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Community Programs Office
2007 Closing Banquet @ UCLA

First and foremost, I want to thank the End of the Year Banquet selection committee for giving me the opportunity to address you this evening. I was honored when I got the email from Vusi that I was nominated to speak tonight.

For those who have been here for quite some time, you can testify that I grew up in the CPO. But being exposed to a new campus, new people, and a new way of thinking outside of this context has given me the chance to reflect, compare, and contrast how I grow in different types of environments. Speaking of exposure, I got to see the SHAPE students this weekend as they culminated their Rites of Passage program by observing youth initiatives in the Bay Area. It was amazing to see the seed still growing and the tree bear good fruit. I have been exposed to a lot in these past two years at Stanford and today I return to you, my family, to report what I’ve learned. The title of tonight’s speech is “The C in CPO”.

What is community? Where do its boundaries end and begin? Are there even boundaries? Is anyone excluded? Or is everyone included? Do people need to be initiated? Who leads? How are the chosen?

As I transitioned from UCLA to Stanford, I wondered if I would be able to find community. Stanford’s El Centro and Black House just weren’t the same. The CPO is a unique place and you won’t find anywhere like it, but I knew that without community I couldn’t survive at Stanford. So I had two options; find it or create it. During my search I realized that community was less about a physical space like the SAC; community is defined by the interactions between its members. After finding a community at Stanford, I came to believe that communities do 3 fundamental things together:
1. Work together.
2. Eat together.
3. Pray together.

Communities work together.
• If we examine all of our cultural origins, we find that our ancestors worked the land together. Work was a family affair. Everyone worked in the community on behalf of the community.
• In the same way, the students that came before us fought to turn what were traditionally volunteer-based projects to paying jobs. Since its conception, the office has created almost two dozen full-time university positions and over 100 student positions.
• But we must acknowledge that despite sharing a physical space, in many ways the office is still divided along cultural lines. We have to ask ourselves why. Are our cultures truly that different? Is an African Rites of Passage that much different than a Native American Vision Quest? Few projects have been able to break this barrier, but it is imperative that we critically analyze these divisions as a community. There is a difference between working in the same place and working together.
• In corporations people work together, but that doesn’t make them a community and that takes me to my next point.

Communities eat together.
• I remember one of the first meals I had with a group of friends from Stanford. We ate at this well-known Ethiopian restaurant called Zini’s. When I sat down, I felt like I was in pre-school. The tables where knee-high and circular and the 6 of us sat on stools. One of my friends ordered for us all and the food came out on one big plate. There were no utensils either. Everyone was expected to eat with their hands. That was on of the most intimate dining experience I ever had. I truly felt like I was eating with my brothers and sisters.
• Since the beginning of Spring quarter, a group of friends and I have been organizing weekly potluck dinners. It started off with just 10 of us and since then it has grown to 60 people crammed into a small house in East Palo Alto. Attendees include Stanford students and alumni, neighbors, the youth, and elders. People come to get fed physically by the food, mentally by the wisdom of the elders, and spiritually by each other’s energy
• Food unites people. The CPO Banquet and the CPO Open House are two of the most important events because they create space for everyone to contribute and express themselves through food. If we wanted to, we could have a CPO buffet every day with the best dishes from all over the world.
• There is something about cooking together and co-creating a meal that can’t be substituted by Panda Express or Dominoes. Real relationships are made over food. Communities are united by food.

That brings me to my third point. Communities pray together.
• This quarter has been extremely rough for me. My best friend’s father died. Our community lost a brother to suicide. One of our elders was hospitalized. And my other best friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. All of these things were out of my control; sometimes life just has to take its course. Literally, it was enough for someone to take a quarter off. But I wasn’t alone. I had a supportive space to pray with others for healing and restoration for all of the things I just mentioned.
• When is the last time that we all prayed together? When did we become so revolutionary and empowered that we forgot about the Spirit within that gives of life every single day?
• During my second year as the SHAPE director, I remember the CPO being hit hard by a cult. I believe we lost about 4 key members and it crippled us momentarily. Thinking back, I asked myself, what were they looking for that we didn’t provide? The only answer that came to mind was spiritual nourishment.
• Spirituality is central to the success of any social movement; just look at the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement. I recently read an article about African American coping strategies and the research showed that African Americans used internal coping strategies rooted in spirituality more than their White counterparts who tended to rely more on external coping strategies. Before there was religion, there was spirituality and all of our cultures were spiritually-rooted. As a community, we cannot sit here and neglect one of our greatest assets, which is our connection to Spirit.
• Granted there are times where we have to be militant and take over Murphy Hall, I honestly believe that the fall of the Black Panthers, whom many of us revere, wasn’t because of cointelpro; it was because in their effort give back power to the people, they forgot to acknowledge the source of their power in Spirit.

In this office, we use the word empowered a little too freely. If you give me any acronym with and E in it, if I guess education or empowerment, there is a 99% chance that I’ll be right. But when I examine the lives of the people we admire and wear on our t-shirts like Che, Bob, Ghandi, and Biko, I realized that empowerment not the final step in their development. There are three stages of development; victim, empowered, Spirit working through you as you. Fortunately, Tim has some famous quotes that he has been using for years to guide us through this process.

1. If you have ever heard Tim say “Excuses are tools of the incompetent,” he is suggesting that you are thinking like a victim. Whenever we make excuses, we are literally saying that we gave in to circumstances.

2. When Tim is encouraging us to be empowered, he shares his most famous quote from Biko “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” He is merely challenging us to take control of our lives by transforming our thinking.

3. And lastly, through you and as you. He doesn’t say this one publicly, but if you’ve every had a chance to have a 1-on-1 with Tim at the crack of dawn when he arrives, he will tell you “You are a spiritual being having a human experience.” For many, that is hard to accept because it requires the shedding of many debilitating beliefs. But if you don’t believe Tim, just listen carefully to Bob Marley:

We're Jah-men
We're Jah-men
To think that Jah-men was a thing of the past
We're Jah-men
And we're Jah-men in the name of the Lord
We're Jah-men
What you are-re-re-re
We’re Jah-men
What you are

In conclusion, how will we know when we’re a community?
• We will know when every project doesn’t need its own hole puncher, stapler, and scissors
• We will know that we are community when everyone is equally accountable for the office’s existence: How many times have you walked away from the broken printer or copier or left it with no paper?
• We will know when cubicles don’t exist
• When everyone can articulate the CPO’s vision. Right now we are trying to put a puzzle together without the box. Where is our vision?
• We will know when one-time programming turns in daily practice. If you have to make a flyer, it’s a program. We shouldn’t have to persuade people to come to programs. If it adds value to them, they will tell others and people will come.
• We will know that we are a community when everyone is counseling each other and the collective accountability within the office obviates the need for counselors
• We will know when the office is empty because that means that we are actually serving the community
• When Tim leaves and we have to carry the vision forth without our heroic leader
• When the CPO advisors and Mandla are supported by the 5,000 UCLA graduates that have come through this office.
• When there is a seemless link between the communities we serve and the office. Perhaps when there is a CPO somewhere south of the 10 freeway.
• We will know when we work, eat, and pray together.


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My purpose is to help as many people as possible reach their full potential by helping them making a living doing what they love and in the process of doing so achieve my own. I want to do this through writing, speaking, and creating offline and online spaces that facilitate conversations around purpose.

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