Monday, January 26, 2009

Give the gift of learning.

Every now and then, I take a look at the archives of So What Can I Do to see how organizations have grown and developed since I first wrote about them. Donors Choose is a perfect example of why it's important to revisit organizations. When I first wrote about Donors Choose almost four years ago, they were only active in certain cities. But now, they are nationwide! Want to know why I’m excited?

We all know that many public schools are underfunded, particularly in low-income communities. But every child, regardless of family income, deserves a rock solid education that prepares her to take advantage of the many opportunities life brings. Even with dedicated, caring, and effective teachers, some classrooms still need help.

At Donors Choose, public school teachers from across the US, post the specific needs they have for their classroom, and then we, the donors, choose to fund them. Here in Arkansas, a teacher needs $419 to buy “5 sets of science materials including 10 dissecting pans, a dissecting kit, blood typing kits, and two anatomy videos” for her high school biology class. A teacher in Pennsylvania needs $230 to buy “30 glue sticks, 24 scissors, and dry erase markers” for her elementary students. And a teacher in Nevada would like to buy “8 copies of each of 3 different chapter book series - Freckle Juice, Judy Blume's Fudge Box Set, and the Ralph Mouse Collection” for $457.

You can help these and other educators and students by making a donation a tax-deductible donation of as little as one dollar to support a child’s education. Donors Choose collects the funds, buys the supplies at a negotiated best price, then, ships them to the teacher. I’m so glad this opportunity is now available to all US public school teachers. Ready to get involved?

* If you want to donate, visit to get started. The teachers will even send you a thank you note!

* If you need supplies for your classroom to register your class and request materials.

* If you want to help, then spread the word. Tell your friends. Forward this message to a teacher you admire. Encourage others to participate.

What a great way to give the gift of learning. - Give the gift of learning - Go

“Thank everyone who calls out your faults, your anger, your impatience, your egotism; do this consciously, voluntarily.” - Jean Toomer, poet and novelist (1894-1967)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Join the Carnival for Change - Booth 13.

Welcome to the Carnival for Change where we explore the web for interesting items relating to social justice, health, education, and opportunity. Happy Inauguation Day!

* CFED is currently accepting innovative ideas that will expand economic opportunity for low and moderate income people in the United States. Winning ideas will be showcased at the Innovation Summit later this year. Deadline for submission is April 3.

* Take the Small Things Challenge. For each click, Intel will donate 5 cents to Kiva and Save the Children. Now through Dec 31.

* Is there a child in your life? If so, check out this Razoo article, Raising a Charitable Child.

* Join Operation No Kid Hungry by texting SHARE to 20222 on your mobile phone to donate $5. AT&T will match the first $100,000 in donations.

* Here’s another store in the charity mall:

* The most frequent search leading to So What Can I Do this weekend has been What can I do to make the world a better place?. Here’s the post that is returned: Think Globally, Act Locally.

* This just in (the mail): CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World.

Thanks for visiting the Carnival for Change! If you'd like space at the next booth, send your items to me with "Carnival for Change" in the subject. See you next time! In the meantime, subscribe to So What Can I Do (see sidebar) or follow us on Twitter (@sowhatcanido).

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." - William James (1842-1910), psychologist and author

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rethink “race.”

“Race” is one of the most intractable and troublesome concepts we humans have ever created. Many of us the term regularly, but it is rarely and poorly defined. The definitions, when they do exist, are fluid and arbitrary. And racial terminology is often used when we mean something else. It is perhaps no surprise that the concept of race often considered problematic. As I see it, we have two central challenges:

→ To recognize and live the fact that there is no biological or genetic basis for our social understanding of “race.”

→ To recognize and eventually move past our social and biological notions of race without losing or devaluing groups and group membership.

I don’t claim to have done or even know how to do both of these, but I am working at it. I arrived at these goals through my study of genetics and through life experience, and I find them liberating. They are another way I strive to “Be the change I want to see in the world.”

This work is hard, but all the evidence I see points in that direction. The following resources offer additional insight, and should be read and critically evaluated by anyone wanting to rethink "race."

* Race – The power of an illusion - The companion site to the 3-part PBS documentary.
* Understanding Race - An interactive website from the American Anthropological Society.
* Use and Misuse of "Race" in Biomedical Research - My most recent academic work on the subject.

The last article is particularly useful if you want a thorough explanation of the first paragraph of this post. There are of course, many other useful resources on the subject. If you have a favorite, please let us know.

“Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” - W E B DuBois, 1903, in The Souls of Black Folk

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Celebrate with service.

I am simply thrilled that Barack Obama will soon be the President of the United States. The Presidential Inauguration Committee recently launched to support President-elect Obama’s call to “Renew America Together.” Given that the inauguration is happening just after Martin Luther King Day, it is appropriate that we celebrate with service.

Just enter your ZIP code at to find a service opportunity near you. You can also organize your own service event and list it on the site. If you prefer, peruse the archives of So What Can I Do to find your own ideas. And please leave a comment letting us know about your efforts.

Service to others is a manifestation of our theme (by Ghandi) – "Be the change you want to see in the world." Enjoy! And happy inauguration!

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But, recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Start a “foundation.”

A good friend once told me the story of how she and her relatives lost their family land in Georgia. As I remember it, there was a small subset of the family that had taken responsibility for paying the taxes, but couldn’t afford to do so anymore. They made some efforts to rally the rest of the family, but it was too late and they soon sold the land. My friend got a check for her share of the sale price. It was a windfall, but not a happy one. Given what her ancestors went through to obtain, develop, and work the land, she hated to see her family gone from it so quickly. It wasn’t a huge check – I’m guessing less than a thousand dollars, but given its origin she vowed to do something very special with it.

If you ever come into or accumulate a sum of money, especially one that is meaningful to you, consider starting a foundation. Here are some ways you can participate in long-term charitable giving with less money than you probably think.

* Contact your local community foundation. They may be able to help you set up a scholarship or donor advised fund that will allow you to direct your charitable giving and reduce your taxes. This is especially powerful if people pool their resources. When a dear friend and classmate passed unexpectedly a few years ago, her colleagues, friends, and family established a fund to support her favorite organizations and activities. It has been a nice way to honor her.

* Open a Calvert Giving Fund for as little as $5000. The principle is tax deductible and you direct your earnings to your favorite charities. Calvert says theirs is “the only 100% Socially Responsible Donor Advised Fund”. That means your principle is doing meaningful work as well.

* If the sum is a bit larger or if you are pooling it with others, you can start a foundation. The Council on Foundations has a helpful guide to get started.

Of course, these aren’t the only ways you can give. You can simply make a donation to your favorite organization, or invest in microloans and let them permanently revolve. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you use the money in a way that is as meaningful as how you received it.

”What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?” - Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Keep your land.

I’ve written before about my great-great-grandfather Griffin Henry Belk. He had been enslaved and after his freedom was acknowledged, he spent several years searching in vain for his parents. Eventually, he settled on 160 acres of land in Ozan, Arkansas that he purchased for $11 (that’s right, eleven dollars). His descendents still own the land we call the Belk Estate. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were born there. Now that I’m back in Arkansas, I look forward to visiting this spring. I haven’t been there since I was a child, though I clearly remember the pond and forests that cover much of the land. My grandmother always talked lovingly of the five acres she grew up on.

You don’t have to read much of this blog to recognize that I generally think it’s better that resources are spread among many people rather than being concentrated among just a few. For that reason, I am a big promoter of people keeping their family land. It can be a challenge as families grow in size and members move away and lose contact and interest in the land and the taxes associated with it. But given the history behind the land and its value, it can make even more sense to keep it and make it useful. Here are some resources to help you do just that:

* Get in touch with land preservation organizations like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Land Assistance Fund or the Arkansas Land & Farm Development Corporation that can help you keep your land. They may be able to help you use land trusts, and other legal tools to help maintain your interest in the land.

* Visit the Forestry Service (or similar office) in your state. Many of them have programs designed to help people develop uses for their land (cutting timber, starting an organic farm, opening a campground, etc.) that can provide income to pay the taxes.

* Talk to your neighbors. If you all are in similar straights you may be able to work together to keep your land. For example, the members of the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society were able to get zoning regulations instituted that favored them keeping their land as homesteads rather than allowing massive development on their high value (and gorgeous) land.

* Talk to your relatives. Some of them may not even know about the land. Others may have interesting ideas about how to use it. I know of a family in Arkansas that built several cabins on their land. They use them for family vacations and rent them out to others who want to visit or have a gathering. You may be surprised at the options. Be sure to talk about them all before you sell, because it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone.

Land is a limited resource, so it would probably be better if no one owned it. But since that's the model we're using, it's better that many of us have a share and that we use it wisely and sustainably.

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." - Mahatma Gandhi