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December 11, 2019

I went into this giving season with a vengeance.

I set a high fundraising goal for The Advot Project.

I decided to pick up every rock and look in every nook and cranny in an effort to connect with anyone and everyone in my network who can lead me to sources of funding.

The Advot Project is in a crucial moment of growth. By raising funds, we will be able to scale, expand and grow. Shamelessly, I am asking, requesting, exploring.

 

I want to ensure the vision that I know can be true. 

Communication skills and healthy relationships are crucial for an individual to be able to change his/her life.   

Communication skills and the quality of our relationships are crucial for EVERYONE to be able to live their best life.  

 

We, at The Advot Project, provide tools to attain those skills.

I have been calling, e-mailing, meeting with colleagues and friends who can help me connect with people who will support our work. 

I set a crazy, high bar. Slowly but surely, I’m climbing the mountain, hoping I will get to the top.

 
I read this week an anonymous quote: “Set a goal that you can’t achieve until you grow into the person who can.” I sure as hell am trying. 

 

It has been humbling, touching, and truly moving, regardless of the money I raise, to tap into and connect with my incredible, beautiful, insightful, wonderful village. 

Oh, my goodness, what a village. I cherish each and every connection.

In my class this week we discussed the necessity of asking for the things we need.

This is not something my students like doing. 

To be honest, neither do I. 

My students have been let down so many times in their lives, that they do not expect to ever get something they want or need. So why bother asking?

One student said, “Ms., I simply hate asking for things because I don’t like hearing ‘no’. I’ve heard ‘no’ so many times in my life, I’m simply not interested anymore. Hell no!”
 

I look at this young woman with pain all over her face and anger coursing through her body. 

 

I say gently, “If you don’t take the chance on the hearing the ‘no’, you do not give the opportunity for the ‘yes’ to arrive. If someone says “no’, it’s no. Nothing changes. But what if, what if they said ‘yes’? That could be monumental, don’t you think?”

“Ain’t nobody saying ‘yes’ to me. I’ve asked for the simplest things in my life. When I was homeless, when I was hurt, when I was sick, nobody said ‘yes’ to me, ever!”

 

I stand looking at her and I know no matter how kind I am, I cannot erase the cruelty and trauma that she has suffered. 

I try to practice what I preach and so I describe what I do:

I ask even when I don’t want to.

I explain to people about the work we do. 

I ask directly for what The Advot Project needs. 

Sometimes people say ‘no’. Lots of time they do.

Some people send me to or introduce me to other people. I follow through with every lead. 

But then, some people actually say ‘yes’. 

Sometimes the ‘yes’ is so much more than I asked for.

Sometimes the ‘yes’ is a lot less than I thought it would be. 

Nevertheless, I rejoice.  Because ‘yes’ is always a win to me.

The class has become very rowdy. 

They don’t like my suggesting not to be mad when someone says no.

“If you did something for someone. If you helped someone out on the street, they owe you, Ms. They are supposed to give you back, and if they don’t, you should cut them off. Walk by them as if they don’t exist,” one woman tells me.

 

I challenge that, and say, “If on that particular day someone cannot come through for you, that doesn’t mean that they need to be erased from your life.” 

There is an uprising in the class. 

“Ms., why you go give chances to people if they disappoint you? Cut them loose! I ain’t important enough that someone has got to go and lie to me in order to make me happy. You feel me? Listen, Ms., if someone’s got to lie because they don’t want to give me something, I don’t want nothing to do with them.” 

I have to say listening to her kind of makes sense, yet I push back.

I challenge again and say, “Human connections are complicated. People are complicated. Everybody’s story is complicated. I would not write someone off if they let you down.”
“Also,” I add, “By ignoring them and cutting them off, you are giving them a lot of power.”

It’s a rowdy class. Everybody has something to say. They are pissed at me AND, at the same time, they are amused at my ideas and my way of thinking. 

 

Now they push back and try to make me understand how wrong I am.

I am listening, reflecting on my own connections, my own asking people for things and my desire to cut people off when they simply don’t give me what I want.

“Life is filled with surprises,” I tell my students.

“You never know where those surprises will come from. I’m not saying to let people hurt you. I’m also not saying not to learn a lesson when someone lets you down.  But I am saying, leave the door open for the surprise to walk in.”

“Fuck! Ms. I don’t want no surprise walking through my door. I got enough of those in my life. Surprises left and right, surprises through the window, surprises in my face, surprises in my bed, surprises that I was completely unprepared for. I want to know what’s happening. I want to be ready. I don’t want no surprises. Actually, I want my door to be closed. That’s how I stay safe.”

I stand looking at this beautiful woman who got out of jail less than a year ago, working insanely hard to better her life, to stay in her lane, to keep her routine. 

“I got me one wicked temper,” she says. “Together with a cocktail of mental illness and trauma. That’s what got me locked up. I don’t want no surprises. If someone can’t be there for me, fuck that shit.”

The class claps for her.

I take a breath.

They all look and wait to see what I have to say.

“I admire that you know what you need,” I say. 

I can feel the entire room lean in.

I think to myself. I don’t have anything really smart to say. Why should they trust people who let them down?

I tell them what I say carefully many times.

I can only suggest and share my thoughts.

“I come to visit jail and then I can leave.

No, I don’t understand and yet I do know that holding anger is not good and that this class, this anger management class, is not about NOT being angry but about managing our feelings and figuring out what to do with them.”

I tell them that I want the world for them.

I tell them I want them to ask for things.

I want them to want, to need, and to aim high. 

Even if that means they will be disappointed and hear ‘no’. 

I tell them I believe that they deserve the ‘yes’.

My angry student from the beginning of class looks at me as she is leaving the room.

“Ms., I hear you. You are trying to make the connection between the person we were to the person we can be. That’s the ‘yes’.”

“No,” I say. “I want you to connect to the person you ARE. And I want to help you let go of the ‘no’, regardless of the ‘yes’.”

 She laughs out load, and for a moment her anger subsides.

“Think about it,” I say. 

“Okay,” she says, and walks out of the class.


Naomi Ackerman is a Mom, activist, writer, performer, and the founder and Executive Director of The Advot (ripple) Project a registered 501(c)3 that uses theatre and the arts to empower youth at risk to live their best life.

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