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Public Allies + Me + Learning - Doubt/Judgement X Allies = Explosion

A note on the process and learning as a 2nd Year.. 

As I think about my Team Service Project that I thoroughly enjoy coaching, I find myself providing best practicing tips and tricks for them to use with one another. As a 2nd Year, I have further noticed that I myself am not practicing what I thus preach to my TSP team.  Interestingly enough, although 2nd Years do not have a Team Service Project, the 2nd Year Cohort functions as a mini TSP team. Although I thought I was this Super-Ally who knows the tricks and turns of communication and listening, I have been hit hard with some challenging lessons that I thought were once forgotten. 

One major learning point in the 2nd Year Process is in understanding that individuals come to the table with different insight, ideas and suggestions. That being said, it is a process of listening to understand where someone else is coming from and coming to some form of agreement. In the case of the current second year class, as a collective, we represent five different ally cohorts. We have four individuals who represent the most recent graduates of 08-09, two individuals from 03-04, then single representatives from classes 02-03, 05-06 and 06-07. Because of this cohort divide, we all come to the table with different perspectives on how the ally program should be facilitated from the experiences from our respective years. Further, most of us have been mentored by a different set of Program Managers, which can make for interesting yet challenging dynamics. That being said, here are a few challenges I have been facing this year that I thought I had long forgotten and demolished. However, learning to put theory into practice is definitely a process that I am still unpacking. Cut me some slack, geez!

Listening verses Hearing

Yes, there is a huge difference.

For myself, it was definitely a struggle for me as a first year ally to listen to my teammate’s suggestions for I was constantly stuck in my own thoughts and ideas. The question, “Are you hearing what I am saying?” is moreso a question of “Are you listening?” At times, I was “hearing” their ideas, yet I was always jotting down meeting minutes, checking my schedule to schedule in recruitment fairs, and/or texting my fellow ally to ask them what everyone is talking about. But in my mind, since I am present in the room, clearly I am listening. But good listening is a commitment; it requires a commitment to try and understand how the other person feels and how they see things. For myself, I felt like I listened because I was able to summarize and point out key moments. Others call that “selective hearing” – I call it frustrating. Although I felt I had overcome this obstacle this year, I definitely find myself hearing more than listening. Not only am I simply hearing, I am processing and planning in my head my next rebuttal or idea to interject. Even if I can recite everything my teammate has said, I am not really listening when my attention is divided or distorted. Which leads me to my next learning point —

Assumptions & Advice

When someone else is speaking in the group, it was very hard for me to sit back and not provide input. I have learned throughout the entire year (and this year as a coach) that one has to resist the tendencies to mind read, to judge without asking for more information, or to rehearse the next response rather than focusing on what your teammate has said. It has been a challenge for me this year to not provide my advice about a situation without fully allowing my teammate to finish their thought. Unfortunately, this is something I have done in both the TSP and 2nd Year space. However, the only way to find out if one understands what their teammate is saying, you have to ask questions. I have learned that I need to avoid filling in the gaps with assumptions or immediately leaping to give advice when I have not fully asked the right questions in order to extract the information needed. Sometimes, I banter with my 2nd years so much that we are competing to be vocally heard, not necessarily listening to what one another is saying. So how do we stay engaged without jumping to assumptions?

The Two-Question Rule

Very simple process. According to this rule, when one teammate poses a piece of information, you respond to that with a few questions to extract more information.

Until after they are able to provide some more insight, then it is ok to provide feedback and support. Making any sense? Let me show you how our meetings used to go:

(Players – Ashley & Ryan)

Ryan – Ok, so let’s talk about the meeting we had with the school contact. It didn’t go very well.

Ashley – You know what else didn’t go well? When I met with my volunteers to give them some information about the day of service, I didn’t have any information.

Ryan – Our contact is still in the process of developing some of the logistics, so they are asking us to be there at 8am so we can get started.

Ashley – What I NEED to get started is the Volunteer Meeting for my volunteers.

Ryan – Then he told us that they are still looking for vendors to donate some food. I am worried about how much money this is going to cost.

Ashley – Well, that makes two of us. I am worried about money and food for my volunteers.

Ryan – Can’t you think about anything besides the volunteers? What about the event itself?

Ashley – Oh, so now I am horrible volunteer leader and you think I am a horrible teammate. I give up.

The initial conversation could just as easily have been changed by myself or Ryan. Here is how we could have used good listening skills

(Players – Ashley & Ryan)

Ryan – Ok, so let’s talk about the meeting we had with the school contact. It didn’t go very well.

Ashley – You know what else didn’t go well? When I met with my volunteers to give them some information about the day of service, I didn’t have any information.

Ryan – Wow, we have a lot to talk about during this meeting. But tell me about your day, maybe I can fill in some much-needed information.

Ashley – Well, first the volunteers showed up late because we could not confirm a meeting place in time. Then, when they were asking about logistics, I didn’t have any answers. I was so overwhelmed!

Ryan – That sounds awful. What did you do?

Ashley – Well, I tried to make the best of it, so I took down all of their contact information and told them I would update them as soon as I got the information they needed.

Ryan – You did great. Actually, I have the information you need. The school is still working out the logistics and they are currently getting food donated for the volunteers. They just ask that they show up at 8am to be ready.

Ashley – Whew, that is a relief. Thanks Ryan!


It is not a perfected science, but the two-question rule helps you stay focused on the expressor rather than slipping back into your own concerns. Good listening requires one to not plan rebuttals based on what the other person says, but good listening shows that you care about their thoughts and feelings. True listening is a compliment and a gift.

Blocks to Listening + Yo, I have feelings.

The reason why I am so focused on listening and communication is because I feel that this has been one of the biggest challenges for me in the past two years. Communication & listening are two skill-sets that we as humans are supposedly “born” with, yet we are never taught or versed in the art of doing both (at least, that is what I believe). Through Professional Coaching & feedback from my fellow allies, I have identified the key roadblocks that have hindered or skewed my ability to listen:

-         Mind-Reading (sometimes when others are talking, I try to sum up what they are trying to convey – before they convey it. I am no Miss Cleo, and I have gotten this wrong on a number of occasions. And we know what happened to Miss Cleo)

-         Sparring (depending on the topic – logistically or personally – I have a tendency to always want to be right. I don’t care if the sky is blue, I will convince you to see it as turquoise baby blue)

-         Taking Over (when someone is talking, I jump in and provide my own feedback and perspective. Dang Ashley, let them finish!)

-         Derailing (I am a jokester. When things get uncomfortable, I have a tendency to joke and change the subject to a different direction).

But yo, I have feelings. It is not until this year that I have come to this conclusion – often, we are not aware that part of the reason for our communicating is to get approval – until we don’t get it. Then we feel unappreciated and hurt. I need to recognize that this is a two-way street; I am not the only one who is affected by my communication style.

As I have learned this year, our actions, or lack of actions, are often more powerful than our words. Knowing that communication has been difficult for me, my tone, body posture, gestures and eye contact tell more than I wanted. I would hide behind my laptop because I did not want to engage in an uncomfortable conversation. I began telling people that nothing was bothering me, when I clearly looked like I was ready to punch someone. I would huff and puff and say that everything was fine, when my tone said otherwise.

Yet I would sit in coaching and POUR my soul and frustrations out to my Program Manager(s). I invest so much time and energy in being upset that I am bringing these issues home. And they would come to the same question: ok, so why not address it? Why are you not saying anything about it? Simply communicate.

Sounds easy.

This has been one of the hardest learning lessons for me to grapple with because I feel like I should have this. I should get this. I am talking. I am going to school to be a social worker. I communicate 24/7. For the longest time, I have been used to defending my personality quirps as “quirps” – they are what make me unique. However, it was not until these past two years in Public Allies LA that I have begun to see how my personality traits (unforgiving or not) have affected other people. Listing all of these challenges and short-comings just lets me know that this is all going to take time. As I told my TSP last night, this is a process. We don’t expect to have one conversation and then everything miraculously changes. It takes time. It takes practice.

This conversation is not over, tumblr. So much processing. 

There’s No “I” in Team.. Exception - there is “Me”!

A Note On Team Service Projects (TSPs)…

Yesterday, I sat in a Conflict Mediation meeting with members of the Team Service Project (TSP) that I coach. As I sat there and listened to these individuals speak about their personal struggles and challenges, I was given the space to provide my personal insight, feedback and support. I gave out my hugs to these individuals, thanked my Program Manager for the support, and walked to my car. As I drove away, I reflected on the entire meeting and the TSP process in general. At once point, this statement passed through my thoughts:

I was a hot mess last year. Who am I to give advice to these individuals when I faced the same issues, if not at a heightened degree?

However, as a 2nd Year TSP coach, my insight and responsibilities to the team are completely different. In general, the Team Service Project is an opportunity for allies to learn and strengthen team building skills, understand our personal influence and power, see a project from start to finish and hone communication skills. Sounds good on paper, but this is not a perfected process. Members are unable to communicate their needs, accountability sometimes comes in the form of passive aggressive emails and not showing up to meetings and at some point, the community may not be benefiting from the project.

For myself, I am personally more invested in the process of the Team Service Project rather than the end product. As stated, effective leaders know how to identify assets & opportunities and how to implement solutions in collaboration with the community. The same mantra goes for the team; the hope for the TSP is that members are able to identify assets within themselves and one another and expand upon such gifts. You are matched with peers who may have different interests, perspectives and passions. However, these peers are able to provide feedback about your progress and leadership style that no one else can recognize.

Having gone through the TSP last year, I have a lens to the program as a supportive ally and an objective observer. 2nd Year TSP Coaches have a number of responsibilities that stem from their first year experience and expectation of heightened capabilities. 2nd Year TSP Coaches should do the following:

  • Be prepared (available to attend meetings and all functions)
  • Facilitate (the process in reaching TSP milestones/outcomes)
  • Serve as a reference (point the team in the right direction of resources without doing it for them)
  • Advocate (be vocal in the best interest of the TSP)
  • Provide Clarity when possible
  • Mediate conflict (interpersonally and towards project goals)
  • Advise & Provide Feedback (regarding the process, direction, focus, etc)
  • Challenge 1st Year Allies (in ally personal growth and towards being critical about the work)

Do I do all of these things right? Maybe not. Do I ask my team for support in understanding that I am also learning? Definitely. I am blessed to work with a team who are understanding and willing to engage with one another at personal and professional levels. The TSP process is in conjunction with their placement responsibilities, attending classes and all other ally responsibilities. These allies are pulling sixty (60) hours or so a week, and they are still available and ready to engage each week.

My team has been through a lot this year, yet I am proud of the progress they have made thus far. Below is a peak at what they are doing at Thomas Jefferson with a group of 9th Grade Students.

Project Title: PUSH HOPE (Holistic, Optimistic, Pedagogical Empowerment)
Members: Berlis Alvarado, Janitzia Villalobos, Rafael Lum, Sara Martin  


Our vision is that 9th grade students at TJHS will gain an awareness of the push out rate and understand that they can challenge/change the statistics that exist at their school. Students will use various forms of expression as a way to start dialogue/discussions to raise the consciousness about the push out rate in other students.


Our TSP will empower youth by providing popular education based workshops that critically engage students through dialogue and utilize various art forms as mediums to initiate discussions about the push out rate at TJHS. PURPOSE: Jefferson High school has a push out rate of 58%, compared to LAUSD drop out rate of 38%. The academic achievement of students at Jefferson High School is far below the standard set for the state of California. The community that Thomas Jefferson students reside in is the Vernon Central area, which is a predominately black and brown working class community. The Vernon Central community has a high rate of low educational attainment and high poverty indicators. However, Vernon Central has a rich Black cultural history that manifested in the jazz movement in the 1930s through the 1950s. Now, the Vernon-Central community has become increasingly Latino a trend through out South Los Angeles due to economic affordability for lower income recent migrants.


  • To bring awareness of the push out rate through by presenting on eight issues that were identified by the survey through creative activities.
  • To create a safe space where students can share/dialogue about their experiences on the issues relevant to the push out rate.
  • For youth to build confidence to express themselves through multiple art forms.
  • For the final art products created by the youth to be relevant and critically reflective about their experiences in dealing with he push out rate.
  • For the students to present their art form & articulate their reflective process to others.


The process towards implementation has definitely been a stressful one. I believe that Public Allies LA dedicates an entire eight out of ten months to the Team Service Projects because they are aware of the impact it can cause. In the past, our Team Service Projects have lead to the development of nonprofit organizations that are currently serving the community. Things don’t always pan out the way we expect, but the essence comes in working out those glitches. The passion comes from meeting twice a week to plan the bi-weekly workshops that my team is dedicated to delivering. The heart comes through when they sit in front of those students and ask them what their idea of community looks like. The dedication comes through when teammates are challenging their own assumptions and perspective as it comes to delivering a curriculum that is dear to their heart. The drive comes from a team who is willing to persevere when the current school situation is set up so not only do the students not trust them, they do not understand why the TSP even cares to teach to their class.

Get it, PushHope :)