Friday, April 05, 2013

Doing outreach? 3 acts of engagement

Hey there,

I've been fortunate enough to be a part of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington's GenOUT program. The program was mentioned before last year, actually, in a post I wrote about singing in our February concert, The Kids Are All Right.

Quick refresher, here's what GenOut's about.
GenOUT, the youth outreach program of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer  and allied youth (LGBTQA), using the mission of the Chorus to create a positive and affirming experience for all audiences, regardless of sexual orientation.
So, we've done 4 outreach events, this spring alone, and more often than not, we have time to hang around and a handful of youth come up to continue the conversation. In that context, I wanted to share three things I believe are an absolute necessity, in terms of things to do before that discussion ends.

And I realize outreach has a multitude of different models, so this might or might not apply based on how similar and relevant your own outreach programs and opportunities are.

1) Ask them what their name is and do you best to remember it. It may not seem like much, but I've definitely seen a handful of times where a student has come up and they almost finish talking with us, without names being exchanged. I believe, what it does (and I realize it's not original) is that it reminds them that it is as MUCH about them as it is about us, and that we care enough to know what they're name is, to know WHO they are, beyond just a student.

And to help you remember names, here's a great article at Forbes that was just published today (it's like they KNEW!!), 6 Easy Ways to Remember Someone's Name.

2) Try to ask more questions than you answer. This isn't to say that the youth, or audience in general, shouldn't ask any questions, and this isn't to say that you don't have information worth sharing, but you should be of the mindset to at least keep thinking about how to engage them by constantly refocusing the conversation on them and their experiences, particularly what they're getting out of the exchange.

In general, try to find out as much about them as they do about you. With GenOUT in particular, it meant asking them questions about bullying, or just speaking about LGBT people in their lives and speaking up for them. And that's one of the biggest rewards for me, in that they really provide a glimpse into a world that folks my age and older can only imagine, one that's even better and more forward thinking than the one we grew up in. Obviously that's not true across the board, and there are exceptions, which is why it's so crucial to give those who might want to speak up, for better or for worse, an opportunity to do so.

And I found this very relevant article, at KQED's blog, For Students, Why the Question is More Important Than the Answer.

3) When all is said and done, say "thank you". The GenOUT program exists to serve youth, and just them being present deserves a thank you. In some schools it's easier to be out as LGBT or even as an ally, than others, but without anyone to sing for and to talk to during these outreach events, GenOUT could not accomplish work that is just as significant as the work the full chorus does on stage.

So I think it's important to thank everyone, not just teachers and administrators, but the students themselves, especially the ones who continue to engage with me and other singers after the formal program is over. That's also part of the secret with GenOUT, is that it is just as much an opportunity for chorus members to grown and learn, as it is for the students. And that part of the thank you, at least in my mind, is a preemptive one that they don't realize yet, because those kids and their generation are going to take us and our communities, locally, regionally, even globally, into a brighter future with an even higher standard for acceptance and equality.

That being said, here's an article at Jezebel about it, Saying "Thank You" When You Really, Really Mean It.


Anyway, that's it. And what's great is that you can revisit all of these when the conversation wraps up. Say their name, try to touch base on something they might've mentioned about themselves (either wishing them luck on an endeavor, that they have fun at an event, etc.), and say thank you one last time.

But this is all just my two cents. Would love to hear what you think, if you have anything to add, any comments on the three things I mentioned, and any stories about your own experiences.

Please let me know in the comments,

JR
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