Expanding thought leadership in the nexus of power

Viviane & LindsayOur summer program in DC — hosted by the International Labor Rights Forum — brought together participants from Secular Student Alliance, Hope Street Group, Population Action International, Georgetown University, Youth Justice Strategy & Investment Project, Volunteers of America, Sustainable Growth Strategies LLC, Virginia New Majority, ONE Campaign, British Embassy, AFL-CIO, William & Mary School of Law, Students For Liberty, and Columbia University.

After the seminar, we relaxed outdoors (a rare treat in late summer!) at swanky P.J. Clarke’s, in view of the White House, just two blocks away.

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Pressing “Undo:” How I’m Reclaiming My Voice

Guest Post by The OpEd Project NYC Public Seminar Participant, Chandra Bozelko

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset“They’ll hear my voice and know I didn’t do it,” is exactly what I told my trial attorney.

I was facing almost twenty felonies and a myriad of misdemeanors. The prosecutor claimed to have a videotape showing me as I signed for a package that contained merchandise purchased on a stolen credit card and sent to my home, but, when the lights dimmed, the tape did not show me doing anything but putting my hands up. Then, the postal inspector testified about the attempted sting on me.  I remembered exactly what I had asked him: “Who are you looking for? Chandra Bozelko? Does it say Chandra Bozelko?” Except his testimony was that I had identified myself as someone else. So I waited for the audio portion of the tape to be played, knowing it would exculpate me.

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The audio of the sting was never played at my trial. The reason for this, testified the postal servant, was that “…it was unclear, so we just deleted it.” The state had deleted my voice.

The state deleted my voice that day at trial in 2007 and for the next six years at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut, the state’s only women’s prison. The powerlessness of the female prisoner left me feeling not only deleted, but depleted, as I spent so much energy writing to explain the faults in the criminal justice system in opinion pieces I mailed to publications around the country with little success.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetProbably mid-way through my sentence, my father sent me an article about The OpEd Project. I almost lost my balance with relief at knowing that someone – the amazing Katie Orenstein – was championing deleted voices. I continued to write, but to Katie, asking her for assistance and thanking her for what she was doing. We exchanged letters and she advised me. She wanted to run The OpEd Project’s core seminar within the prison, but, ultimately, the warden disallowed it.  I had to wait until I was released to benefit completely from all the work that Katie and her staff at The Oped Project were doing.

I ended my incarceration on March 18, 2014. My mother underwent lung cancer surgery soon after my release, so caring for her occupied my attention for a while.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetAs she mended, though, and I had more time to start my new life, I completed one of my first orders of business: attending that OpEd Project Seminar. I did not have a job at the time, so I applied for a scholarship and was lucky enough to receive one. I attended the core seminar in Manhattan on July 19, 2014 and met Orenstein, who told me, “I still have your letters.” Even if it were just that one trailblazing woman, someone heard what I had been saying all along.

If you have ever felt like your voice has been deleted, The OpEd Project can help you press “Undo” and get it back. The core seminar I attended was half-psychotherapy, half pinpointed instruction on how to find that voice, whether it has been deleted or not, but especially if it has suffered deletion.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetImmediately upon coming home to Connecticut, I sharpened a draft of an opinion piece I had started. I sent it in for assignment to a Mentor-Editor less than 24 hours after the seminar ended.

I cannot predict which publication will publish my op-eds, if at all.  But, because of The OpEd Project, I know my voice will not be deleted again.

Off and Running: Early Thoughts on the CGPS Public Voices Greenhouse

Guest Post by Center for Global Policy Solutions Public Voices Greenhouse Participant, Solana Rice

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetRarely am I so inspired to take immediate action after a skill building workshop, but the first convening of the Public Voices Greenhouse propelled me to find the energy and time to test drive the concepts that were introduced. The tools shared during the workshop were essential to making the writing process manageable. The encouraging facilitators, structured and purposeful exercises, and a cohort of tremendous advocates helped me uncover a newfound courage and duty to share my perspectives on building a more economically equitable nation. Little did I know that the next day a confluence of events would create a unique opportunity to put those concepts to good use.

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The weekend after the first convening, I headed on a road trip to visit my family in Cleveland. LeBron James had just announced his return to Cleveland to play basketball for the Cavaliers and nothing else was on the local news. Per usual, I found myself getting all worked up about wanting everyone to know that Cleveland has much more than a basketball player. It is much more than the site of the next Republican National Convention, or fancy new casinos, or home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What usually is useless ranting to my family now could be channeled to action. Unlike all the times before when I’m frustrated about Cleveland’s next big thing, I now had the tools to constructively influence the dialogue about what matters in Northeast Ohio, at least from my perspective. The OpEd Project equipped me to find my expertise and my passion in this moment.

photo 1 (11)After arriving in Cleveland I stayed up late to draft an op-ed, shared it with my colleagues for review, and my op-ed mentor helped me pitch by Monday. I was amazed at the turnaround. While I am still searching for my specific expertise, I have now had the experience of discovering when I ‘m the right person to speak on a certain issue at a distinct time to a particular audience. That convergence of opportunities was thrilling and I’m grateful to be able to recognize it, act on it, and I will continue the search for more.

Cheers to the First Write To Change The World Seminar in Tucson!

Tucson Seminar PhotoHere at the OpEd Project we were thrilled to lead our first ever public program in Tucson, Arizona. The seminar, led by Holly Kearl and Katie Orenstein, was hosted by the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, and participants came from many sectors including philanthropy, academia, business, and even the fire service! Experts in the room included women changing the conversation around body image, hospice care, disability justice, and organization strategy and effectiveness.

At the seminar were representatives from The David and Laura Lovell Foundation, the Southwest Institute for Research on Women, the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Social Venture Partners of Tucson.

On Thursday evening, participants joined us at the historical Arizona Inn for a panel with local media representatives. Panelists included Maria Parham, Editorial Editor of the Arizona Daily Star; Linda Valdez, columnist & editorial writer for the Arizona Republic; and Michael Chihak, News Director of Arizona Public Media.

We look forward to reading all of you in print soon!

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Knocking it out of the park in Boston

Lisa & KatieBoston group photo 6.21.14We held our summer seminar in Boston over the weekend at Simmons College, in partnership with WAM! Women, Action, & the Media. Participants shared their expertise on gender and racial profiling, yoga retreats, adolescent health, progressive politics in Vermont, training student leaders in community organizing, and women and girls in athletics.

Afterwards, we enjoyed the beautiful weather on the patio of a nearby bar in Fenway Park for continued conversation, networking, and idea sharing.