they wanted on their personal profiles and declare it news, and yet we had no idea what was to come (the term “fake news” hadn’t entered the national lexicon yet).

The idea of “citizen journalists” was incredibly offensive to me. Here I was spending thousands of dollars on an education to learn how to practice this craft, and some random person on the street could post a picture and dare to call themselves a journalist, and no one would know the difference.

I’ve had a passion for storytelling since childhood – I can still remember creating “newspapers” on yellow legal pads at my grandma’s house. She worked at a newspaper in her youth, and so did my uncle on the other side of the family. I guess you could say it’s been in my blood. That kind of deep-seated passion can make you pretty defensive.

All that ego led to dreams of being some hotshot writer at a national news organization. I mean, let’s be honest, if I got a call from one of those places I definitely wouldn’t hang up the phone right away. But my journey in life since college has shifted the way I see the world, and my place in this industry.

I still have a fierce passion for journalism. But I no longer believe journalists should live in ivory towers preaching the news to listening ears below. Instead of believing I alone can change the world, I believe in casting a wider net and empowering others to tell their own stories.

The industry as a whole is starting to shift, too. News organizations are starting to realize their audiences don’t need to be preached at, they need to be brought alongside the reporting process. We’ve started to listen more to readers and what they have to say, and we’ve been rewarded with content that our audiences actually care about.

When I think about an individual’s potential for social impact, I’ve stopped thinking about it from the perspective of myself as a superhero saving the world with my words. Real change can only happen when you bring others around you along the same road.

I’ve also stopped thinking I could only make an impact in this world if I rose to a certain station. For a long time, I thought this season of life was only a stepping stone to the next, better opportunity – which is a good way to miss out on the beautiful things happening right now.

I first moved to Richland County in 2012, and the past seven years have cemented my belief that local journalism is perhaps the most important type of journalism. Only your local news organization has its finger on the pulse of the community you live in, reporting on the issues that matter to you in your daily life.

In addition, solutions journalism has really opened my eyes to the possibilities for a local news organization to be a facilitator of that conversation, not just standing on the sidelines. Not to mention it makes my soul a lot happier to report on solutions, not just problems.

I was recently promoted to the position of Engagement & Solutions Editor at Richland Source, and I’ve quickly realized it is truly my dream job to work with our community to make our slice of the world a better place. Not only do I want to tell you all about the amazing things people are doing to find solutions, I want to empower you to be a part of that solution. This isn’t my story – it’s yours.

Gone are my days of scoffing at citizen journalists and pining for a faraway job because of the vague sense it’s what I was obligated to do. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought possible because I decided to bloom where I was planted. I took a look around and realized the grass under my feet was just as green.

And now, I want to hear from you. If you could affect change in our community, what would you do? What stories do you have to tell about your hometown? Feel free to send them my way at brittany@richlandsource.com.

I’ve always had a passion for storytelling. This is just the beginning.

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Remembering

Close your eyes and imagine the food of your childhood, deeply breathe in that remembered scent, more importantly that feeling. Perhaps it’s the sweet smell of an apple pie baking or the slow cooking of a marinara sauce.

Picture the moment when you throw open the door on a cold crisp day to be blasted by the warm scent of a turkey roasting. For some of us it may be the smell of chicken soup being heated up from a can, the feeling is no different; your loved one caring for you and nourishing you with food is such a beautiful, meaningful act.

Reflecting

Bringing it all to the table is such a fitting topic for this time of year, as we gather around with our loved ones and reflect on what we are grateful for, surrounded by the beautiful bounty of the season.

What an important ritual of reflection and gratitude. I have so very much to be grateful for; I’ve been welcomed to sit at many lively kitchen tables in my life, and as luck would have it, all over the globe. I’ve gobbled down steaming piles of dumplings on the streets of Taiwan, dined on delicious kangaroo in Australia, and sat down to a feast of pork and veggies I helped harvest in Costa Rica.

Often times I did not speak the same language as the host, and I am so grateful to those folks who welcomed me to their table as a weary, and at times confused, traveler.

Sharing

One misty humid day in Taiwan a group of us decided to hop on our motorcycles and journey up into the crisp mountains for a day of hiking to waterfalls. The further and higher we hiked into the mist, the harder the rain began to fall, and soon we transitioned from sweaty to shivery. I was downright miserable, hungry, and tired. We finally reached our destination where I laid down on a rock in total exhaustion and stared at this unbelievable waterfall surrounded by slippery green rocks and lush tropical foliage.

I sat up and as I did, an old man under a tent caught my eye, he was waving me over to him. His radiant smile was welcoming, and I sat under his tent on a log he had gathered from the forest. He was boiling a pot of tea, the warmth instantly seeped into my body. He attempted to chat with me in Mandarin Chinese, and I could simply thank him and tell him where I was from; my Mandarin isn’t great. I’m sure he quickly realized from my accent and horrible pronunciation that our conversation wouldn’t go much further. He simply smiled and proceeded to pour me a small cup of tea, I held the tiny warm cup in my hand smelling the scents of a completely new and fascinating liquid; hints of pine and grassy sweetness with a complex roasted flavor.

As I gulped it down I felt my whole body warm. I looked over to the man and saw him gingerly sipping his tea, I looked down at my cup, and together we laughed as I realized my mistake in gulping it down. He poured me another and we had a wonderful conversation that did not involve words, just the beautiful act of sharing.

Growing

I’ve had the good fortune to work for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, I spent the summer growing fresh organic vegetables for those in need. My job was to run a pay-what-you-can farm stand; and what an honor it was to spend a day in the sun and fresh air picking and tending to vegetables and giving away fresh food in the evenings.

Those who came to the farm stand told me their stories, days spent with little to no fresh food on the table or no food at all. One young participant in particular stands out to me, this person had come to work days on the farm as a volunteer. He had brought his whole family back to the farm for the evening farm stand and proudly named each vegetable and how we had harvested it.  He shared recipes he had learned and some he himself had created, all while helping me to pass out items to elderly participants that need help moving things to their cars.

His mom then spoke to me of their families’ hardships and how the farm had changed this young person’s life. He had started drying herbs from the farm to make dried basil to put on top of their spaghetti and eagerly wanted to plant a garden at their home. With tears in her eyes she told me we had changed her son’s life, and hers.

Cooking

The world is full of generous souls who have welcomed me to their countries, kitchens, and warm tents; I am forever grateful to those who have supported me on my journey.

This holiday season I encourage you to open your heart in your own way: cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, donate or volunteer at a Foodbank, or simply pay it forward by buying a stranger a cup of coffee.

Sit still in a quiet place and reflect on your own personal bounty, practice gratitude. Food brings us all to the table, it crosses all borders and languages; food is tradition, art, and love in its own way timeless.

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